From sea to shining sea, our night skies have slowly become muted with ambient light from our cities, streets, and the overall need for electricity. And while this isn’t new to any of us here in the 21st century, there is something to be said about not being able to observe our place in the universe on a nightly basis — which has been suggested can lead to sleep deprivation, stress, and various other mental health issues. Amazing what a night under the stars can do, right? We’re fans of anything that can help push the mind and the soul into not sweating the small stuff because that’s what we are after all.
It’s for these reasons that so many individuals opt for what is known as “dark parks” due to their lack of surrounding infrastructure and ambient lighting — making them ideal for stargazing under the night sky. Best of all, there’s a handful of them that are free for camping and boast wide open spaces for observing the stars above, not to mention the occasional observatory for those who really want to get up close and personal with what lies beyond our little planet we call home.
Voyageurs National Park – MN
With over 218,054 acres to utilize and access points to the park’s myriad waterways and islands (this is the land of 10,000 lakes after all), there’s no shortage of space to sprawl out in this national park. In fact, the park itself consists of four large lakes, 26 smaller interior lakes, and even camping space on secluded islands. Upward of 27 miles of trails snake their way through the park that’s suited perfectly for camping, fishing, and winter sports — and you can rent equipment for every activity at the park. It’s not just for stargazing, but for adventure.
Gila National Forest – NM
Known as the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary located on National Forest Systems lands in North America, what Gila National Forest lacks in infrastructure and amenities it makes up tenfold in stargazing. Here, enjoy 360-degree unobstructed views of the starry night and the occasional “star party” hosted by members of the “Friends of the Cosmic Campground” group that partners with the national forest. Also, this is a primitive campground so best follow the guidelines of dispersed camping when making a trip out here.
Denali National Park – AK
What would a stargazing guide be without Alaska? As one of our nation’s most dispersed and naturally untouched states, you can’t go wrong at this level of the frontier, especially when it comes to Denali National Park. We’re talking six million acres of wild land, bisected by one road where you can enjoy all ecosystems from the Taiga forest all the way up to the high alpine tundra and snowy mountains. Not to mention the park’s namesake — Mt. Denali — standing as North America’s tallest peak at 20,310 ft above sea level. Need we say more?
Death Valley National Park – CA
If warmth and desert extremes are more your vibe, then Death Valley National Park is a fantastic option for stargazing — ironic considering its proximity to Los Angeles. However, due to its rough terrain and unforgiving temperatures at times, there’s little to no development here which makes it ideal for observing the night sky after sundown. It’s also a quite picturesque park as well, surrounded by towering peaks that are often snowcapped in the winter time while the rare rainstorm brings about sudden bursts of wildflowers. And at night, be sure to visit during a new moon to enjoy the most stars possible.
Bryce Canyon National Park – UT
Boasting the highest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) on the planet, there’s no shortage of views or sights to be seen during the daytime or after sundown at Bryce Canyon as at. And even though over two million visitors enjoy the National Park on a yearly basis, that doesn’t mean the crowds are something to worry about. It’s a fantastic park with over 18 miles of roadway (along one road mind you) and beautiful viewpoints for catching a one-of-kind sunrise after a night of stargazing. There are even a couple campgrounds in the park for those interested in lengthier stays off the grid.
Cleveland National Forest – CA
If you ever find some time hitting the beaches of San Diego, you’ll be pleased to know that just over an hour’s drive east will get you some of the best stargazing in the country. Cleveland National Forest, home to Laguna and Palomar Mountain along with respective observatories, 104 sites, “star parties” put on by the local University for campers, and some of the best hiking trails around are to thank for that.
Grand Canyon National Park – AZ
No introduction needed here. The mighty Grand Canyon is surely a sight to see thanks to the Colorado River that’s carved out a canyon that’s 277 river miles long, 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep. And while the South Rim is open all year, visitors to the North Rim can enjoy lodging, camping, and — of course — some of the best stargazing in the southwest. The only caveat, of course, is the popularity the canyon has garnered over the years. So odds are you won’t be making the trek alone.
Arches National Park – UT
Picturesque to the point where Hollywood films have featured the landscape of Arches National Park in their Western backdrops, this red-rock wonderland hosts over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to soaring rock formations, plenty of trails, and inspirational sunsets. And that’s just the beginning. Herein lies some brilliant night skies — some of the darkest in the country mind you — along with campgrounds galore, art exhibits, and ranger programs to boot.
Cherry Springs State Park – PA
Possibly the most well-known park for stargazing at night, Cherry Springs State Park features both a Night Sky Public Viewing Area and an Astronomy Field that’s open all night to viewers. These exhibits make it a U.S. haven for astronomers. And rightly so, seeing how the International Dark-Sky Association designated this location as an International Dark-Sky Park. That, combined with up to 85 miles of backpacking and hiking trails thanks to the nearby Susquehannock State Forest, makes Cherry Springs a must see.
Clayton Lake State Park – NM
Located in northeastern New Mexico, this oasis of rolling grasslands is home to a myriad of outdoor-friendly activities that extend further than just stargazing — though don’t get us wrong, it’s well worth the trip. We’re talking, of course, about boating, picnicking, camping, hiking, and fishing. Also, for the archeologists in the family, Clayton Lake is home to one of the most extensive dinosaur trackways in North America while the Lake Observatory offers a professional-grade close-up look at the stars above.
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No matter what, hydration in the outdoors is a must for enjoyment under that stars at night. And with Nalgene’s Inspired by Nature collection, you’ll enjoy all the perks the USA-made brand has offered for the past 70 years with several outdoor-themed colorways to choose from.
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