These Are the 6 Best Places to Stargaze in the U.S. Without Going Deep Into the Woods

The Evolve Team
The Evolve Team
August 12, 2021

There’s something magical about relaxing under a starry night sky. 

But it’s rare to find places with so little light pollution that you can truly enjoy the expanse of the Milky Way and all its constellations — particularly if you’re not interested in pitching a tent or trekking with the masses to big-name dark sky sites like Death Valley National Park or Big Bend National Park. 

That’s why we’ve created a list of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. that don’t require you to go too far off the beaten path. These destinations are all certified International Dark Sky Parks, but are still easily-accessible from nearby towns. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the best of both worlds: the clearest, darkest skies with a comfy and convenient home base.

1. Flagstaff National Monuments 

Stargazing at Flagstaff National Monuments in the U.S.

Located in: Coconino County, AZ

Established to preserve the majesty of natural landmarks and protect archeological sites, the Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument are dark sky heavyweights. Grouped together as the Flagstaff National Monuments, they earned a singular Dark Sky Park designation in 2016, thanks in part to Flagstaff’s progressive legislation to prevent light pollution in the area. 

Visitors to these southwestern monuments can see a glittering dome of stars expand around breathtaking red rock formations. Guided night hikes and art by starlight parties run throughout the year, and lucky guests might even get to see a meteor shower. (Visit between April 19 and May 28 to catch this celestial event!) 

Where to Stay Nearby

This rustic-chic Flagstaff cabin sleeps up to 12, making it perfect for a group getaway. You can get stunning mountain views during the day, then sneak a preview of the dark skies you’re after from an Adirondack chair on the expansive wrap-around deck. 

2. Joshua Tree National Park 

Stars at night in California's Joshua Tree National Park

Located in: San Bernardino County, CA

Everyone knows Joshua Tree National Park is a daytime must-see on a trip to Palm Springs, but it truly lights up at night as the International Dark-Sky Association calls it the “last pool of natural darkness remaining in Southern California.” 

Those who venture out after dark can experience the glow of the Milky Way unobstructed. While visitors are free to explore the park at night without guidance, star parties, astronomy lectures, and guided ranger tours are also available for those seeking a little education-building alongside their stargazing activities. 

Where to Stay Nearby

Add a splash of color to your desert getaway when you book this vibrant bungalow located just five miles from Joshua Tree National Park. You can get cozy around the backyard fire pit before and after your Milky Way adventure.

3. Buffalo National River

Milky Way photographed while stargazing above the Buffalo National River in Arkansas
Milky Way: Buffalo River Country by Buffalo Outdoor Center (CC BY-ND 2.0 )

Located in: Marion County, AR 

As the very first National River in the U.S., the Buffalo River received a one-of-a-kind International Dark Sky Park designation in 2019. A lush watering hole for outdoorsy travelers and locals alike, this scenic spot winds through Northern Arkansas and has misty coves, stunning cliff faces, and peaceful waterfalls. 

Twinkling constellations rise over the trees to give the Buffalo National River true storybook status at night. To celebrate the area’s impressive dark skies, the National Parks Service (NPS) offers a number of educational ranger-led programs. They also team up with local astrological societies to host star parties throughout the year

Where to Stay Nearby

This quiet hideaway in Flippin, Arkansas provides an ideal home base for a more remote retreat. Rolling acreage right outside your door means little light pollution, so you’ll be able to enjoy sweeping views of the Ozarks and the skies above right from your spacious deck. 

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Night sky with dark Milky Way at the Pariah View Overlook in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Located in: Garfield County, UT

A favorite park of the west, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its almost unearthly crimson rock formations and panoramic views. With open skies and unbeatable vistas, this hotspot clearly earns its rank among the best places to stargaze in the U.S. It’s so renowned, in fact, that it has the highest-ranking Gold Tier status as an International Dark Sky Park.

On a moonless night, visitors can take in the magic of 7,500 stars. The park also employs dedicated Astrology Rangers and hosts tons of events throughout the year, including an annual summer festival for those who want a totally immersive stargazing experience (think: telescope viewings, constellation tours, and model rockets on display).

Where to Stay Nearby

A mere mile from Bryce Canyon National Park, this rustic cabin couldn’t be better for a stargazing adventure. While modern indoor amenities make for comfortable downtime, the family-friendly backyard is the real star — you can spread out a blanket and enjoy the night sky without ever leaving home. 

5. Headlands International Dark Sky Park 

Meteor shower above the treeline at Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Michigan

Located in: Emmet County, MI 

Found at the northernmost tip of the Lower Michigan peninsula, Headlands International Dark Sky Park puts the proof of its stargazing power right in its name. 

These waterfront woodlands offer prime viewing for everything from lunar eclipses and the Milky Way to — if you’re able to time your trip just right — the Northern Lights. 

The park also has dark sky activities for visitors of all ages, including nighttime storytelling, astrophotography events, and meteor shower viewings. For a romantic evening — or just a unique family outing — you can set sail on a star-studded boat cruise in the adjoining harbor. (And as you wait for nightfall, a day trip to nearby Traverse City presents even more outdoorsy fun.)

Where to Stay Nearby

Feel tucked away when you book this secluded family cabin in Harbor Springs, Michigan. The quaint and quiet screened-in porch is the perfect place to relax with loved ones as stars peek above the lush canopy of trees.

6. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Two people stargazing in Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Located in: Montrose County, CO 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park sits in the heart of Colorado, and is named for the steep gorge through which the Gunnison River cuts. Though last on our list of best places to stargaze in the U.S., this stunning natural wonder is certainly not least. With an International Dark Sky rating of 21.5 out of 23, stargazing enthusiasts flock from near and far for some unforgettable celestial views.

This park works with a local Astronomical Society to put on events and provide telescopes to visitors, and hosts an annual astronomy festival every June. The NPS also recommends planning a summer visit for the best views of the Milky Way — and the unique chance to see the International Space Station fly overhead!

Where to Stay Nearby

This cozy cabin on a working cattle ranch in Olathe, Colorado is just what a stargazer needs. With tons of outdoor space to explore and a quiet front patio to relax on, you’ll feel totally immersed in your scenic surroundings.

Make Your Stargazing Adventure a Reality with Evolve

While exploring dark sky sites is most of the fun, having a comfy and convenient homebase could make or break your vacation. Our Rest Easy Promise helps you stay in the moment and travel without surprises (except for the occasional shooting star!). 

If stargazing is only the start of your bucket list adventures, be sure to check out our other travel blogs that’ll give you all sorts of vacation-planning ideas. From the best small towns in America and family road trip ideas to our favorite hygge cabins and renowned wine regions, an abundance of memorable getaways await.

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