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These Are the Best Stargazing Spots in North America

Catch this summer's night sky in full force in one of these perfectly dark locales

Sleep under the stars at Capitol Reef National Park’s Fruita Campground and take a night-sky tour from visiting astronomers within the park. (Mike Cavaroc/TandemStock)
stars

Catch this summer's night sky in full force in one of these perfectly dark locales

This summer is slated to be a stellar one for stargazing. Saturn’s rings will be at nearly full tilt, providing quite a show if you have even a small telescope. In July, Mars will be about as close as it ever gets to Earth, meaning it’ll shine even brighter. Add to that the usual smattering of planets, constellations, and meteor showers, and you stand a good chance of seeing something spectacular in the night sky. But with light pollution threatening our view of the stars in many urban and suburban areas, the best way to get a good glimpse is to travel somewhere really, really dark. Here are some spots that won’t disappoint.

East Kemptville, Nova Scotia, Canada

stargazing
(Courtesy Trout Point Lodge/Kristine Richer)

At this particularly remote spot in East Kemptville, Nova Scotia, you’ll get a front-row seat for mid-August’s Perseid meteor shower—you could see as many as 150 shooting stars per hour. The Trout Point Lodge, located within the UNESCO Southwest Nova Scotia Biosphere Reserve and certified by the Starlight Foundation as the world’s first Starlight Hotel, offers astrophotography workshops, guided stargazing walks, and a 12-foot-high viewing platform equipped with the latest in telescope technology. Don’t miss the outdoor barrel sauna and wood-fire hot tub.

Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Located deep in southwest New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, the free Cosmic Campground is the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in North America. What it lacks in facilities—the only amenities are toilets and camping spots—it more than makes up with a stellar, 360-degree view of the cosmos. To better preserve guests’ night vision, white flashlights are banned, campfires are not allowed on the observation pads, and visitors are asked to arrive before sunset. Be sure to visit Friends of the Cosmic Campground for a calendar of classes, star parties, and astronomical events.

Jackson, Wyoming

wyoming
(Courtesy Wyoming Stargazing)

It’s dark enough in Jackson Hole that you can see the arms of the Milky Way Galaxy. Wyoming Stargazing offers guided outings in Grand Teton National Park, free Friday-night stargazing programs on the lawn outside the town’s Center for the Arts, and telescopes you can rent to check out the view on your own. Stay at the Snow King Resort (from $237) and you can book a stargazing trip through the concierge and see the stars from the outdoor hot tub.

Bend, Oregon

sunriver-resort-oregon_h.jpg
(Courtesy Sunriver Resort)

Sunriver Resort, 15 miles south of Bend, Oregon, takes its stargazing seriously. This sprawling 3,300-acre resort along the Deschutes River was once a World War II training facility and has its own observatory. A local ordinance restricts outdoor lighting to preserve the darkness. The observatory offers both daytime solar viewings and guided constellation tours at night. You can book a cabin or stay in a guestroom in the lodge (from $149).

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

voyageurs national park
(daveynin/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

At Voyageurs National Park, which includes four large lakes and 26 smaller ones along the Canadian border, you’re far enough removed from the state’s population centers that you can catch a good glimpse of the northern lights and meteor showers. The park offers a Night Explorer Junior Ranger program for kids who want to learn more about the starry sky. Most of the camping is accessible only by boat. Don’t have one? Pitch a tent at nearby Woodenfrog State Forest Campground on Kabetogama Lake ($14), or rent a houseboat from Ebel’s Voyageur Houseboats (from $335).

Castine, Maine

Maine has some of the last dark spots left on the United States’ overpopulated Eastern Seaboard. In Castine Harbor, Castine Kayak Adventures runs paddle trips on weekends for stargazing and spotting glow-in-the-dark aquatic microorganisms. This summer, the company is offering specialty trips for the meteor showers and Mars at opposition, the farthest the planet gets from the sun and closest it’s been to Earth since 2003. A short drive away, the Acadia Night Sky Festival, taking place September 5 through 9 in Bar Harbor, offers workshops, speakers, and nightly viewings of the Milky Way.

Torrey, Utah

alpenglow
(Mark E. Bailey)

The town of Torrey, Utah, eight miles from the west entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, recently implemented stricter lighting ordinances, earning itself accreditation from the International Dark Sky Association as the state’s first dark sky community. Sleep under the stars at Capitol Reef National Park’s Fruita Campground ($20) and take a night-sky tour from visiting astronomers within the park. Be sure to check out the occasional stargazing parties at Alpenglow Observatory.

Filed To: North America / New Mexico / Nova Scotia / Wyoming / Minnesota / Utah / Maine / Travel
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

the-ring-race.jpg
(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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