There are over 30 certified IDA dark sky parks in the United States ranging from California to Pennsylvania. After doing our research, we've narrowed down the top 10 best dark sky parks of the U.S. based on their aversion to light pollution and their commitment to resisting infrastructure development in protection of an authentic night sky. So if you want to experience some of the most ultimate stargazing opportunities available, grab your red-filtered flashlight, wait till the sun goes down, and head out to any one of these 10 amazing stargazing destinations!
Cherry Springs State Park | Pennsylvania
This 82-acre park is one of the best spots for stargazing on the eastern side of the country. All the lighting in the park is intentionally shielded and all white light has been converted to red for better night vision. A night sky viewing area can be found in the park, along with several informational kiosks and a backlit summer sky map. Their astronomy field offers an amazing 360º view and the location of the park is perfectly positioned to provide exceptional views of the Milky Way Galaxy!
Death Valley National Park | California
This park spans well over three million acres and contains some of the darkest night skies around. The park service has taken specific actions to reduce excessive outdoor lighting in the park to create an even better environment for untarnished stargazing. Although the park does pick up on some of the distant Las Vegas lights, you can still see amazing displays of meteor showers and lunar eclipses during a visit to this dark sky park.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park | New Mexico
An amazing night sky isn't the only thing you'll find in this historic park which contains nearly 34,000 acres of canyons, deserts, and historical structures built by ancestral Pueblo peoples. Over 99% of the park is considered a natural darkness zone which means that no permanent outdoor lighting exists. In order to preserve the park and prevent light pollution, a number of initiatives have been enacted to keep the night sky as undiluted as possible.
The Headlands | Michigan
Located at the tip of the mitten near Mackinaw City, this 550-acre park is the perfect destination for catching a colorful glimpse of The Northern Lights. A county-wide outdoor lighting ordinance helps to curb the effects of artificial light on the night sky so visitors can experience the stars just as they appeared centuries ago! If you time your visit right, you might even be able to participate in one of the events that are regularly hosted at the park, such as star parties or nighttime storytelling.
Big Bend National Park | Texas
This 800-acre park is nestled near the Rio Grande River and situated beneath an awe-inspiring night sky. As one of the least visited parks in the lower 48, with the least amount of light pollution, this national site will be a secluded destination to gaze and wonder without any distractions! Come here to see the Milky Way in its full glory or to witness a dazzling display of stars stretched across an endless black backdrop.
Blue Ridge Observatory and State Park | North Carolina
Although it only spans six acres, this state park and observatory is the perfect site to visit for some top-notch stargazing! While you wouldn't know it by visiting today, the side was previously used as a landfill just decades before! An observatory facility is currently being built and when complete, it will feature 360º viewing opportunities as well as 34 telescopes. Although the park is managed by Mayland Community College, it is open to the public.
Goldendale Observatory Park | Washington
This five-acre educational facility is dedicated almost entirely to astronomy-related topics. In addition to offering daily programs and presentations, the park is also home to one of the nation's largest public telescopes which provides impressive views of star clusters and the Andromeda Galaxy. During your visit you can also peer through one of their safely-filtered telescopes to get an incredible view of the sun!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park | Colorado
Spanning over 30,000 acres, this national park is a haven for astronomy enthusiasts and amateur stargazers alike, as well as photographers hoping to snap a picture of its amazing night sky! Boasting a massive expanse of canyon carved out by the Gunnison River, this vast stretch of land is ideal for experiencing the night sky in its natural habitat! The edge of the canyon's rim provides an exhilarating and jaw-dropping viewpoint from which to observe the stars like never before!
Capital Reef National Park | Utah
This national park's commitment to protecting natural darkness has earned it a spot among the gold-tiered dark sky parks. The unique landscape of the area draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, but despite its popularity, the park has continued to resist development in order to protect its standing as one of the best dark sky parks in the country. In addition to offering great viewing opportunities, you'll also find lots of educational opportunities and outreach programs here as well!
Oracle State Park | Arizona
Although this nearly 4,000-acre state park is just 20 miles away from the bustling metropolis of Tucson, the city's skyglow is conveniently blocked by the Santa Catalina Mountains. Without artificial light inhibiting visitors' abilities to observe the stars, this destination has become a hotspot for those hoping to witness an authentic night sky. In addition to the Milky Way, stargazers who flock to this wildlife refuge can also marvel at a range of other astonishing celestial wonders. Have you visited one of these dark sky parks before, or are you planning to visit one? Share your night sky photographs with us on Facebook or Instagram and let us know where you went!