9 Incredible U.S. National Parks for Stargazing

These are the country’s best parks to see the night sky.

Light blue tent underneath the night sky of Death Valley National Park

Some parks, like Death Valley National Park, are known for their stargazing possibilities.

Photo by Wilson Ye/Unsplash

Since the 1970s when astronomers first noticed the negative impact of light pollution, urban light has only gotten worse—in the past decade by 10 percent a year. Everything from the LEDs in lamp posts to neon signs on buildings is interrupting a rhythm of light and dark that is vital to the natural ecosystems of wildlife—to hide from predators or migrate—and even to our own sleep cycle.

To dim the man-made night lights, in 1988 astronomer David Crawford and physician Tim Hunter had a bright idea: They created a global dark-sky nonprofit called International Dark-Sky Association, which went on to become a movement in modifying and eliminating lighting sources to save energy and secure darkness. (It’s new name is simply DarkSky.) The organization helped form dark sky tourism, encouraging stargazing, tracking the solar eclipse (or better yet the total solar eclipse in 2024), and chasing the northern lights (now with increasing solar activity).

So whether listening to an astronomy lesson, hiking up a mountain, or sitting silently on a blanket, for the country’s darkest pockets, follow the stars to these nine U.S. national parks.

Pro tip: The darkest curtain typically falls on the new moon, so sync up with NASA’s schedule. Venture out at least an hour after sunset and watch the forecast for cloudless skies.

1. Death Valley National Park


In addition to being the lowest and driest U.S. national park, Death Valley holds one of the highest darkness classifications by the Dark Sky Association. Situated between the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert, the iconic and massive park sees many starry nights. It is host of the annual Dark Sky Festival in partnership with NASA and just a stone’s throw from Panamint Valley’s California Dark Sky Festival, held in 2023 from October 12 to 15. These are part of a number of emerging dark sky celebrations, including National Dark-Sky Week and the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour). The park hosts astronomy workshops on everything from black holes to Mars exploration, as well as night sky tours—you can even see the NASA International Space Station from the park on a clear day.

If you’re up for adventure, consider camping or bringing your RV or van to the Death Valley Starcamp, returning in November and December 2023 to dark skies at a Google map location in Panamint Valley. The pop-up will include telescopes, giant chess sets lit by LEDs, and an outdoor arcade, in celebration of the Geminids meteor shower, taking place during the festival.

Where to stay

The Inn at Death Valley is a historic desert escape once frequented by such Hollywood stars as Marlon Brando and Carole Lombard. The elegant stone buildings have patios for stargazing.

Photo of red, rocky landscape at night with milky way overhead

Grand Canyon National Park received International Dark Sky Park status in 2019.

Photo by Michaellimer/Shutterstock

2. Grand Canyon National Park


About an hour from Flagstaff, this geological wonder provides after-hours seats to the Milky Way—which nearly 80 percent of Americans can no longer see because of light pollution. The Grand Canyon was recognized in 2019 as a dark sky park, giving even more reason to add it to a bucket list. Pack a red lamp for stargazing at Mather Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, or Yavapai Point, or consider an astronomy lesson with the park’s dark skies programming.

Where to stay

Get your glamp on in the desert at Clear Sky Resorts, complete with food trucks and firepits. Alternatively, Yavapai Lodge offers a Star Gazing Package and free Night Sky Talks, featuring on-site James Webb Telescope demonstrations by NASA ambassadors.

Dock at night with a person at the end. Under night skies with yellow and green lights.

The waters of Glacier National Park provide a mirror for the lights above.

Photo by NPS / Jacob W. Frank

3. Glacier National Park


Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park promises peace and quiet under the stars. The two combined parks, Glacier National Park and its Canadian sister, Waterton Lakes National Park, share the designation of the world’s first International Peace Park, honoring peaceful relations between the United States and Canada and the Native Nations on whose homelands the parks were established. Its terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems also make up a UNESCO biosphere reserve, making it the ideal International Dark Sky Park. It’s absolutely stunning, with an observation dome at St. Mary’s Visitor Center and a mirror image skyscape on Lake McDonald.

Where to stay

The historic scenic mountain Lake McDonald Lodge puts you right on the lake’s shoreline inside the park.

Milky Way galaxy is visible as a soft whitish cloud in the evening sky on a moonless night.

According to the NPS, the Milky Way is clearest in the evening sky during late summer and fall.

Photo by NPS/Patrick Myers

4. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


Take your dark sky viewing game to one of the largest sandboxes in North America—this national park has the tallest dunes on the continent at 750 feet. Surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, these 30 square miles of dunes formed years ago when water pressure broke through volcanic deposits after one of the largest eruptions in history, and the lake receded 440,000 years ago. On a moonless night, it’s just you and the stars—and maybe a bald eagle or blue heron.

Where to stay

Take a horseback ride during the day over the dunes and stargaze before hitting the hay at the nearby Zapata Ranch, a historic lodge built as a ranch homestead.

A collection of stars reflects in Crater Lake, captured on the Summer Solstice in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Crater Lake National Park’s namesake lake is one of the best spots to catch the stars.

Photo by Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

5. Crater Lake National Park


This natural wonder went from mountain peak to the deepest lake in the United States 7,700 years ago after a massive volcanic eruption. Its crystal clear jewel-toned waters serve as a mirror for the stars in the night sky. On the edge of the Oregon Dark Sky Sanctuary, its elevation at 6,178 makes it a perfect spot for stargazing.

Where to stay

Nestled between cliffs, the 71-room Crater Lake Lodge delivers a vast stretch of dark sky right there on the lake.

Starry Night in Acadia National Park

Acadia even has its own four-day night sky festival, held in late September.

Photo by Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

6. Acadia National Park


It’s no surprise that New England’s biggest state possesses the the largest area of naturally dark sky east of the Mississippi River. Also home to New England’s only national park, Acadia allows hiking, biking, and vehicle access to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for summer stargazing (and catching the northern lights, if you’re lucky). There is no shortage of star-studded stops on these trails running right along the Atlantic, from Jordan Pond, to Seawall, Ocean Path, and Sand Beach, which offers Night Sky Talks.

Where to stay

Get cozy in a chic safari-style canvas tent on the waterfront at Under Canvas Acadia, which opened its doors in 2021 away from the crowds just outside the park for unbeatable stargazing. This outdoor oasis also offers glampers a night sky astronomy cruise through the islands.

Constellation and galaxy at Balanced Rock, Big Bend National park, Texas USA.

Thanks to its remote location, Big Bend National Park offers some of the darkest skies in the lower 48.

Photo by Wisanu Boonrawd/Shutterstock

7. Big Bend National Park


Everything is bigger in Texas—including the starry nights at Big Bend National Park. Ringing in at 800,000 acres, the park has hiking trails connecting the mountains and desert. Away from the bright lights, on the “Big Bend” of the Rio Grande boundary between Texas and Mexico, this isolated International Dark Sky Park is one of the most remote in the country.

Where to stay

Drift off in a glamping dome or a cave room carved into the side of Tres Cuevas Mountain on this 1,000-acre desert property, known as Summit at Big Bend, with modern amenities like plush linens and air conditioning.

Milky Way Galaxy panorama over a lit Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The proximity of Canyonlands to other national parks makes for a great road trip centered around stargazing.

Photo by Mike Ver Sprill/Shutterstock

8. Canyonlands National Park


The canyons and buttes that wrap around the Colorado River are the ultimate scenic backdrop to the stars. The Canyonlands’ 337,598 acres encompass one of the most naturally dark sanctuaries out there. If you feel like making a road trip of it, follow the stars to other area dark parks, including Arches National Park, Moab, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Where to stay

Within a 40-minute radius of these natural rock formations, canyons, and arches, in the middle of the desert, is the Ulum Moab and its luxury glamping tents.

Joshua trees under the stars during a starry night

The park’s Joshua trees add to the unique landscape of this stargazing destination.

Photo by NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

9. Joshua Tree National Park


Slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, Joshua Tree National Park is a showstopper with bighorn sheep and hundreds of species of birds fluttering in and out of the grasslands and rocky outcroppings. For the park’s darkest skies, head down Pinto Basin Road and look up between Cholla Cactus Garden and Cottonwood. And don’t forget about the park’s annual Night Sky Festival, held at the Sky’s the Limit Nature Center and Observatory, right outside the park’s north entrance.

Where to stay

The AutoCamp inside Joshua Tree is home to souped-up Airstreams and suites with outdoor patios, plus community firepits, complimentary mountain bikes, a spa and plunge pool, and a new moon sunbath excursion with sound therapy for next-level rest and relaxation.

Nature scene with stars shot in Flagstaff Arizona

Flagstaff, Arizona was recognized as the world’s first International Dark Sky City in 2001.

Photo by Austin Sudweeks/Shutterstock

Bonus: Sunset Crater Volcano, Walnut Canyon, and Wupatki National Monuments


Take your shot at stargazing in the original International Dark Sky Place: Flagstaff, Arizona. The birthplace of the stargazing movement is now home to observatories and astronomy centers. Follow a 34-mile loop connecting these three places—Sunset Crater Volcano, Walnut Canyon, and Wupatki national monuments, jointly managed by the U.S. National Park Service—to Native American ruins, red rocks, and painted desert vistas.

Where to stay

The Bonito Campground formed 900 years ago when a river of liquid rock froze over. This campground inside the Coconino Forest reopened last year after enduring extensive wildfire damage. For more upscale accommodations, head toward the Grand Canyon for stays like Yavapai Lodge.

Anna Fiorentino is a storyteller focused on outdoors, adventure, and travel. Her work has appeared in AFAR, National Geographic, National Geographic Travel, Outside, BBC Travel, Boston Globe Magazine, and other publications.
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