Thanks to minimal light pollution in the area, Nevada’s Great Basin National Park boasts some of the darkest night skies in the United States. So much so, in fact, that the area was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016, where it’s possible to see thousands of stars, multiple planets, and even the Milky Way formation on a clear night. Throughout summer on select Friday evenings, the most scenic way to stargaze near this national park is aboard Nevada Northern Railway’s vintage diesel locomotive, The Star Train.
The vintage locomotive—which was once used to transport coal and copper from central Nevada’s booming mining region—departs at 7:30 p.m. from Ely, a tiny town about one hour west of Great Basin National Park and four hours north of Las Vegas by car. The Star Train traverses Nevada’s Steptoe Valley before ascending to a special spot on a mountain ridge where passengers hop off the train to catch sunset views. The astronomically impressive 90-minute “Night Sky” ride doesn’t pass directly through Great Basin National Park, but instead through its surrounding area, which is similarly starry and unpolluted by light. Still, Great Basin National Park rangers serve as expert guides on the night tour. At a post-sundown pit stop near the national park, passengers hop off the train yet again, and the guides set up telescopes for stargazers to soak up views that are truly out of this world.
The Star Train runs from May through September on select Friday evenings only. Tickets cost $41 for adults and $20 for children between four and 12 years of age (the trip is free for kids under four). What’s more: Travelers who want to stay overnight can book a $60 stay in the railway’s rugged bunkhouse or preserved train caboose located in the East Ely Yard.
If you want to hop aboard Nevada’s Star Train this summer, you’ll have to act quickly by snagging tickets online. [Editor’s Note: Since this article was originally published, the Star Train tours for 2019 have sold out. Tickets for the 2020 season will go on sale online after the 2019 season ends this fall.]
Still, even if you miss the chance to book a ride on the Star Train this year, it’s not too late to plan a stargazing trip to Nevada. Great Basin National Park (one of only 70 International Dark Sky Parks in the world) hosts astronomy evening programs on various nights during the summer as well as an annual Astronomy Festival, which takes place this year from September 26 through 28.