This Is the First Dark Sky Lodge … Ever

An Under Canvas glamping retreat in Utah just became the first accommodation in the world to get certified by DarkSky International.

Tented accommodations at Under Canvas Lake Powell–Grand Staircase under a star-light sky

Under Canvas Lake Powell–Grand Staircase camp in Utah is a great spot for stargazing trips.

Photo by Travis Burke

As alluring as sleeping under the stars sounds, the reality is it’s not possible in many places—80 percent of North Americans can’t see the Milky Way over their homes. And finding campgrounds, hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, and lodges where the constellations are visible can be a real challenge for travelers. However, there’s one resort that was just recognized as a stellar place to see the night sky.

Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase, a safari-inspired tented resort in Southern Utah, recently became the first lodging worldwide to earn a certification from DarkSky International (formerly the International Dark-Sky Association), an organization that’s globally recognized as the authority on safeguarding the night sky from light pollution. A lodging certification from DarkSky could mean that guests are much more likely to see a skyscape dotted with planets, meteors, and stars.

DarkSky executive director Ruskin Hartley said that Under Canvas had approached the group roughly four years ago, asking the dark sky certifiers to look at its properties (Under Canvas owns 12 tented camps across the United States) and help the company understand how it could lessen the impact of its lighting to improve guests’ skygazing experience. That initial evaluation led to conversations about developing criteria for a new certification program for DarkSky lodgings. Since 2001, DarkSky has certified more than 200 parks, communities, reserves, and sanctuaries worldwide through its DarkSky Places (IDSP) program. Still, until recently, the organization had never given any accommodations its stamp of approval.

“We piloted the program with Under Canvas, and we’re in the process of rolling it out more broadly,” Hartley said, adding that applications will be available soon. According to the website, properties that will be certified are those “with exceptional or distinguished quality starry nights and a nighttime environment preserved through on-site DarkSky Approved lighting.”

Becoming the first DarkSky-certified lodging in the world was the culmination of a rigorous three-year process, said a Under Canvas representative.

“It required significant cross-departmental coordination and involved virtually every team within the company from the development and operations teams, to the facilities and supply-chain teams, to the design, marketing, and analytics teams,” Kara Vinton, Director of Brand Marketing and Communications at Under Canvas told AFAR. “The multi-layered process involved a full audit of lighting inventory and practices, working with third-party vendors to develop new lighting fixtures, and enhancing on-site programming to further educate guests about the important of protecting the night sky.”

Hartley said that while other accommodations have expressed interest in earning a certification for themselves (including Under Canvas’s other locations and its sister property ULUM), he doesn’t see this as the beginning of a trend.

“Dark Sky tourism is hot, right? People are hungry for those experiences that are so remote for many of us these days,” Hartley said. “I think dark sky tourism is trending, and we certainly hope that this provides recognition, encouragement, support, and reward for operators willing to take those extra steps to ensure they are not taking the stars above for granted.”

Under Canvas stargazing tent

Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase has stargazing suites with skylights above the beds.

Courtesy of Under Canvas

Staying at Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase

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The Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase glamping resort is spread across 220 acres at the edge of Utah’s Canyon Rim Plateau and includes 50 tents, a handful of which are referred to as Stargazer Tents. These offer a viewing window above the king-size bed up to the sky, in addition to a private en suite bathroom, a wood-burning stove, and private deck.

By day, guests can visit nearby natural wonders, such as Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Grosvenor Arch, or hang out on the property, where there are hiking trails, including one to Elephant Slot Canyon, daily yoga classes, kids programs, and an on-site restaurant that focuses on locally sourced, seasonal meals. At night, there are dark sky activities including astronomy hikes and astrology talks. During special events like meteor showers, Under Canvas staff set up on-property viewing spots with telescopes, blankets, hot cocoa, and s’mores.

“We hope to provide our guests with an unmatched celestial experience, one that leaves them with a lasting impression about the wonders of the night sky and the importance of protecting it for future generations,” said Vinton.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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