Best Stargazing Road Trips in the U.S.
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In every region of the U.S. there are special places where you can see the stars very clearly, making multiple stargazing road trips totally possible.
The best spots are designated either Gold- or Silver-Certified International Dark Sky Parks and they benefit from protections that keep the surrounding area undeveloped. Lucky for you, you’re probably only a few hundred miles from one of these parks!
Of course, Alaska and Hawaii boast the most stunning night sky views. But since they’re a bit out of the way for most casual road trippers, this article will focus on the best regional stargazing road trips in the continental United States.
Check the weather report before you go (clear skies are obviously preferred) and set aside a week or two to hit all the dark sky parks within 500 miles of your home. With the right car insurance and a membership with the roadside assistance program with Jerry, you can hit the road confidently.
The skies are beckoning, so what are you waiting for? Here are the best stargazing road trips in the U.S.
If you’re a West Coast (i.e. best coast) dweller, then you probably already know the best wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest—but you may be surprised by the destinations that offer the best stargazing.
The U-shaped route below takes you through Montana, Idaho, and Washington. It requires 20 hours of driving and could be covered in a single week while traveling US-20, I-84, and US-93.
Idaho - Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve
This Sawtooth Mountains reserve offers 1,500 square miles of wilderness—and it’s just three hours from Boise. Be prepared for a truly off-grid experience, and don’t hesitate to take advantage of the docents’ expertise.
Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
Montana - Glacier National Park
It’s called the Big Sky State for good reason! With a million acres of undeveloped wilderness, you have a good shot at viewing the stars from anywhere in the park. Glacier National Park is about 45 minutes from Whitefish and about 2 ½ hours from Great Falls or Missoula.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Washington - North Cascades National Park
Two hours northeast of Seattle is North Cascades National Park, which only gets 38,000 visitors a year. Stargaze in peace and explore all that northern Washington has to offer.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Pro tip Check the weather reports for wildfire warnings before you head out.
We recommend two weeks for this loop. Start in California’s Death Valley and take US-93 to Kitt Peak, Big Bend, and then up to Clayton Lake. Dip up to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes then back to Chaco Canyon before heading west to Bryce Canyon. Finish off your trip at Great Basin in Nevada.
Arizona - Kitt Peak
An hour from Tucson is the Kitt Peak Observatory, which looks out over the Sonoran Desert from a mountaintop. You can even pay to use the observatory’s telescope for a small fee.
Kitt Peak Observatory, Arizona
California - Death Valley
With minimal light pollution, Death Valley is the perfect place to stargaze. With cool temperatures at night and minimal humidity, the desert offers perfect conditions to marvel at the universe’s heavenly bodies. The broad horizon doesn’t hurt, either.
In the wintertime, park rangers offer night sky tours.
Death Valley, California
Colorado - Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Travel four hours south of Denver to check out North America’s tallest sand dunes and enjoy straightforward panoramas of the star at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. The nearby mountains protect the park from city lights, and you may even catch a glimpse of nocturnal animals like owls and salamanders.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
Nevada - Great Basin National Park
One of the least visited parks in the country, Great Basin National Park gives you a better chance at stargazing in peace. Mather Overlook is recommended by astronomers for great views.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
New Mexico - Chaco Canyon National Historic Park or Clayton Lake State Park
Chaco Canyon is just three hours from Albuquerque, and it’s beautiful both day and night. It is Gold-Certified, so you’ll enjoy pristine stargazing when the sun goes down. By daylight, explore the prehistoric archaeological sites.
This park is accessed by dirt roads that may be unsafe for some passenger vehicles.
Another option is Clayton Lake State Park, which pulls double duty as a bird sanctuary. You can also see dinosaur footprints here! Clayton Lake State Park is in the far northeast corner of New Mexico, about seven hours from Chaco Canyon.
Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, New Mexico
Texas - Big Bend National Park
An hour and a half from Marfa, you’ll discover some of the best stargazing views in the country. Big Bend National Park is Gold-Certified and rarely gets cloud cover, so you’re almost guaranteed a perfect view of the heavens. Winter is a good time for stargazing here since the winds sweep debris out of the sky.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Utah - Bryce Canyon National Park
This is another great destination for both daytime and nighttime adventures. It has high elevation, dry air, and high-powered telescopes. By day, you can hike the park and by night, you can see 7,500 stars with the naked eye.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
You’ll want to take five days for this U-shaped route. Start in northern Michigan then follow the lakeshore until I-57 takes you to Middle Fork River. Head west past Des Moines to White Rock and then enjoy an epic conclusion in Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park.
Illinois - Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
A certified Dark Sky Park, Middle Fork River Forest Preserve is only two hours south of Chicago. It also features a prairie filled with native Midwestern wildflowers.
Iowa - White Rock Conservancy
While it’s not a recognized Dark Sky Park, this is the best place in Iowa to enjoy dark skies and crisp stargazing. And it’s only one hour from Des Moines! White Rock Conservancy offers a designated star field for visitors to camp out, and they even organize a star party every year with talks by expert astronomers.
Michigan - The Headlands
With 550 acres of buffer, the Headlands offers a ton of programming for free. The view here isn’t quite as spectacular as it is in coastal cities, but it’s good enough to earn a Silver certification from the International Dark-Sky Association. Occasionally, you can even see the Northern Lights. The park is an hour south of Sault Ste. Marie or 4 ½ hours from Detroit.
Minnesota - Voyageurs National Park
This park offers a network of water highways, so you have the unique opportunity to book a boat and stargaze while floating. There is minimal light pollution so close to the Canadian border and it’s some of the best viewings in the Midwest.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
MORE: Road trip essentials
Expect to visit the coast to enjoy the best stargazing on the east coast. From Bar Harbor to Cape Cod, plan at least two days to get the most out of your road trip.
Maine - Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument or Bar Harbor
Katahdin is just three hours from Bar Harbor and offers plenty of activities to keep you busy during the day. Hike, swim, or drive the scenic Katahdin Loop Road. After dark, the certified Dark Sky Park is guaranteed to impress.
Bar Harbor’s Acadia National Park is fiercely protected by Mainers—there’s even a town ordinance that keeps lights low! It’s an hour from Bangor and four and a half hours from Boston.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Massachusetts - Cape Cod
Visit Cape Cod during the off-season to avoid lights from residents and tourists. From Nantucket Island and Chatham Light Beach, you’ll have a clear shot up into the great blue beyond.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Pennsylvania - Cherry Springs State Park
This Gold-Certified Dark Sky Park is 3 ½ hours from Pittsburgh and 4 ½ hours from Philadelphia in Northern Pennsylvania. They offer sky tours on Friday and Saturday nights, and you can expect stunning 360-degree views and public parking. It’s not too far from urban areas, either.
Cherry Springs State Park which shares land within Susquehannock State Forest, Potter County, Pennsylvania
A straight shot south, southern stargazers will love this eight-hour route from Georgia to Florida’s Big Pine Key.
Florida - Big Pine Key
With one of the smallest populations in the state (and minimal light pollution), Big Pine Key is the perfect destination for Florida stargazers. Plus, since it’s closer to the equator than the rest of the country, Big Pine Key is the only place in the continental U.S. where you can see the Southern Cross.
Big Pine Key, Florida
Georgia - Stephen C. Foster State Park
Located in a swamp away from major cities, Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s best stargazing destination. The prehistoric cypress trees only add to the out-of-this-world sensation. Book a night tour of the swamp if you’re brave enough.
Stephen C. Foster State Park located in the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
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What is a dark sky park?
It’s a park that has received a special certification because it meets specific levels of darkness that facilitate stargazing. Many are near research centers that rely on minimal light pollution to conduct astronomical studies.
What is the best time of year to go stargazing?
It depends on your location, but summer tends to have less cloud cover.
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