8 Dark Sky Locations Across the U.S.

Found­ed in 2001, the Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Asso­ci­a­tion has cer­ti­fied over 120 Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Places across the globe. Rang­ing from Dark Sky Parks such as Craters of the Moon Nation­al Mon­u­ment to Dark Sky Sanc­tu­ar­ies includ­ing the Cos­mic Camp­ground in the Gila Nation­al For­est, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions also include Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Com­mu­ni­ties across states like Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Texas. With lim­it­ed light pol­lu­tion spoil­ing the view, these Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Places pos­sess a noc­tur­nal envi­ron­ment that allow you to see out of this world.

Below is a short col­lec­tion of Dark Sky Parks where the Milky Way roams free, as well as a few Reserves and Sanc­tu­ar­ies. On the Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Asso­ci­a­tion web­site you can find the entire list of des­ig­nat­ed dark sky places across the world, as well as use­ful infor­ma­tion on how to mit­i­gate light pol­lu­tion near you. Web­site vis­i­tors can also find use­ful sta­tis­tics on light­ing, crime, and safety—as well as what to do if your neighbor’s light is affect­ing your noc­tur­nal envi­ron­ment.

Craters of the Moon National MonumentPark: Craters of the Moon Nation­al Mon­u­ment, Ida­ho
In the rugged and lava-formed inte­ri­or of south­east­ern Ida­ho, Craters of the Moon Nation­al Mon­u­ment pro­vides a stark land­scape of boul­ders, caves and vol­canic land­forms. Very lit­tle devel­op­ment has occurred in this rugged and fore­bod­ing land­scape that is won­der­ful to vis­it, result­ing in a dark­ness that is almost tan­gi­ble enough to touch. Craters of the Moon cel­e­brates its Dark Sky Park sta­tus with Star Par­ties in the fall and spring, as well as ranger-led full moon hikes through­out the sum­mer.

Death Valley National ParkPark: Death Val­ley Nation­al Park, Cal­i­for­nia
The largest nation­al park in the low­er 48, don’t let the omi­nous name of Death Val­ley Nation­al Park mis­lead you towards the amount of life found with­in this desert play­ground. Along­side being one of the hottest, dri­est and low­est nation­al parks, Death Val­ley also has some of the dark­est night skies. The Ube­hebe Crater has some of the dark­est skies in the park, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Har­mo­ny Borax Works offer slight­ly more acces­si­ble places to vis­it with equal­ly stun­ning celes­tial shows.

Big Bend National ParkPark: Big Bend Nation­al Park, Texas
Well after the sun sets through­out the moun­tain­ous region on the “big bend” of the Rio Grande Riv­er in south­ern Texas, vis­i­tors to this remote nation­al park can wit­ness the sparkling of approx­i­mate­ly 2,000 stars. Thanks to very min­i­mal devel­op­ment in the region, the Milky Way often makes a star­tling appear­ance at Big Bend Nation­al Park through­out the night. The Nation­al Park Ser­vice oper­ates three camp­grounds with­in Big Bend, and some of the best stargaz­ing is done along the park’s back­coun­try Chisos Moun­tains trails.

Grand Canyon National ParkPark: Grand Canyon Nation­al Park, Ari­zona
In addi­tion to the sheer splen­dor of the place, the Grand Canyon also pro­vides some of the most stel­lar night skies. Offi­cial­ly des­ig­nat­ed a Dark Sky Park in 2019, the Milky Way in the Grand Canyon is known to shine so bright­ly that it casts a shad­ow. The park cel­e­brates the night sky with an annu­al Star Par­ty and dif­fer­ent view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties through­out the year. To receive the offi­cial des­ig­na­tion, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park did a retro­fitting of all its light fix­tures to alle­vi­ate wast­ed illu­mi­na­tion.

Glacier National ParkPark: Glac­i­er Nation­al Park, Mon­tana
Encom­pass­ing deep glacial val­leys, snow-crust­ed moun­tain peaks and sev­er­al alpine lakes bob­bing with ice­bergs, Glac­i­er Nation­al Park is also home to stun­ning dark night skies. The park pro­vides numer­ous ways to wit­ness the night sky through­out the year, espe­cial­ly through their “Half of the Park Hap­pens After Dark” edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams. Along­side Glacier’s neigh­bor to the north, Water­ton Lakes Nation­al Park in Alber­ta, these two nation­al trea­sures have teamed up to become the first Inter­na­tion­al Peace Park and the first Dark Sky Park that strad­dles inter­na­tion­al bor­ders.

Arches National ParkPark: Arch­es Nation­al Park
The desert land­scapes of Utah offer a lot of won­der and awe, espe­cial­ly as the Milky Way and many celes­tial bod­ies take over the sky at night. Along­side the state’s license plate fea­ture, Arch­es Nation­al Park also has bril­liant night skies which are eas­i­ly viewed from places like Panora­ma Point, Gar­den of Eden and the Bal­anced Rock Pic­nic Area. Utah is filled with dark night skies, includ­ing at its oth­er four nation­al parks; Bryce Canyon, Capi­tol Reef, Canyon­lands, and Zion.

Central Idaho Dark Sky ReserveReserve: Cen­tral Ida­ho Dark Sky Reserve
The first and cur­rent­ly only Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Reserve in the Unit­ed States, the Cen­tral Ida­ho Dark Sky Reserve seeks to pro­tect one of the last remain­ing large pools of nat­ur­al night­time dark­ness in the coun­try. Encom­pass­ing over 900,000 acres main­ly with­in the Saw­tooth Nation­al For­est, this Dark Sky Reserve retains much of its sta­tus thanks to the des­ig­nat­ed wilder­ness areas with­in its bor­ders. Oth­er Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Reserves can be found across the world in coun­tries like New Zealand, France, and Ger­many.

Cosmic Campground, New MexicoSanc­tu­ary: Cos­mic Camp­ground, New Mex­i­co
One of the major dif­fer­ences between a Dark Sky Park and Dark Sky Sanc­tu­ary is that sanc­tu­ar­ies are far more geo­graph­i­cal­ly iso­lat­ed. The Cos­mic Camp­ground with­in the Gila Nation­al For­est of New Mex­i­co is a great exam­ple, with the near­est arti­fi­cial light locat­ed over 40 miles away in Ari­zona. Home to numer­ous Star Par­ties host­ed by the Friends of the Cos­mic Camp­ground, this dark sky sanc­tu­ary has a 360-degree, unob­struct­ed view of the daz­zling night sky.

Tips for View­ing Dark Night Skies

Go on a New Moon

The exact oppo­site of full moon, the dark skies will host the most starlight when a new moon has begun. Look at your moon charts and plan your star par­ty accord­ing­ly.

Use a Red Light

Bring along a head­lamp with a red-light fea­ture, which dra­mat­i­cal­ly decreas­es the amount of time your eyes need to adjust to the dark­ness if you need to use a light.

Give it Some Time

It can take up to thir­ty min­utes for your eyes to ful­ly adjust to the dark­ness. Bring some­thing you can sit on, warm lay­ers and per­haps some­thing warm to drink (like a hot toddy)—and then sit back and enjoy the show.

Stay Up Late

If you have a ded­i­cat­ed go-to-bed-at-dusk rou­tine, fire up the French press or grab some caf­feinat­ed tea, the dark­est night skies don’t begin to appear until mid­night at least. Not to say you can’t see some of the celes­tial mati­nee show, but the main act has a late pre­miere.

Avoid Light Pol­lu­tion

This one may seem obvi­ous, but avoid places where light can ruin your view. At Dark Sky Parks, typ­i­cal­ly any trail will take you away from the few lights com­ing from vis­i­tor cen­ters, camp­grounds and bath­rooms. When trav­el­ing to a Dark Sky Park, be sure to be con­scious of your own light pol­lu­tion includ­ing head­lights from your car.