These stargazing spots are the closest you’ll get to heaven on Earth

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It’s easy to forget that your life on Earth is just one planet in a universe of floating rocks — until you witness a solar eclipse or watch a comet shoot across the sky. While these rare events may be as difficult to catch as a falling star, one constant is the twinkling stars that come out at night. Find the best spots to stargaze and observe the stunning lights of the cosmos.

Is heaven a place on Earth? You’ll think so with the awe-inspiring views of stars that can only be seen in these locations. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

What is stargazing?

Gaze into the night sky, and you might see the light of fiery celestial bodies that have traveled hundreds of light years to reach your eyes. These otherworldly views can be humbling, reminding us how small we are in the universe. 

Stephanie Rytting, a travel writer for USA Adventurer, enjoys stargazing with her husband and four children. “I love the simultaneous feeling of both smallness and vastness — smallness in the face of the immensity of creation and vastness in the connection to it and knowing that we are made of the same stuff. It’s always a moving experience.”  

DarkSky International, a volunteer group focused on reducing the harmful effects of light pollution, has certified more than 200 dark sky places worldwide — and 146 of those spots are in North America. So whether you are standing on a beach in New England, camping in the middle of nowhere in the Heartland or standing on a rocky cliff on the West Coast, it’s relatively easy to connect with nature and space in all of its glory from one of these amazing spots.

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Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia’s coastal location offers some of the best stargazing on the East Coast. At this park, you can choose from a variety of terrains to enjoy the night sky. If you want to view the heavens from the top of a mountain, head to Cadillac Mountain, and for waterfront seats to the show, check out Jordan Pond. To learn more about stargazing, attend the Acadia Night Sky Festival, which features ranger-led programs and astrophotography workshops.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

The most stunning views of the night skies are when you’re in the middle of nowhere, which is why the vastness of Big Bend National Park is a fantastic stargazing spot. To fully immerse yourself in the wilderness, book a stargazing dome with a transparent ceiling portal that allows you to spend the night glamping under a sea of stars. With one of the darkest night skies out of all the U.S. national parks, according to the National Park Service, Big Bend is also ideal for watching meteor showers.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Home to the tallest dunes in North America, this park offers a breathtaking view of the Milky Way and other constellations that appear over the sandy landscape. Rytting points out that “low humidity and higher elevation help improve stargazing conditions.” At 7,700 feet above sea level, this high-elevation desert allows you to marvel at the starry sky with a foreground that’s hard to find anywhere else. 

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park is certified as an International Dark Sky Park in the northwest corner of Montana near the Canadian border. Catherine Xu, a photographer and travel writer at Day Trip Nomad, found Glacier a magical place for stargazing. “You can see the Milky Way sprouting out from the silhouettes of the jagged peaks.” While Xu spent an hour in the cold taking astrophotography shots, you can get closer to the stars in this high-altitude location by signing up for the park’s astronomy programs in the observatory. 

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, Idaho

If you’re looking for another stunning backdrop against the dazzling night sky, Craters of the Moon National Monument more than delivers. The surreal landscape of black volcanic rock, coupled with the remoteness of this location, makes it one of the best places to stargaze. Located about 180 miles from Boise, Idaho’s biggest city, you’ll have no problem with light pollution interfering in this lava field.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah 

Filled with spire-shaped rocks called hoodoos, Bryce Canyon’s unique landscape looks like something straight out of a science fiction novel.  As Roxie Yonkey, a travel writer at Roxie on the Road discovered, participating in an astronomy event is a great way to explore the heavens here. “After peering through a telescope, an astronomer drew the constellations on view above with a laser pointer and explained their stories.” Then Yonkey took a park ranger’s advice and headed to Inspiration Point. “Watching the Milky Way rise above the horizon was the most awe-inspiring moment. I had never seen so many stars at once.”  

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

You likely will need more time to see everything you want when visiting California, but Lassen Volcanic National Park is a must-visit. Home to volcanoes, meadows and hot springs, Lassen’s diverse landscapes are about an hour east of Redding. The seclusion of this national park makes it a hidden gem for stargazing. Here, you can enjoy the sky by the mountain lakes or in the meadows covered with wildflowers.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Named after trees that look like they sprung off the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, Joshua Tree National Park offers clear, dark skies from anywhere in the park that are perfect for spotting constellations and meteor showers. Synke Nepolsky, a Berlin-based travel writer at Synke Unterwegs, planned a West Coast road trip around the new moon over Joshua Tree. “Coming from a place where it’s mostly light-polluted, it was essential for me to find a spot where I could see the stars or even the Milky Way.” Check out designated stargazing areas in Hidden Valley, Cap Rock, Quail Springs, and Ryan Mountain for the best views.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

This dormant volcano is sacred to native Hawaiians and the highest point in the Aloha State. It’s also home to the world’s largest astronomical observatory. Noel Morata, a travel writer and photographer for This Hawaii Life, recommends starting at the visitors center. “If you come a little early for the sunset, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over the southern parts of the island.” As the sun slips behind the Pacific Ocean, you’ll have a chance to gaze at the stars through high-powered telescopes while rangers explain how the early Hawaiians found the islands guided by the brilliant stars 

Stargazing tips and etiquette

Before you set your sights on seeing the stars, pay attention to the lunar phases. The best time to stargaze is during a new moon, the dark and invisible opposite of a full moon. Rytting warns that “even a quarter moon will severely hamper your ability to see the stars.”

You’ll also want to be mindful of what you wear to stargaze. Nepolsky recommends “wearing closed-toe shoes to protect your feet from any sharp rocks, snakes or other small animals around.” It’s also important to remember that once the sun sets, the temperature will drop. Nepolsky recommends wearing long sleeves, pants and carrying a jacket.

Wherever you decide to admire the heavens, be sure you know and follow stargazing etiquette. For the best experience, come prepared with food, water and a folding chair. Don’t forget to use red lights to preserve the dark night sky, and put your phone away to avoid polluting the area with unnecessary light. 

Reach for the stars

Scattered across the U.S., dark sky spots allow you to be mesmerized by the magic of the night sky and feel as if the twinkling stars are within arm’s reach. Not only will you see once-in-a-lifetime views, but you’ll gain a new perspective that reminds you that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. 

Sage Scott was bitten by the travel bug as a preschooler when her family moved abroad for the first time. Now settled in America’s Heartland, Sage is a travel writer, world wanderer and photographer whose favorite color is golden hour. Follow her adventures at Everyday Wanderer.

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