10 Incredible Nighttime Adventures That Take Stargazing to New Heights
The universe is back in fashion. Perhaps it's because light pollution on the increase as white LED streetlights across ever-expanding cities, but there seems to be a growing interest in astro-tourism.
However, is just looking at the night sky enough to justify a long journey into the wilderness? Probably not, which is why we've found some unique vacations and organized activities that take place in areas beloved of stargazers. All of them combine an adventure with enjoying the night sky. Sometimes that means hauling along a telescope on a kayaking adventure, other times it's a hike-and-camp expedition that will have you come face to face with the night sky at its best.
To make it easy to find a dark place, there’s a network of places designated as having dark enough skies for stargazing and astronomy. The International Dark-Sky Association runs a certification scheme that monitors light pollution, and has certified Dark Sky Parks (to recognise the world’s very darkest places) and Dark Sky Reserves (dedicated to preserving the quality of night skies) across the world.
Either way, look skywards from one of these wilderness trips and you're sure to see stars. Want the best advice ever? If you want to see a sky full of stars, avoid the week before a full moon and three days afterwards, and for the Milky Way arching overhead, go during that same time-period between June and September.
Go kayaking at night at Acadia National Park, Maine, U.S.
Maine is at the forefront of the dark sky movement, with Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island holding an annual Acadia Night Sky Festival. It's set for September 5-9, 2018, but there's more to look out for than stars and planets. The waters all around this area are home to bioluminescent light-producing microorganisms that produce a silvery glow when disturbed. That's best done with a kayak paddle, which is why Castine Kayak Adventures run Bioluminescence Night Paddle Trips on double and single kayaks at sunset every Friday and Saturday night. The trip also includes stargazing, with specific trips planned to coincide with meteor showers and the observation of bright planets.
Wilderness ski across Lapland, Finland and Norway
How about skiing through one of the last wilderness areas of Europe in search of stars and the Northern Lights? Departing from Kilpisjärvi, Finland each April, this six-night Lapland Wilderness Ski Expedition trip from AdventureByDesign travels across the Arctic tundra and overnights in wilderness log cabins where you'll learn plenty of winter skills. It's expertly led by Gareth Hutton, an experienced arctic adventurer and noted Northern Lights and landscape photographer.
Whitewater raft on the Salmon River, Idaho, U.S.
Just announced in December 2017, the new Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve (which includes the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the communities of Ketchum, Smiley Creek, Stanley, and Sun Valley) are all now subject to restrictions on light pollution. The third largest such reserve in the world, its 1,416-square-mile area is ideal for whitewater rafting trips on the Salmon River, though night sky addicts should also consider a twilight dinner trip.
Take a 10-day horseback riding trip in the Atacama Desert, Chile
If you want to see stars that glow instead of twinkle, head up a seriously high mountain. So clear is the night sky at altitude that most of the world's most advanced telescopes – such as the Very Large Telescope and ALMA – perch on mountains as tall as 16,400 feet in Chile's Atacama Desert. The epic 10-day Atacama Horse Adventure travels from San Pedro de Atacama to Calama via salt flats, petroglyphs, and the mysterious Moon Valley. Prepare for plenty of sleeps under a star-studded sky.
Stand-up paddleboard in the moonlight, in Wales, U.K.
Though most of the U.K. is densely populated and consequently light polluted, Wales in the west is a huge exception. It's home Snowdonia National Park, the Elan Valley and the Brecon Beacons National Park, all of them certified as Dark Sky Parks or Reserves (as well as many other stargazing locations). However, if moonlight is more your thing, then get yourself deep within Snowdonia in North Wales where Psyched Paddleboarding conduct Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) trips across a lake.
Stargaze on the White Rim Trail, Canyonlands, Utah, U.S.
With endless miles of four-wheel-drive roads, Canyonlands National Park in Utah is a dream destination for mountain bikers after solitude. It's also an International Dark Sky Park. By day, Holiday River Expeditions' White Rim Trail Stargazing Trip will lead you around Canyonlands' dramatic Island in the Sky above the Colorado and Green Rivers. By night, your playground will be the Milky Way, with a telescope also on hand for a close-up.
Ascend Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand
Here on the South Island of New Zealand, dark skies are a way of life. First created in the early 1980s, outdoor lighting controls reign at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the world's biggest. Experienced mountaineers could consider a six-day ascent of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 12,217 feet. For the rest of us there are plenty of organized astro-tourism activities in the area.
Find desert stars and solitude in the Lut desert, Iran
Iran is emerging as a major destination among bucket list-ticking travelers, but there's nothing remotely populist about this expedition to Iran's Lut desert (also called Dasht-e-Lut) from Secret Compass. A 14-day, 125-mile hike across an otherworldly landscape of star dunes, shifting sands and wind-hewn kaluts, this epic east to west journey goes close to the hottest recorded spot on the planet.
Night hike under a full moon in the Dolomites, Italy
There is no more majestic a sight than the 18 peaks of hiking mecca the Dolomites at dusk. Here in Italy's northeast, the 200-year-old, family-run spa and resort Adler Dolomiti is holding moonlit hikes during the full moon of June 28, July 27 and August 27, 2018. Free to all guests, the hikes begin at 5 p.m. with a cable car ride to up to Seceda at 7,905 feet, where you'll will see the golden glow of the setting sun on the Dolomites. The hike reaches Forcella de Sieles, which shines a fluorescent white under the light of the moon at just over 8,202 feet, and goes on to the lunar landscape of the Puez plateau. Moon-gazers, standby.
Hike, kayak, and snorkel in the world's newest Dark Sky Park
The world's newest Dark Sky Park, certified just last month, is the subtropical jungle-covered Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, the first in Japan and only the second in Asia. An island of 157 square miles, it's the last in a chain of Japan’s southerly Yaeyama Islands, which are much closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan. Home to an endemic firefly species that relies on natural darkness to survive, as well as the endangered Iriomote-yamaneko cat (there are only 100 left), this is a place for hiking, kayaking and snorkeling by day, and stargazing by night.