This State May Be the Most Under-the-radar Stargazing Destination in the U.S.

Avoid the crowds, not the stars.

A starry night in Watoga State Park, West Virginia
Photo: Courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism

As any stargazer knows, the most important ingredient for stellar star viewing is inky-black skies. It's why big cities, with their constantly lit buildings and endless streetlights, are severely lacking in terms of worthwhile stargazing. And it's why West Virginia, with its sparse population and smaller cities — no city has more than 50,000 people — is heralded as one of the best places for stargazing on the East Coast.

In fact, in late 2021, the state received its first dark sky designation from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The coveted nomination was granted to Watoga State Park in Marlinton, West Virginia, and the adjacent Calvin Price State Forest and nearby Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, which are both managed by Watoga. The three parks were recognized for their dedication to reducing light pollution and educating the public — and, of course, for their clear, dark skies, which provide some of the nation's best stargazing.

A starry night over a lake in Watoga State Park, West Virginia
Courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism

"Watoga State Park Foundation is happy to have been instrumental in the pursuit of the recently approved Dark Sky Park certifications for Watoga State Park, Cal Price State Forest, and Droop Mountain Battlefield," John Goodwin, president of the Watoga State Park Foundation, said in a IDA press release. "This is a new and exciting time for the park and visitors. Not only can the park offer activities during the day, but now they can offer activities at night."

In addition to stargazing, the park is home to synchronous fireflies, which light up the night sky in their own way — flashing in unison during their spring mating season. Camping at these three West Virginia parks promises a host of stars, and according to surveys done in 2019 and 2020, naked-eye views of the Milky Way and the Triangulum Galaxy.

In addition to the newly designated parks, other stargazing spots in West Virginia include Lost River State Park, Seneca State Forest, and Blackwater Falls State Park.

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