The epidemic of light pollution that swept the nation in the past half century has made the parks' night skies one of their most precious resources. Here, three regions where the overhead scenery is as impressive as the landscapes.
Badlands National Park
Many of the national park system's iconic destinations offer excellent opportunities to glimpse the constellations, none more so than Badlands National Park, a remote oasis in rugged South Dakota, home to an annual astronomy festival in July. Here, it is estimate that stargazers can see up to 7,500 individual stars on a moonless night. Summer astronomy programs at the park's Cedar Pass Campground area help point out constellations with laser pointers and provide telescopes for making out planets and nebulas more clearly.
Voyageurs National Park
Natural darkness due to lack of any significant light pollution makes Northern Minnesota one of the better places in the country to see the stars. Nighttime visitors to Voyageurs are often treated to dazzling meteor showers and, thanks to its latitude, regular sightings of the northern lights. Throughout the summer, kids can join "dark" rangers on nighttime hikes and telescope viewings nuring Night Explorer programs, and, upon completion of their Junior Ranger Night Explorer Booklet, earn a special Night Explorer patch.
Acadia National Park
Even on the light-saturated East Coast, Maine's Acadia National Park (pictured), surrounded by ocean and bays, is one of the few places in the region where the Milky Way is visible. The park hosts the Acadia Night Sky Festival each September, featuring films, lectures, and "star parties" for true enthusiasts. Efforts are also underway to reduce the amount of light pollution that exists in Acadia, in the hopes of earning it an International Dark Sky Park designation. Learn more about its skyward views during a ranger-led "Stars Over Sand" program, held nightly on Sand Beach during the summer months.