10 Best National Parks in the U.S. for Stargazing

From the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas to Washington's North Cascades, discover the darkest skies in U.S. national parks.

Milky Way over Crater Lake
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People flock to national parks for iconic hiking trails, scenic drives, and camping — but admirers of the night sky go for unmatched stargazing. Due to their protected nature, national parks often offer clear skies free from (or at least limited in) light pollution. Under Lucky Stars, a company that creates personalized star maps based on coordinates and dates, used park visitation numbers, accessibility, and light pollution data to rank the top 10 national parks for stargazing across America.

For optimal conditions, avoid the biggest light polluter of all — the moon — by traveling to these sites only in the week before the new moon and the first few days after it. Try booking a campsite where available to avoid driving in and out of the parks late at night.

Now, grab a pair of binoculars or a telescope, download a good astronomy app, and get to these parks for prime constellation spotting.

1. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park sign with milky way in background

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One of the least-visited national parks in the country, seeing only about 90,000 visitors per year, Great Basin in Nevada is all about solitude and wilderness, which is partly why it ranks so high for stargazing. A certified International Dark Sky Park, its stargazing webpage recommends visiting Mather Overlook on the scenic drive and the Baker Archaeological Site near the town of Baker. As a bonus, it will be possible to see a rare “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse here for two minutes and 34 seconds on October 14, 2023.

Note: Mather Overlook is located on a section of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive that's closed from November to June.

2. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Milky Way Star Gazing in Big Bend National Park in Texas
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A huge expanse of mountains and desert close to the Mexican border in southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park is also an International Dark Sky Park (along with the adjacent Big Bend Ranch State Park). The National Park Service says Big Bend has "the least light pollution of any other national park unit in the lower 48 states," making it one of the very finest parks to stargaze from. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way and an estimated 2,000 stars. Special LED and shielded lighting throughout the park helps preserve this spectacular sight.

Explore the night sky with one of the park's regularly scheduled ranger-led programs or make your own adventure. Some of the best stargazing sites are along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and Panther Junction Road.

3. Redwood National and State Parks, California

Milky Way over redwood forest

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Vast forests are among the darkest places in the U.S., but you'll need to find a clearing to actually see the night sky. You can do that in California’s Redwood National and State Parks, where there are many clearings between the groves. Made up of Redwood National Park, California’s Del Norte Coast, and Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks, the region spans 139,000 super-dark acres. For the least-obstructed views, position yourself on the coast, such as at Gold Bluffs Beach.

4. North Cascades National Park, Washington

Stars and Milky Way glowing over North Cascades mountains

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About two hours from Seattle is North Cascades National Park, an adventurer’s paradise with backcountry trails galore through an alpine landscape comprised of mountains, glaciers, and ancient forest. Sitting in 600,000 acres of protected wilderness, the park is set far from developed areas that could illuminate the sky. The best way to avoid light disturbance is to snag a backcountry camping permit and pitch a tent at Pelton Basin, Sahale Glacier, Basin Creek, or Johannesburg, all accessible from the Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm hiking trails.

Fair warning: 70% of the wildlife in North Cascades National Park is nocturnal, so don't expect to be the only one up.

5. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Northern Lights in Voyageurs National Park
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Close to the Canadian border in northern Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park is known for its forests and lakes, though few venture up here — about 250,00 people per year. Light pollution is very low, but there’s another reason to get yourself up to Voyageurs, and that’s a possibility of seeing the northern lights. Although the northern lights are typically seen further north, a particularly powerful solar storm can mean aurora borealis dancing within view of this Minnesota park. Although this spectacular phenomenon is more likely to be seen in winter, summer and fall have a lot to offer in the way of ranger-led programming.

6. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Milky Way at Butte Lake in Lassen Volcano National Park

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“Half the park is after dark,” says the official website of Lassen Volcanic National Park, an area of volcanoes, boiling mudpots, fumaroles, and hot springs in northeastern California. Some of the most accessible places to perch for a good view include the parking lots of Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and the Loomis Museum. You might also find fellow stargazers scanning the sky from the trailheads of Bumpass Hell, the Lassen Peak Trail, and the Devastated Area.

Come in the summer to participate in the annual Dark Sky Festival featuring astronomer- and astrobiologist-led programming.

7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Star trail over the Guadalupe Mountains

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in far west Texas, north of Big Bend National Park. Often overlooked, it’s best explored on foot, and its pristine night skies are best experienced by camping out in the wilderness or climbing any one of the four tallest peaks in Texas, which will give you a horizon-to-horizon view over tens of thousands of acres.

8. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Milky Way over sand dunes

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A remote location in south-central Colorado with huge sand dunes and pristine night skies, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is, not surprisingly, an official International Dark Sky Park. Its giant dunes in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains make it an iconic place for stargazing and astrophotography, with its high altitude ensuring crisp and dark starry skies. NPS says the Milky Way "is primarily visible in early morning hours during spring, or in evening hours from mid summer to early fall. During the rest of the year, its brightest part is below the horizon."

In the summer months, you'll find ranger-led programs on the night sky and nocturnal ecology. Kids between the ages of five and 12 can even earn a Junior Ranger Night Explorer patch with the completion of an activity booklet.

9. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Milky Way reflecting on Crater Lake

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About an hour north of the California border, Oregon's Crater Lake is the result of water pooling in a volcanic peak that collapsed 7,700 years ago. Its namesake national park is far from the perpetual sparkle of big cities (an almost-five-hour drive from Portland). Anywhere on the famous Rim Road around the caldera is usually perfect for night sky vistas. Be here on October 14, 2023, to witness the rare “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse, which will last for four minutes and 19 seconds.

If you have the time, link this park up with nearby Redwood National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park for an epic stargazing road trip.

10. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Milky Way from the ancient ruin False Kiva in Canyonlands

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If there’s one U.S. state that stargazers should visit, it's Utah, though only one of its many national parks made it onto Under Lucky Stars' top-10 list. Whether you’re in the touristy Island in the Sky region or down in the quieter Needles area, this International Dark Sky Park is one of the very best, with the iconic Mesa Arch a favorite location at night. Other stargazing hotspots in Canyonlands National Park include the Grand View and Green River Overlooks in Island in the Sky and Wooden Shoe Arch and Big Spring Canyon Overlooks in the Needles.

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