Considering the full moon this evening, this seemed like the perfect time to kickstart your celestial vacation planning. 2016 stargazing has commenced! Mark your calendars for all of 2016's celestial events and do yourself a favor by visiting one of these special stargazing destinations in the USA.
1. Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona
The Kitt Peak National Observatory boasts the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes, making it the perfect destination for stargazing. The Sonoran Desert is renowned for stargazing–astronomers and amateurs alike can enjoy the night sky in this beautiful observatory.
2. Cherry Springs State Park, PA
This 82-acre state park in Pennsylvania is a haven for both amateur and professional astronomers. It’s considered one of the “darkest” places east of the Mississippi (which in this case is a good thing!) and was certified by the International Dark-Sky Association as a place of exceptional nighttime beauty. The Nighttime Viewing Area across from the official observation field is open all the time for your viewing pleasure.
3. Big Bend National Park, TX
This massive park in the wilds of West Texas is not only a remote viewing area for star-gazers, but the park has gone to great lengths to maintain their status as an IDA park including changing the lighting to shielded LEDs. Fodor’s recommends winter as the best time for gazing here, since the nights are longer and there are fewer clouds.
4. Natural Bridges National Monument , UT
The Natural Bridges National Park in Utah was the first IDA-certified park and is said to have some of the darkest skies in the world with almost zero light pollution. Of the three natural “bridges” (you can’t actually walk or drive on them), Owachomo (pictured) is the easiest to hike to and provides the best “frame” for photos like this of the Milky Way.
6. The Headlands, MI
This Michigan park on the Straits of Mackinac is one of the darkest spots in the eastern U.S., where you not only can see thousands of stars, but also sometimes the Northern Lights. The Dark Sky Discovery Trail, added in 2012, takes you directly from the entrance of the park to the official viewing area on a one-mile paved path.
7. Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park, NC
The first IDA park in the southeast, this observatory is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The observatory is part of Mayland Community College, which is committed to limiting light pollution in the region.
8. Big Pine Key, FL
Although much of the sunshine state’s humidity and light pollution prevent such nighttime views, Big Pine Key which is 100 miles south of Miami is known for its clear skies. It is one of the only places in the U.S. to see the Southern Cross constellation, which is visible in winter. The Southern Cross Astronomy Society (one of the oldest astronomical societies in the west) throws a Winter Star Party every year, which is the perfect gathering for aspiring astrophotographers.
9. Griffith Observatory, CA
While Los Angeles is definitely not known for its wide or dark skies, the Griffith Observatory located on Mount Hollywood is a great (and free!) place to view some astronomical wonders including Jupiter and Venus. The museum hosts free monthly “Star Parties” on the lawn with guided viewing through different kinds of telescopes.
10. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New MexicoChaco Culture National Historical Park has over 4,000 archeological sights to explore, all of which you can see the stars from. Just as Aztecs did so many years ago, visitors can study constellations from the remote national park.
11. Mauna Kea, HI
Hawaii is widely recognized as one of the best destinations for star-gazing in the world, both because of the distance from major cities and the elevation. Mauna Kea, a summit on the Big Island, has lots of stunning locales and tours to choose from.
12. Great Basin National Park, NV
Want to see multiple galaxies, five different planets, man-made satellites, and thousands of stars? Without even dragging along a telescope, it’s possible to view all of these wonders from Great Basin National Park. The park even provides astronomy programs for stargazing, in the spring and fall seasons.
13. Acadia National Park, ME
The wide expanses of Maine’s downeast coast are some of the last places in the eastern U.S. to see the Milky Way. The annual Acadia Night Sky Festival serves as both a gathering of amateur and professional astronomers and an awareness campaign about reducing light pollution in the area year-round to preserve star-gazing views.
14. Denali National Park, AK
With minimal light pollution, long nights and high altitudes, almost all of Alaska offers unparalleled views of the night sky, but during the fall, winter in places like Denali National Park & Preserve, you can also catch insane views of the Aurora Borealis.
15. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
High elevations, crisp air, and minimal light make Bryce Canyon an optimal place for stargazing. Bryce Canyon is considered one of the nation’s darkest places, which allows visitors to see the entire Milky Way during clear spring nights.
16. Glacier National Park, MT
With more than 700 miles of trails through one million acres of pristine wilderness, Glacier National Park is a backpacker's stargazing dream. There's very little light pollution in northernmost Montana because there's virtually no development—even the land across the border is a Canadian national park. The closest town—Whitefish, Montana—has its own Dark Sky Ordinance to keep light pollution at bay.
17. Sedona, AZ
While many go Sedona, Ariz., for its "vortexes," or magnetic energy hotspots, the sky overhead is also quite a draw. With elevations above 4,500 feet (1,370 meters) and about 300 clear nights a year, it's a great location to look skyward. There are several companies that host stargazing tours, or of course, you can set out on your own to one of the many local parks. There is also virtually no air or light pollution to obscure the heavenly view.
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