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Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Photograph: Unplash/Under Lucky Stars

The darkest, clearest places for stargazing in the USA

These mind-blowing places for stargazing in the USA offer uninterrupted views of the sparkling night sky

Written by
Shoshi Parks
Contributor
Sarah Medina
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For most of us, stargazing in the USA feels slightly out of reach. We know what we need — low light pollution and dark, clear skies — but those qualities are hard to come by (especially if you live in a city that never sleeps). But when we have the chance to road trip out of the city and escape to one of the best national parks in the USA, it’s worth taking the time to stay overnight and keep our gaze turned to the glittering skies.

Of course, not all national parks are equal when it comes to the best places to stargaze in the country. Some of the best stargazing destinations, in fact, aren't even national parks at all; national monuments, state parks, and even humble county parks are among those certified as International Dark Sky Parks, where stars are guaranteed to be brighter than anywhere else in the world.

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While Maui or Big Sur are popular destinations for stargazing, you'll find the clearest skies in less-traveled forests, prairies, and deserts in states with wide open space like Colorado, Texas, and Utah. But even if a trip out west isn't in the stars, dark skies may not be far away. From Florida to Virginia and California, some of the best spots are all within driving distance of major population centers. So find your binoculars and pack the car — it's time to see some scary nights at the best places for stargazing in the USA.

Best places to stargaze in the U.S.

Located near the Mexican border in southwest Texas, Big Bend's massive surface area and little-to-no light pollution makes it one of the best spots to stargaze in America. Make yourself comfortable amongst the cacti — Big Bend is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States — as you behold the stars, or find a spot in the Chisos mountain range to get an even better vantage point.

Canyonlands's countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes, carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries, make it a popular destination for adventure-seekers in the Southwest. With panoramic views of more than 337,000 acres of desert landscape, it's also one of the best national parks to gaze at the stars. In fact, Canyonlands boasts one of the darkest skies in the USA with less than 0.002 artificial light! 

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This northern Minnesota park, located close to the Canadian border, is already known for its stunning forestry and lakes. Throw in the fact that the park welcomes just 232,974 yearly visitors — and low light pollution, naturally — and you have one of the best places to stargaze in the Midwest. Voyageurs is a maze of interconnected water highways, so plan ahead fby bringing your own watercraft or reserving one in advance for solo-floating under the stars. 

4. Rappahannock County Park, Virginia

Don't be fooled by the unassuming name. No, Rappahannock isn't a national park or even a state park, it’s an International Dark Sky Park (it received the distinction in 2019), one of the best places in the world to see the stars. Beyond that, Rappahannock, which sits at the gateway to Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains just miles from the iconic Appalachian Trail, is one of the last dark areas on the East Coast to see the Milky Way shimmer and shine above. 

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Northern California's Lassen Volcanic National Park is criss-crossed by a beautiful network of stunning lakes and trails, but the real showstopper is the park's namesake volcanoes and jagged peaks that are littered throughout the park. Even more amazing?  The stunning scenery is mirrored in the night sky thanks to extremely low light pollution. We can't give a better reason than that to stargaze in this gorgeous park. 

Great Basin National Park is huge — it covers much of Nevada, Oregon, and Utah while it even pokes into sections of California, Idaho, and Wyoming — so it may come as no surprise that you’ll find unpolluted areas in this great expanse of land. Best of all, the park only sees about 131,802 visitors per year, which means you likely won't be disturbed by anyone else as you turn towards the heavens. 

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Want to really get off the grid? The North Cascades, located in Washington, is a vast terrain of wilderness that only sees a measly 38,000 visitors a year. In other words: extremely low light pollution is basically a guarantee. Filled with a varied species of animals and birds, the remote park is a peaceful destination to enjoy the stars and some alone time with nature. 

Home to the tallest dunes in North America, the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado covers a range of terrain — from wetlands and alpine to tundra and grasslands. With low light pollution and an average 527,546 visitors every year, you'll be able to see everything in the sky at night (including shooting stars, if that’s what you’re chasing). Experience a truly starry sky on moonless nights, or a surreal walk on the dunes under bright full moonlight. 

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Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is one of Florida's largest parks and one of the last places where the state's dry prairie ecosystem remains intact. It's also an International Dark Sky Park, one of the best places (not just in the U.S., but in the world) to see stars. Come in the daylight hours to see the fragile landscape and its 48 native species, then camp out for the stunning celestial show that plays out nightly above the palmettos.

With 704,512 annual visitors, Crater Lake is one of the more popular parks in this list — but its namesake body of water makes it all worth it. Crater Lake was formed 7,700 years ago when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of a tall peak. It's now the deepest lake in the USA (and one of the most pristine on earth) with a jewel-toned blue color and ridiculously clear water. The lake provides the perfect backdrop to reflect the glistening stars in the sky — it’s like seeing double in all the best ways.

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Just east of El Paso, Guadalupe Mountains National Park takes up 86,368 acres of the Lone Star State. Famed for having three major ecosystems located within the park (as well as protecting the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef and the four highest peaks in Texas), the park offers plenty to see at both day and night. But you're here for night, after all — with just 188,883 visitors a year, the park offers one of the best opportunities in the country for clear, uninterrupted time with the stars above. 

California's coast is a nature-lover's Eden with gorgeous beaches, redwoods, and stunning national parks up and down the Pacific. The best spot to stargaze, however, is Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP), which consists of Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks). The combined RNSP spans 139,000 acres and features old-growth temperate rainforests, very low light pollution, and a yearly footfall of only 504,722 visitors — a great combination to see the stars with little interruption.

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