Whether you’re looking to cross the Northern Lights off your bucket list, add astronomy festivals to your 2023 calendar, or are just seeking a few nights away from artificial lighting, the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has a list of the darkest Parks that’ll make your dreams come true! We’ve compiled a list of our five favorite Dark Sky Parks and their noteworthy attractions: 

 

Big Bend

 

Big Bend has the least amount of light pollution of any National Park in the lower 48, which makes it the perfect place for stargazing! Venture into the darkness and take in the stars on your own, or join Big Bend’s rangers for guided programs such as “Stars Over Big Bend,” where participants can view the night sky through telescopes while listening to park rangers talk about the importance of darkness. For more information on Big Bend’s programs, check out their calendar

 

Bryce Canyon

 

Join Bryce Canyon’s rangers for an astronomy program to learn about the science and history of astronomy, as well as the park’s IDA status. Astronomy programs are available from June through September; check out Bryce Canyon’s calendar for more information on their astronomy programs. 

On top of their regular astronomy events, Bryce Canyon hosts an annual astronomy festival where visitors can use the festival’s telescope stargazing site, attend stargazing events, and sit in on lectures led by astronomers. The 2023 astronomy festival is scheduled for June 14-17. 

 

Death Valley

 

Death Valley hosts an annual Dark Sky Festival, where visitors can attend auditorium talks, astronomy programs, and attend astrophotography meet-ups. The 2023 Dark Sky Festival is scheduled for February 10-12

In addition to the Dark Sky Festival, Death Valley is part of Nevada’s astro-tourism route, Park to Park in the Dark; the route connects Nevada’s two Dark Sky Parks—Death Valley and Great Basin—and passes through remarkable places such as Lunar Crater, Bonnie Claire Playa, and Blackrock Lava Flow. Interested in planning a roadtrip? Check out the Park to Park in the Dark website for more information!

 

Glacier

 

Glacier National Park partners with numerous astronomy foundations to create their astronomy education program, where participants can view and learn about the night sky. Rangers offer nightly astronomer-led programs in July and August, which offer visitors a tour of the night sky through telescopes, as well as an occasional Logan Pass Star Party. 

In addition to Glacier’s astronomy programs, the reflections at Lake Mcdonald and Bowman and Kintla Lakes make for a magical northern-lights viewing experience. If you’re hoping to see the northern lights at Glacier, be sure to reference the aurora forecast while planning your trip.

 

Voyageurs

 

Voyageurs National Park is one of the best viewing locations for the northern lights in the lower 48. The reflections at Rainy Lake and Kabetogama Lake make for a spectacular viewing opportunity. Even if you’re unable to catch the northern lights—despite your best planning and preparation—the dark skies above Voyageurs are bound to leave you starstruck—with sights of shooting stars, constellations, planets, and more! 

Voyageurs hosts an annual Star Party, where visitors can attend astronomy lectures, guided constellation tours, and telescope viewings. The 2023 astronomy festival will be held August 10-12. Aside from its Star Party, Voyageurs rangers host an hour-long program, available weekly from June through August, to view constellations, planets, and galaxies. Check out their calendar for more information on their astronomy programs!

 

Stargazing Tips

 

1. Use a red light.

Red lights are optimal for stargazing because they produce less light pollution than white lights, thus increasing star visibility and decreasing the chances of disturbing nearby wildlife.

 

2. Give yourself time
It takes at least 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. You’ll want to give your eyes enough time to adjust in order to take in the vastness of the night sky.

 

3. Visit during the new moon

The night sky is darkest during the new moon, which increases star visibility and creates optimal conditions for stargazing.

 

4. Be prepared

Dress appropriately for the weather; bring extra layers, a blanket, camp chair, and/or bug spray.

 

Looking for more astronomy-related opportunities for your 2023 bucket list? The Annular Eclipse will occur on October 14, 2023 and will be most visible in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as some parts of California, Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona. Mark your calendars and plan ahead for your trip to Bryce Canyon, Big Bend, or Death Valley for a chance of seeing the total eclipse in the parklands! 

 

Whether you’re looking to cross the Northern Lights off your bucket list, add astronomy festivals to your 2023 calendar, or are just seeking a few nights away from artificial lighting, we’ve compiled a list of our five favorite Dark Sky Parks and their noteworthy attractions.

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