Unexpected Places to Find Your Park After Dark

Katherine RivardNPF Blog
Dark sky and Milky Way over Sand Beach at Acadia National Park in Maine
Acadia National Park — Kristi Rugg/NPS

When the sun sets, a new type of adventure reveals itself as the stars begin to shine. You might have heard whispers of how incredible the night skies of Acadia National Park or Grand Canyon National Park are — and the rumors are true. Those same stars are also visible at many other parks across the country, some of which you might not have considered for your next stargazing adventure. Make plans to capture the night, or to lie in the peace and quiet, soaking up these special places in a whole new way.

Montana’s Cultural Astronomy

Just because a national park is known for its historic and cultural significance doesn’t mean it does not also offer spectacular natural splendors. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana is a place of reflection, and at night, the park remains serene and inspiring beneath a layer of stars. The stars are sacred to the Crow, Sioux, and Cheyenne, who each consider the constellations an important piece of their culture and history. The National Park Foundation worked with the park to expand opportunities for visitors to explore the park after dark and witness these very constellations. Enjoy an evening in the park to experience the sight for yourself and to learn more about these traditions of cultural astronomy.

Arizona’s Pristine Night Skies

Given their close proximity, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the other national parks in Arizona’s Flagstaff area share accolades as certified international dark sky parks. The designation is awarded by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) that identifies places with exceptional starry nights and ensures that they continue to be protected. After a lengthy application process, certified areas like these in Arizona demonstrate proven strong programming and other efforts to protect night skies. They then continue to work with IDA to further promote their incredible sights through increased visibility and tourism. The Flagstaff Area National Monuments share their unforgettable views and offer summer night sky events for the public, including astronomy presentations, telescope viewing, and a constellation tour.

Twinkling Kentucky Stars

Two poeple camping out with a canoe under a night sky at Mammoth Cave National Monument
Carlos Moscoso, Share the Experience

Mammoth Cave National Park is known for its incredible cave system, but come above ground after the sun sets, and visitors can also find dark skies perfect for stargazing. To help connect the local community with this remarkable experience, the National Park Foundation granted the park $25,000 to support a program by the Friends of Mammoth Cave, Western Kentucky University, and local schools. Together, they created a night-sky viewing station and outings for students to visit the park for an evening adventure. For many of the students, this was their first experience exploring the national park located right beside their community. Visit the viewing station yourself or spend a night. The park offers campers 3 developed campgrounds, as well as many additional camping sites, perfect for rolling out your sleeping bag and gazing up at the stars.

New Mexico’s Brilliance

Milky Way over the mountain at Capulin Volcano National Monument
National Park Service

Capulin Volcano National Monument protects an extinct cinder cone volcano and an irregular landscape whose numerous volcanoes, mesas, and buttes create a natural screen from distant light sources. It officially received its designation as a Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park by the IDA on its centennial birthday in 2016. Park staff are further ensuring the pristine nature of their dark sky by reaching out to residents in nearby communities to teach them more about the value of night skies and how to preserve this resource. This local stewardship pays off in better viewing opportunities for visitors from near and far as the stars remain prominent for all to see.

Utah’s Star Support System

Utah is known for its incredible stargazing opportunities. Public groups such as the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks work diligently to ensure the preservation of these enchanting night skies. National parks across the state, from Hovenweep National Monument to Cedar Breaks National Monument, proudly offer programming to share these views with visitors. In fact, Cedar Breaks National Monument began an annual Southwest Astronomy Festival, which includes various astronomy events at several national park locations throughout the region.

Solar Storm Remnants in the North

Stars aren’t the only night sky sightings worth seeing. Visit Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota or Alaskan parks like Denali National Park & Preserve for the chance to see the Aurora Borealis. This magical natural phenomenon lights up the dark sky with shifting flows of green, red, blue, and purple. These rare light displays can’t be forecasted, but winter’s longer evenings increase the chance of seeing the lights, as does visiting northern areas such as these, free of excessive artificial light from cities.

Night Skies Over California

Milky Way and full moon over the Redwood Creek watershed at Redwood National and State Park
National Park Service

California’s night skies are something to be treasured — which is why the National Park Foundation partnered with Redwood National and State Parks to increase public awareness of light pollution. Efforts to reduce such light pollution within the parks included retrofitting existing lights and innovative activities to teach youth about best lighting practices. Visit the park for yourself to see the stunning skies and be sure to check their event calendar to ensure you don’t miss a “Star Party” or a night sky viewing event.

There are only 24 hours in a day, but all of them can be used to enjoy your national parks when you remember the incredible nighttime opportunities for stargazing. Join us in ensuring that the brilliance of these experiences never fade and that future generations will continue to look up in awe and feel the wonder of true dark skies.

For even more ideas on where to experience the majesty of the night sky in national parks, learn more here. Then, take a nap to rest up before evening falls and get out to #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque beneath the stars!

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