10 US National Parks perfect for stargazing

The USA is a great place for stargazing: particularly where its many National Parks are concerned.

These 10 American National Parks – most but not all official Dark Sky Parks – are free from urban light pollution, offering some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the world.

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1

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. Credit: NPS/Jacob W. Frank

The first Dark Sky Park is a favourite of astrophotographers who like to image the Milky Way streaming through the famous Owachomo Bridge.

2

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona

Not to be confused with Grand Canyon National Park, this Dark Sky Park is one of the most remote in the US. It spans 1.05 million acres, in the region north of the Colorado River.

3

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches is another iconic location for astrophotographers – not to mention a designated Dark Sky Park where ‘night-sky rangers’ give regular talks and lead stargazing sessions. Head to the Delicate Arch viewpoint for a great panoramic.

4

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Designated in 2015, this Dark Sky Park in southeast Utah now has almost 100% night sky-friendly lighting. Island in the Sky is a great vantage point where a regular night-sky rangers programme in summer is followed by stargazing and telescope viewing.

5

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

The Milky Way galaxy sets over Fajada Mesa at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Credit: Eric Lowenbach / Getty Images

This Dark Sky Park offers evening night-sky programmes that include constellations of the native Chacoan people, as well as telescope viewing at Chaco Observatory and two annual star parties. Drive three hours south and you can tour the Very Large Array facility.

6

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Though not an IDA-certified park, Bryce has a long tradition of night-sky education, with 100 astronomy lectures per year held at the visitor centre, followed by guided telescope observing in the car park. A star party is held each June.

7

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Another destination not officially recognised, this stunning geologic amphitheatre hosts an award-winning summer star party at Point Supreme each Saturday night between Memorial Day and Labor Day (the last Monday in May and the first Monday in September). The 3,000m altitude really helps clarity. Stay in Brian Head or nearby Cedar City.

8

The Headlands, Michigan

This Dark Sky Park, an area of undeveloped land along Lake Michigan, is best visited in conjunction with nearby, car-less Mackinac Island. There’s no camping here, but there is a dedicated dark sky viewing area on the shoreline.

9

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

An hour from Arches, Dead Horse Point offers fantastic views from above a gooseneck in the Colorado River. The campgrounds are excellent, and night-sky rangers also run a programme of stargazing talks and events.

10

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

The Milky Way over Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania. Credit: Credit: demerzel21 / Getty

One of the few Dark Sky Parks in the eastern US, Cherry Springs has its own night-sky viewing area located north of Route 44. Stargazing benches are provided, as well as a summer sky map backlit in red light. Two major star parties are hosted each year.

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Eclipse-chaser and dark skies expert Jamie Carter is the author of A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide. This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.