11 of the best places for stargazing and astronomy in the USA

With a wealth of dark-sky locations and remote, rural destinations, the US is one of the best countries in the world to get clear views of the night sky.

A starry skyscape: The Grand Canyon at night.

The USA boasts over 60 Dark Sky Places, certified by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), making large swathes of the country perfect for observing the Milky Way, planets, constellations, comets and asteroids in the night sky.

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What’s more, up and down the country there are observatories, museums and science centres open for public observing sessions, and many of them are free to attend.

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Below is a list of some of the best public locations for observing the night sky and getting closer to deep-sky objects with a telescope, as compiled by travel company Kuoni based on Trip Advisor reviews of users who have visited the sites themselves (see full list here).

But this list is not exhaustive. If you live in the US and would like to get started in astronomy, contact your local amateur astronomy society, or have a look online to see if there are any observatories or star parties near you.

For more information on certified Dark Sky locations in the US, and indeed around the world, visit the IDA’s website here.

The Milky Way appears in the Arizona night sky.
The Milky Way appears in the Arizona night sky.
1

Oregon University Observatory, Sunriver, Oregon

What’s on offer? Public night-sky observing sessions and daytime solar sessions offering the chance to observe the Sun Safely through specialist equipment. The observatory has over 30 telescopes, from basic refractors to a 30-inch Newtonian

When is it open? Night-sky sessions are 8pm – 10pm. Solar sessions are 11am – 2pm

Entry $10 per person

More info Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory website

2

McDonald Observatory, Fort David, Texas

What’s on offer? Star parties at the observatory’s visitor centre, offering access to telescopes in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park. Guided lessons taking you round the night sky in the open-air amphitheatre, followed by viewing stars and planets through telescopes.

When is it open? Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Times vary: see link below.

Entry $15 per person

More info McDonald Observatory website

3

National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro, New Mexico

What’s on offer? Guided night-sky telescope viewing at Etscorn Observatory on the Campus of NM Tech in Socorro. The night-time event begins at dark and lasts two hours.

When is it open? 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. See link below for times and more details

Entry $6 for adults, $5 for seniors. Free for under-17s.

More info Radio Astronomy Observatory website

The Milky Way appears over the Very Large Array, west of Socorro, New Mexico. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF, Jeff Hellerman
The Milky Way appears over the Very Large Array, west of Socorro, New Mexico. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF, Jeff Hellerman
4

National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC

What’s on offer? Safe solar and lunar observing at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory, guided by staff.

When is it open? Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm – 3pm.

Entry Free

More info Air and Space Museum website

5

Kitt Peak National Observatory Nightly Observing Program, Tuscon, Arizona

What’s on offer? An introduction to stargazing and telescope observing for beginners, including a light dinner.

When is it open? 60-90 minutes before sunset every night, except 15 July – 1 September.

Entry $120

More info Kitt Peak National Observatory website

6

Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona

What’s on offer? Tours, activities and telescope observing, including access to the 24-inch refractor and Giovale Open Deck Observatory.

When is it open? Monday – Saturday, 10am – 10pm

Entry $22

More info Lowell Observatory website

7

Griffith Observatory, LA, California

What’s on offer? Free public telescopes are available for observing every night the observatory is open and skies are clear. Stargazing sessions are guided by staff. Free public star parties take place monthly.

When is it open? Most nights, weather permitting. Star parties take place 2pm – 9:45pm. See link below for details.

Entry Free

More info Griffith Observatory website

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles.

8

Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii

What’s on offer? The Stars Tonight show, which offers a planetarium show followed by public viewing through the observatory telescope.

When is it open? First Saturday of the month. Timings vary.

Entry $10 per person

More info Bishop Museum website

9

Cincinatti Observatory Center, Cincinatti, Ohio

What’s on offer? Family-focussed (7+) observing the night sky, including the Moon and planets

When is it open? Thursdays, Fridays and some Saturdays. See link below for timings.

Entry $7

More info Cincinatti Observatory website

10

Museum of Science, Boston, Massachusetts

What’s on offer? Astronomy After Hours sessions, inviting the public to view the night sky from the museum’s Gilliland Observatory

When is it open? Thursdays in July and August, Fridays in October.

Entry Free

More info Boston University website

11

Orlando Science Center, Orlando, Florida

What’s on offer? Stargazing sessions from the domed observatory atop Orlando Science Center offering views of the planets and deep-sky objects.

When is it open? Friday and Saturday nights, 5pm – 9pm.

Entry $10

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More info Orlando Science Center website