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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
More info Air and Space Museum website
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.
More info Kitt Peak National Observatory website
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
More info Lowell Observatory website
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.
More info Griffith Observatory website
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
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.
More info Cincinatti Observatory website
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.
More info Boston University website
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.
More info Orlando Science Center website