Posted on May 03 2021
By Ali Harford
The Milky Way on a clear night is astounding. It rips across the sky like the claw mark of some great beast, tearing open the dark to expose billions of stars. Due to light and air pollution, it’s hard to find places in the U.S. where you can regularly see the Milky Way—in 2016, Astronomy Magazine reported that one-third of humanity can’t see it.
There are 79 certified International Dark Sky parks and sanctuaries in the U.S. These are lands that “possess exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights.” We created a country-wide roadtrip linking together 11 of those rare locations. Most of the parks offer learning opportunities for people of all ages. Pick the park closest to you and hop on the route!
And to keep yourself entertained on the road, read this Geo-Joint about dark skies!
Death Valley is the “hottest, driest, and lowest” national park—it’s also the hottest place on Earth, often exceeding 120ºF in the summer. There are hiking routes, backpacking routes, and hundreds of miles of backcountry roads in the park. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you can schedule a tour to visit the different locations in the park where the movies were filmed.
Bryce Canyon’s Annual Astronomy Festival is scheduled for June 9-12. In the past, attendees participated in astronomy-themed activities and programs, and the park brought in keynote speakers. In 2019, the speaker was Dr. Amber Straughn, an Associate Director of Astrophysics Science at NASA.
Capulin Volcano is an extinct cinder cone volcano that rises 8,182 feet above sea level. Activities in the park include hiking on and around the volcano and learning about the unique geology of the area.
Buffalo National River is America’s first national river, established in 1972. You can paddle most of the river, and it’s encouraged to paddle at night for star gazing. The river also partners with local astronomical societies to host “star parties.”
Ranger-led activities at Big Cypress include talks on reptiles like alligators and diamondback rattlesnakes, bird species, and astronomy. The activities are every Friday at 12:30pm. You can also book kayaking and off-road exploration trips through the swamp!
Stephen C. Foster is a “primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp, one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders.” Guided night boat tours of the swamp are available, and the park also offers kayaks and canoes for rent.
Katahdin offers hiking, hunting, camping, biking, snowmobiling, skiing, and fishing. This is one of the lesser-used parks in Maine, so it offers a more solitary alternative to Acadia.
Cherry Springs offers private guided star tours with Greg Snowman, a local astronomy expert, and nightscape photography workshops with Curt Weinhold. The park also keeps an updated sky events calendar.
Headlands is a waterfront park that occasionally sees the Northern Lights. The phenomenon is elusive, but the park can usually predict when it’ll happen, a day in advance.
Craters of the Moon is a “vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush.” It was designated as a dark sky park in 2017.