by Ronnie Charrier
For most people around the world, light pollution blots out the night sky and removes any chance of seeing the billions of stars above us. There are, however, still some amazing amazing places where the night remains untouched by humans.
For those that do want to catch these wonders above us, it’s the search for minimum light pollution, dark cloudless nights, wide open air, and high altitudes that drive millions to far-off places around the world every year. And if you feel like joining them, but flying to the southern hemisphere or some other far-off land is out of the question, where should you go?
Don’t worry, we have a couple ideas for you that may just be in your backyard if you live in the western part of the U.S..
Here are our unscientific and quite subjective picks for some of the best locations around the western part of the United States for A+ skywatching courtesy of some of our favorite Instagrammers (Definitely give them a follow).
And if those choices don’t work for you, there are plenty of websites like this Light Pollution Map or this Dark Site Finder that can direct you to the darkest skies with the clearest conditions near you.
Eastern Sierra Mountains, California by @cecphotos
Some of the best stargazing moments actually happen during crisp winter nights. Far away from the glare of city lights, the longer nights and shorter days combined with lower moisture levels provide optimal viewing conditions few destinations can provide, including a chance to see the Milky Way in its entirety.
Strategically located along scenic Highway 395 near the Nevada border in the Eastern Sierra region of the state, Bishop, California has ample room for you to explore a night under the stars. Bishop has deserts, mountains, streams, and ancient forests — a dynamic landscape sure to provide an interesting contrast to your night photographs. To top things off, Bishop is less crowded during the winter months, ensuring you'll have exclusive access to the best stargazing opportunities the Eastern Sierra Mountains have to offer.
Rainier National Park, Washington by @shotbylevi
Mount Rainier National Park is beautiful anytime during the day, but at night you have the chance to catch some of the most astounding astrophotography photos from Washington. Make your way to the Sunrise parking lot and you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the slew of tripods and anxious photographers waiting for the sun to set and the Milky Way to rise. The view from the north looking south to Mount Rainier will give you a good look at the Milky Way over Mount Rainier if the clouds cooperate. Sunrise Visitor Center has specific hours for stargazing, and occasionally hosts events.
Sylvan Lake, South Dakota by @thetaintedtripod
With the lack of light pollution, western South Dakota has a large number of fantastic stargazing spots. Drive five minutes outside of any of the Black Hill’s small towns and you will see the stars wonderfully, but there are several well-known stargazing spots that shouldn’t be missed and Sylvan Lake, with it’s calm waters that can reflect the night sky, is one of them.
Sophie Lake, Montana, Near Glacier National Park by @ronnietravles
With more than 700 miles of trails through one million acres of pristine wilderness, Glacier National Park is a backpacker's stargazing dream. There's very little light pollution in northernmost Montana because there's virtually no development—even the land across the border is a Canadian national park.
Joshua Tree National Park, California by @krowejo
While known for its desert flora—think wildflowers and spiky Yucca 'Joshua trees'—Joshua Tree National Park is in fact, also a designated Dark Sky Park, protecting a different kind of nature. These parks preserve natural darkness, undisrupted by mankind, and are perfect for viewing desert stars and constellations
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado by @krispy303
At 5,280ft above sea level, Denver has an obvious advantage when it comes to stargazing: extra elevation means clearer night skies. And at over 12,000 feet about sea level, stargazing from Rocky Mountain National Park makes the Milky Way seem almost within grasp.
Castle Valley, Utah by @timkemple
The Moab area is an adventure-lover’s playground by day, but it’s pretty great once the sun sets, too. It’s just 30 miles from Canyonlands National Park, a designated International Dark Sky Park, so you know there’s solid stargazing. The beauty of camping in and around Castle Valley is that many sites are at or near trailheads, so you can get an early start to beat the heat or keep playing until dusk.
Arches National Park, Utah by @brock_james
On a moonless night, darkness is cast over the skies at Arches National Park. Over 2,500 stars appear painted across a black canvas, with red-tinged arches towering over the desert landscape in the foreground. While neighboring towns threaten stargazing at the Arches, national parks are some of the last remaining sanctuaries for unpolluted night skies.
Did we miss anywhere? Let us know in the comments!