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Top Dark Sky Cities and Other Places to Stargaze in the U.S.

Artificial lights wash out the beauty of the night sky, but when you know where to go, you can see spectacular galaxies and constellations of stars in dark sky cities and other locations across the U.S.

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Photo: Jeff Zylland / NPS

Find a Dark Sky and Go Stargazing

Natural darkness is one of our natural resources, and it's at risk. Overused and badly used artificial outdoor lights can obscure the stars and threaten ecosystems that need both day and night. Light pollution can also affect humans by increasing the chance of sleep disorders, depression and other health issues.

Organizations like DarkSky International are working to protect star views by certifying lands where outdoor lights are managed or minimized. They certify them as Dark Sky Parks, Sanctuaries, Reserves or Communities or as Urban Night Sky Places.

Use our list of the best dark sky towns and other places in the U.S. to find incredible views of the night sky. Before you go, make sure the area is open to the public (some lands are private, and some places are only open seasonally). Check for conditions like road closures and bad weather, too. Visit first during the day to spot things that might make you trip or fall in the darkness, and be aware of local wildlife. Then go back to your stargazing site at least 30 minutes before nightfall so your eyes have time to adjust. Bring a red light so you can look around without disrupting your night vision. Don't forget a telescope or powerful binoculars.

Before you go, pick up a star map or download an astronomy app like SkyView, Stellarium Mobile, SkySafari 7 Pro or Night Sky. Night Sky is available only for iOS.

Want to help preserve dark skies? Get involved.

Shown here: A ranger at Rocky Mountains National Park using a laser to point out the constellations.

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Photo: National Park Service

Saguaro National Park - Urban Night Sky Place

Located in southern Arizona's Pima County, Saguaro National Park is an Urban Night Sky Place, a site that offers a true nighttime experience even though it's near a large, well-lit urban area. The park has two sections: one to the east of Tucson, in the Rincon Mountains District, and one to the west, in the Tucson Mountain District. Both are home to gigantic saguaro cacti, which look amazing when photographed in silhouette against a faintly glowing sky.

Saguaro National Park was certified as only the ninth Urban Night Sky Place in the world and the second in the National Park System. The gates close at 8 p.m., but visit in the winter when the sky gets dark early and you’ll have more time to stargaze (winter temperatures are usually mild). Most ranger-led programs are held from January through April; see the calendar for a list of dark sky events.

If the sky is too bright in one direction, turn around in case it's darker behind you. Avoid canyons and forests and choose an open area for the best views. Pay attention to signage so you don't wander onto private or public lands outside of permitted hours and posted rules.

You can camp in the park year-round; sites are first-come, first-served. When you're not looking up, go hiking, biking or camping in the backcountry (with a permit).

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Photo: National Park Service/Jacob W. Frank

Arches National Park - Dark Sky Park

To become a certified International Dark Sky Park, like Arches National Park, parks must offer more than exceptional star views. They must also have scientific, natural, cultural or educational value and provide enjoyment to the public. Arches, which is near Moab, Utah, fits the bill. This "red rock wonderland" boasts more than 2,000 natural stone arches, huge balanced rocks and other amazing rock formations. See the website; you'll need a timed entry ticket to enter the park at certain times of the year. Its excellent air quality and low light pollution make it an ideal destination for star fans.

At present, there are no federal regulations to protect dark skies, but Arches preserves the natural darkness by limiting their artificial outdoor lights to a few visitors and employee areas. Trailheads aren't lighted, and almost 100 percent of the park's lighting fixtures are night-sky friendly. You can use similar dark sky strategies at home and earn a Dark Sky Friendly Home Certification.

Arches National Park doesn't have any lodges or restaurants, but they're available in Moab. There's a campground at Devil's Garden that accepts reservations, but it's usually full in the busy season between March and October. From November to February, the sites are first-come, first-served.

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Photo: Gin Majka/National Park Service

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument - Dark Sky Sanctuary

Located in northern Maine, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument boasts some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi River. This 87,564-acre monument, which includes Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, doesn't use electric lights at night and has no commercial power sources or paved roads.

Katahdin is certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary, rather than a Dark Sky Park or Reserve, because it's geographically isolated and has limited public outreach. One exception is the annual Stars Over Katahdin event, where stargazers and volunteer park astronomers gather around campfires and peer through state-of-the-art telescopes. See the website for the 2024 dates and location, which are still undetermined.

Currently, the monument has 18 campsites, four lean-tos and two huts that you can book through Some are accessible only by hiking, biking, paddling, snowshoeing or skiing. Bring your water; there's no potable water here, and be ready to store your food and scented items in the park's metal food lockers. When you're not stargazing, hike, bike, fish, kayak or canoe. Some roads are closed for the winter, but there are designated trails for activities like snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Ask the rangers when and where hunting is permitted. For the best sky views at the monument, visit during a full moon or in the summer to see the Milky Way.

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