These Are the 9 Best Places to Stargaze in the U.S. Without Going Deep Into the Woods

The Evolve Team
The Evolve Team
June 15, 2023

There’s magic in relaxing under a starry night sky.

But it’s rare to find places with so little light pollution that you can truly enjoy the expanse of the Milky Way and all its constellations — particularly if you’re not interested in pitching a tent or trekking with the masses to big-name dark sky sites like Death Valley National Park or Big Bend National Park.

That’s why we’ve created a list of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. that don’t require you to go too far off the beaten path. These destinations are all certified International Dark Sky Parks, but are still easily-accessible from nearby towns. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the best of both worlds: the clearest, darkest skies with a comfy and convenient home base.

In This Article:
Flagstaff National Monuments
Joshua Tree National Park
Buffalo National River
Bryce Canyon National Park
Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Mayland Earth to Sky Park
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

1. Flagstaff National Monuments 

Located in: Coconino County, AZ

Photo of The Milky Way and stars shining brightly over a forested road near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Established to preserve the majesty of natural landmarks and protect archeological sites, the Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument are dark sky heavyweights. Grouped together as the Flagstaff National Monuments, they earned a singular Dark Sky Park designation thanks in part to Flagstaff’s progressive legislation to prevent light pollution in the area.

Visitors to these southwestern monuments can see a glittering dome of stars expand around breathtaking red rock formations. Guided night hikes and art by starlight parties run throughout the year, and lucky guests might even get to see a meteor shower.

Flagstaff’s monuments aren’t the only reason it’s considered one of the best places to stargaze. While you’re in the area, check out the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered!) for a more academic look at all things cosmic, or venture into Buffalo Park toward the end of September to partake in the annual Flagstaff Star Party.

🏡 Where to stay: This rustic-chic Flagstaff cabin sleeps up to 12, making it perfect for a group getaway. You can get stunning mountain views during the day, then sneak a preview of the dark skies from an Adirondack chair on the expansive wraparound deck.

2. Joshua Tree National Park 

Located in: San Bernardino County, CA

Photo of a stunning night sky filled with twinkling stars over the iconic Joshua Tree National Park landscape in California.

Everyone knows Joshua Tree National Park is a daytime must-see on a trip to Palm Springs, but it truly lights up at night as the International Dark Sky Association calls it the “last pool of natural darkness remaining in Southern California.”

Those who venture out after dark can experience the unobstructed glow of the Milky Way. While visitors are free to explore the park at night without guidance, star parties, astronomy lectures, and guided ranger tours are also available for those seeking a little education-building alongside their stargazing activities.

🏡 Where to stay: Add a splash of retro chicness to your desert getaway when you book this colorful vacation rental. Located just five miles from Joshua Tree National Park, you can get cozy around the backyard fire pit before and after your Milky Way adventure.

3. Buffalo National River

Located in: Marion County, AR 

Photo of the Milky Way casting its glow over the water during a serene night near Buffalo National River, Arkansas.
“Milky Way: Buffalo River Country” by Buffalo Outdoor Center (CC BY-ND 2.0)

As the very first National River in the U.S., the Buffalo River received a one-of-a-kind International Dark Sky Park designation in 2019. A watering hole for outdoorsy travelers and locals alike, this scenic spot winds through Northern Arkansas and has misty coves, stunning cliff faces, and peaceful waterfalls. 

Twinkling constellations rise over the trees to give the Buffalo National River true storybook status at night. To celebrate the area’s impressive dark skies, the National Parks Service (NPS) offers a number of educational, ranger-led programs. They also team up with local astrological societies to host star parties throughout the year

🏡 Where to stay: This quiet hideaway in Flippin, AR provides an ideal home base for a more remote retreat. Rolling acreage right outside your door means little light pollution, so you can enjoy sweeping views of the Ozarks and the skies above right from your spacious deck.

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Located in: Garfield County, UT

Panoramic photo of Bryce Canyon National Park with a glowing Milky Way in the night sky lighting up freshly fallen snow.

A favorite park of the west, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its almost unearthly crimson rock formations and panoramic views. With open skies and unbeatable vistas, this spectacular spot clearly earns its rank among the best places to stargaze in the U.S. It’s so renowned, in fact, that it has the highest-ranking Gold Tier status as an International Dark Sky Park.

On a moonless night, visitors can take in the magic of 7,500 stars. The park also employs dedicated Astrology Rangers and hosts tons of events throughout the year, including an annual summer festival for those who want a totally immersive stargazing experience (think: telescope viewings, constellation tours, and model rockets on display).

🏡 Where to stay: A mere mile from Bryce Canyon National Park, this rustic cabin couldn’t be better for a stargazing adventure. While modern indoor amenities make for comfortable downtime, the family-friendly backyard is the real star — you can spread out a blanket and enjoy the night sky without ever leaving home.

5. Headlands International Dark Sky Park 

Located in: Emmet County, MI 

Photo of The Milky Way shining brightly over a serene lake near Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Emmet County, MI.

Found at the northernmost tip of the Lower Michigan peninsula, Headlands International Dark Sky Park puts the proof of its stargazing power right in its name. 

These waterfront woodlands offer prime viewing for everything from lunar eclipses and the Milky Way to — if you’re able to time your trip just right — the Northern Lights. 

The park also has dark sky activities for visitors of all ages, including nighttime storytelling, astrophotography events, and meteor shower viewings. For a romantic evening — or just a unique family outing — you can set sail on a star-studded boat cruise in the adjoining harbor. (And as you wait for nightfall, a day trip to nearby Traverse City presents even more outdoorsy fun.)

🏡 Where to stay: Feel tucked away when you book this secluded family cabin in Harbor Springs, MI. The quaint screened-in porch is the perfect place to relax with loved ones as stars peek above the lush canopy of trees.

6. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Located in: Montrose County, CO 

Photo of a small wooden structure lit against the night sky with views of The Milky Way near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park sits in the heart of Colorado, and is named for the steep gorge through which the Gunnison River cuts. With an International Dark Sky rating of 21.5 out of 23, it’s no secret why this natural wonder is one of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. Enthusiasts flock from near and far for some unforgettable celestial views.

This park works with a local Astronomical Society to put on events and provide telescopes to visitors, and hosts an annual astronomy festival. The NPS recommends planning a summer visit for the best views of the Milky Way — and the unique chance to see the International Space Station fly overhead!

🏡 Where to stay: This cozy barndominium is just what a stargazer needs. With tons of acres to explore and a quiet outdoor lounge area to relax in, it’s easy to feel totally immersed in the scenic surroundings.

7. Grand Canyon National Park

Located in: Northwestern AZ

Picturesque photo of Grand Canyon National Park at night with a clear view of the stars and the Colorado River.

With nearly 2,000 square miles of rugged red rock landscape, many visit the Grand Canyon during the day. But this famous national park also boasts ultra-dark skies and breathtaking nighttime views — so much that the park earned full status as a designated Dark Sky site on its 100th anniversary in 2019. 

The National Park Service also notes that “half the park is after dark.” Visitors can hike the popular South Rim 24 hours a day, or head to North Rim vistas like Bright Angel Point or Cape Royal for a less crowded star-filled experience (only 10% of Grand Canyon tourists venture here). 

There are also Astronomers in Residence who share educational opportunities with park visitors throughout the year. To connect with other night sky enthusiasts, plan your trip for June to attend the free, seven-day Grand Canyon Star Party.

🏡 Where to stay: This luxe retreat in Williams, AZ is the perfect Grand Canyon vacation rental. Located on historic Route 66 and steps off the Grand Canyon Railway, the modern condo gives lovers of nature and history an unforgettable getaway experience.

8. Mayland Earth to Sky Park

Located in: Spruce Pine, NC

Photo of the night sky and Milky Way with Blue Ridge Mountain silhouettes in the distance near Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a go-to destination for hiking trails, autumn leaf-peeping, and chasing waterfalls — but the real spectacle comes out at night. 

Getting its International Dark Sky certification in 2015, the Mayland Earth to Sky Park has continued to cater to astronomy enthusiasts. The park is home to the Bare Dark Sky Observatory (BDSO), the Glenn & Carol Arthur Planetarium, and a visitor’s Center where you can enjoy educational experiences for all ages of star seekers.

Get a ticket for a two-hour viewing through the “Sam Scope,” the largest telescope in the Southeast U.S. dedicated to public use, or bring your own gear and use the observatory deck anytime for free.

🏡 Where to stay: For a romantic getaway for two, this modern mountain cabin has unbeatable views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is secluded enough to peacefully take in the night sky while snuggling in the hammock or staying warm by the fire pit.

9. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

Located in: Kissimmee, FL

Photo of the starry night sky with the distant glow of city lights near Kissimmee, Florida.

Head south from the bright lights and big entertainment hub of Orlando to discover a hidden gem in southeast stargazing. 

As the First Dark Sky Park in Florida, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is a safe haven for those who want to look up in wonder. But it’s also an incredibly important natural habitat, and is one of the last dry prairie ecosystems in the state.

As a refuge for both the species that inhabit it and from nearby light pollution, the park focuses purely on resource-based recreation, outlaws hunting, and has trails that are only accessible to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. All the more reason to get a rental close by so it’s easier to get to an astronomy pad site!

🏡 Where to stay: This waterside rental has direct access to the canal that connects Lake Kissimmee to the Kissimmee River that flows straight through the park. Bring your kayak or rowboat and float down to the starry sights.

Get Starry-Eyed with Evolve

Exploring the best places to stargaze is most of the fun, but having a comfy and convenient home base can make or break your vacation. Our Rest Easy Promise helps you stay in the moment and travel without surprises (except for the occasional shooting star!).

And remember, stargazing should only be the start of your bucket list adventures. Be sure to check out our other travel blogs full of vacation-planning ideas. From the best small towns in America and family road trip ideas to our favorite hygge cabins and unique vacation rentals, memorable getaways are just waiting to be booked.

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