The Ultimate Guide to Stargazing in the United States
Looking up at a star-studded sky is something special. Regardless of whether you’re a dedicated astronomer or you simply enjoy getting out to a dark sky location, the United States provides a wealth of stargazing opportunities for all. That is, if the weather complies. But having favorable conditions is astronomy 101. There’s a host of other factors to consider if you want to elevate your night sky adventures. The stargazing event calendar, maps, location and accommodation guides, and expert advice here will help you plan your exploration of the Milky Way.
Mapped: 60-plus Dark Sky Parks Across the United States
You need a pitch-black sky to admire the stars in their fullest. Locations certified by the International Dark Sky Association are some of the best places to avoid light pollution.
The Top Stargazing Events Through 2024
In 2024, a total solar eclipse will track across 13 US states. And that’s just the beginning. 2024 will bring supermoons, meteor showers, and exceptional opportunities to see the planets.
- Quadrantid Meteor Shower (January 3 — 4): This is often one of the strongest meteor showers of the year, capable of showcasing up to 120 meteors every hour at its peak. While active between December 27 and January 12, the peak lasts only a few hours. This makes the timing of the viewing crucial. In 2024, the peak is set for about 4:00 AM EST on January 4.
- Total solar eclipse (April 8): The event will last around five minutes. This duration is almost double the length of some previous eclipses.
- Perseid Meteor Shower (August 12 — 13): This annual astronomical event is eagerly anticipated by stargazers in the US and around the world. It is one of the most impressive meteor showers of the year with up to 60 shooting stars per hour that frequently leave colorful trails across the sky. For the best viewing experience, it’s recommended to find a location away from city lights.
- Saturn at opposition (September 8): Stargazers should be able to observe Saturn and its moons more clearly on this night, even with unaided eyes, by looking in the east-southeast direction after sunset. It will stand out in the sky, appearing as a bright yellowish star.
- New moon (December 30): New moon nights are the best time for observations, as the darker skies allow for an unobstructed view of the cosmos. End the year with a stargazing session in your favorite dark sky spot on a moonless night.
Unique Stargazing Experiences
With optimal conditions, some basic gear, and an astronomy app, you’ll be able to enjoy the night sky at your leisure. There are, however, plenty of exciting ways you can elevate your experience by learning from experts, attending special calendar events, and signing up for astronomy-related activities and tours.
Where to Watch the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse
Here’s the scoop on where, when, and how to watch the total solar eclipse in the US — and why you don’t want to miss this otherworldly sight.
These Cruises Highlight Eclipses, the Northern Lights, and the Milky Way
In the middle of the ocean, the chances of street lights ruining your stargazing experience are very thin. That’s why cruise lines are ramping up their astronomy at sea offerings, including Northern Lights cruises, solar eclipse cruises, and more.
What It’s Like to Take a Cross-country Astrophotography Odyssey by Van
Astrophotographer Anthony DeSantis discusses his vanlife stargazing trip across the US after he packed up his life to follow his passion.
The Coolest Star Observatories You Can Visit in the United States
Across the US, observatories have fueled some of the most important astronomical discoveries of the last century. This map of the best observatories you can visit features locations with educational programs and outstanding stargazing facilities.
Where to See the Northern Lights in the Continental United States
You don’t have to go to Alaska or even leave the country to see the Northern Lights in the US.
Everything You Need to Know About Night Sky Photography
Astrophotographer Jason Barnette explains everything you need to know about photographing the night sky. Barnette covers the best equipment and editing techniques, as well as how to plan an astrophotography shoot to capture the stars, nightscapes, and star trails.
The 7 Best Stargazing and Astronomy Apps
The best apps for stargazing bring the planetarium to you. Nearly all stargazing apps use augmented reality and your phone camera to show you in real-time what stars, constellations, planets, and more are in the sky above you. Just point your phone at the sky and the collective human knowledge gained over thousands of years of studying the sky is at your fingertips.
The Definitive Stargazing Gear Guide
Stargazing can be so much more rewarding with some key pieces of equipment. But you don’t need to spend a fortune on the basics if you know what’s best for its value, design, quality, ease of use, and durability. From binoculars to telescopes and red lights to stargazing tents, coming prepared with the right gear will set you up for success.
How to Take a Stargazing Road Trip Through California
Planning a road trip around stargazing spots is an excellent way to explore a region. As most dark sky locations are in areas with little light pollution, you might find the route takes you through off-the-beaten-track places. California is the perfect state to do so (though Colorado gives the state a run for its money). These are the many locations where you can sit down and gaze up at the cosmos, stay in exceptional hotels with astronomy experiences, and set up in a dark sky camping spot.
Where to Stay in Dark Sky Certified Destinations
There are incredible Airbnbs and luxury hotels scattered across the US that fully embrace the natural surroundings. These stays cater to the astro-tourism market with exceptional locations under pristine night skies. Opting for an overnight stopover during an astronomy trip means you can enjoy the universe from the comfort of your accommodation and at your own pace. These immersive accommodations are perfect for every budding stargazer whether they want to stay in family-friendly houses with glass roofs, cozy dark sky park cabins, light-pollution-free campsites, or opulent outdoor retreats with a roster of astronomy-themed on-site activities.
These Airbnbs are Perfect for Budding Astronomers
Wish upon a star that one of these stargazing Airbnbs is available for your next trip.
The Best Campgrounds in the US for Stargazing
There’s a lot of excellent campgrounds to choose from in the US. These are some of the best in dark sky locations.
Luxury Hotels Where Stays Come With Astronomy Experiences
This is a case where you get what you pay for, including suites with outdoor stargazing beds and a hotel with an on-site observatory.
The Best Airbnbs in the Dark Sky Zones Across the US
Stargazing is better when you stay overnight at one of these stunning Airbnbs.
Watch the Stars From Bed in One of These Glass Roofed Airbnbs
Specifically designed for night sky enthusiasts.
Find Your Perfect Dark Sky Destination
These US National Parks Have World-class Stargazing Programs
When the sun goes down in our national parks, the fun does not stop. The work the National Park Service has done to protect the night environment is astronomical. Throughout the year, the parks celebrate this through a robust calendar of events. With star parties, ranger-led astronomy talks, guided stargazing tours, Junior Ranger programs, and festivals, there’s simply a lot going on that you can plan your trip around.
How to Go Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding desert is one of the best places in California to enjoy the night sky. The entire park is really one gigantic stargazing spot, but if you want to do a Joshua Tree stargazing trip like a pro, all you need is some basic information to make sure you make the best of your (night)time in the stunning desert expanse.
A Photographer Captured Joshua Tree’s Night Sky Like You’ve Never Seen It
Enjoy a beautiful time-lapse from SKYGLOW, a project that explores North America’s remaining magnificent night skies and documents the increasing urban light pollution in our cities. In alliance with the International Dark-Sky Association, SKYGLOW showcases what our night sky could look like without the interference of artificial light.
Katie Scott Aiton
Eben Diskin, Hannah D. Cooper, Jason Barnette, Kara Williams, Morgane Croissant, Nickolaus Hines, and Suzie Dundas
Debbie Gonzalez Canada