- North Carolina
Use our list to find spots to view all the clusters, meteorites and constellations you can see with your bare eyes.
Winter is always the best time of year for stargazing. Skies are generally dry and clear, and light pollution is toned down. A clear night without moonlight makes for ideal stargazing, so new moons and crescent moons are optimal for viewing the heavens. Of course, you can warm up some hot cocoa or brew up a pot of coffee and huddle in your backyard with your family, friends or roommate, but for a truly out-of-this-world experience, head out and high. Any mountain where you can get away from smog and ambient light or into some wide open spaces (the more wide open, the better, such as the desert or in the middle of the ocean). In general, the higher the altitude, the better the view. Here are some of the country’s greatest spots for seeing all the shooting stars, meteorites, clusters and sparkling brilliance the night sky has to offer.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
They don’t sing that song (“the stars at night/are big and bright/…deep in the heart of Texas”) for nothing. On a clear night at Big Bend National Park, you can see 2 million light-years away and 2,000 stars will be visible to the naked eye. Located in southwest Texas on the border of Mexico and the Rio Grande, Big Bend is remote and infrequently cloudy.
Skies at Big Bend National Park illuminated at night
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
“The Dark Rangers” may sound like a crew found at a comic book convention but, really, it’s Bryce Canyon’s own special force of park rangers and volunteer astronomers focused on preserving the sanctuary of natural darkness.
On a clear night, 7,500 stars are visible to the naked eye at this unique “cave without a ceiling,” as it’s sometimes fondly called. In fact, the annual Astronomy Festival takes place in May, featuring an annular “ring” solar eclipse.
Some of more than 7,500 stars visible above Bryce Canyon
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks, North Carolina
With over 70 miles of barrier islands in a rural area, the Outer Banks is one of the most ideal places on the east coast to become engulfed by the awesome night scene. The National Seashore even offers a summer evening program called “Night Lights” that explores the heavens and the ocean’s stars: bioluminescent plankton sparkling and glowing in the dark along the shoreline.
Bodie Island Light Station at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Lewis and Clark National Forest, Great Falls, Montana
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, with the Central Montana Astronomy Society, hosts a monthly Star Party at its facility. They set up the stargazing experience with large telescopes and explanations of all celestial observations. The event occurs Friday evenings closest to the new moon, and is subject to weather conditions.
Lewis and Clark National Forest in the Crazy Mountains
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii
When you’re on any Hawaiian island, the thing to remember is that you’re really standing on a big rock way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – they say there are more stars here than there are grains of sand. Weather can be iffy on the more lush islands, but an overnight trip to the Big Island’s often arid Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may be just the ticket for an optimal stargazing experience. Park rangers will give you a star chart to follow.
Checking out the stars above Hawaii Volcanoes National Park