In heavily urbanized areas, bright lights can make it difficult to appreciate the firmament in all its glory, but leave the city a few miles behind, and the stars will shine much brighter. The shortest camping trips can be an opportunity to enjoy the night sky, but for a first row ticket to nature’s show, head to one of America’s most renowned stargazing destinations.
Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is the first location in the country to have been elevated to the rank of an International Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect destination to begin our list. With no artificial light source for miles on end, the stars are given a chance to really shine — and hikers the opportunity to contemplate them. The Grand Sawtooth Loop is a remote trail rewarding experienced hikers with unparalleled views.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Home to the world's largest astronomical observatory, the dormant volcano of Mauna Kea is a spot known to amateur and professional stargazers alike. The tropical inversion layer keeps pollution at bay allowing the celestial bodies to be seen clearer than anywhere else. In addition, to choose the very best day to visit Mauna Kea, you can check the Astronomy Seeing Forecast — although understanding it is not the easiest! (Find basic instructions here.)
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The mangrove forests and meandering waterways of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge are a wonder at any time of the day or night and are best explored by kayak (with or without a guide, the second option requiring good navigation skills). To create the perfect stargazing experience, head to Camp LuLu where a soft, sandy beach meets a bathtub-warm sea. (Remember to pack food and drinking water, camping on a first come, first served basis.)
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
You don’t need to hike or paddle for miles to enjoy the night sky at its best: the 1.2-mile Badlands National Park Wall Trail offers a gentle walk without much elevation. Pitch up anywhere, switch off your head torch, and you’re in for a treat. To make the experience extra-special, time your visit to coincide with a meteor shower, and if you can’t do that, the local bison herd might make up for it and honor you with their presence.
Denali National Park And Preserve, Alaska
The remote Denali National Park is located close to one of the Earth’s magnetic poles, making it one of the few locations where it is possible to observe the aurora borealis, or the northern lights. In addition, the low level of light pollution makes the night sky pop — especially in cold, wintery weather when the air holds very little moisture and is extremely clear as a result. The Alaskan northern lights forecast can be found here but, on a cloudless night, Denali doesn’t disappoint, even when the solar wind is calm.
If you can’t quite head off to a remote location right now to stare at the sky (and, like four out of five Americans, you can’t see the Milky Way from your home window due to light pollution), you can always count on more stunning images coming from the James Webb telescope.