We don’t all agree on much when it comes to the government and politics – but we can definitely agree: the U.S. national park system is a national treasure. Thanks to the foresight of our forefathers, we have hundreds of incredible natural wonders preserved for the present – and for the future.
Many of these national parks not only protect the landscape on earth, but the night sky overhead. That’s why they are widely considered among the best places for stargazing in the country – and there are many of them to choose from!
Note: Due to the novel coronavirus, National Parks vary in opening hours and access. Be sure to check if the park you want to visit is open before planning a trip.
In this list of the best national parks for stargazing, I’ve combined my own experience with a ton of research and reviews from fellow astrotourists. You’ll find many places you expect on the list, as well as a few surprised – including some monuments and preserves are just too good to skip. Rather than picking favorites among favorites, I’ve ordered them alphabetically. Trust me that you can’t go wrong in choosing to visit any of them (or all of them!).
Read on for the best national parks for stargazing from coast-to-coast, and A-to-Z.
Featured photos all credit to Jay Huang via Flickr
1. Acadia National Park
Tucked up in the northeast corner of the United States, Acadia National Park is a top destination in Maine – and well worth the drive. (It’ll take you time to reach the park whether you’re from the region or fly into Portland and drive up!)
Acadia has a number of good stargazing spots throughout the park, including some that give you great views across the Atlantic Ocean away from any light pollution in the area. There’s also a chance to see the northern lights here in the winter, as it’s far enough north.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Acadia National Park.
2. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is widely renowned as one of the best national parks for stargazing, as one of several amazing options in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Famous for its eponymous rock formations, Arches is a haven for astrophotographers who want an epic foreground to compliment the wonders of the night sky.
In Arches National Park, you can choose to view the night sky with any number of well-known vistas, including Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and Balanced Rock. Even the non-arches of Park Avenue make for a great spot to set up and enjoy the night sky.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Arches National Park.
3. Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park draws visitors during the day to see the unusual geology of the region – formed over millions of years by wind and water erosion. Due to its remote location – both in the center of the content, far from development, and in relatively rural South Dakota, it’s also a great option for stargazing.
There are two main campgrounds in Badlands National Park that are perfect for stargazing. Cedar Pass Campground requires reservations; Sage Creek Campground is first-come, first-reserved. You can also book a cabin in the park at Cedar Pass Lodge, or escape all the crowds (and light pollution) by securing a backcountry permit to head out into the park on your own.
4. Big Bend National Park
Nestled along the Texas-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park is over 800,000 acres of desert, canyons, mountains, and views of pristine night skies. It’s quite a trek to reach this park: it’s a 4.5-hour drive from the nearest city, El Paso; Chihuahua, Mexico is equally distant and requires a border crossing.
Once you arrive though, you’ll agree it’s all worth it. There are a number of great overlooks and view points that are crowd-favorites for stargazing, or you can stay in one of the four campgrounds to enjoy the sky all night long.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Big Bend National Park.
5. Big Cypress National Preserve
Neighboring Everglades National Park (which is also on the list), Big Cypress National Park is a good option for those in south Florida who love the night sky. The primary draw of the park is the Big Cypress Swamp, an estuary that plays a vital role in connecting the freshwater Everglades to the saltwater ocean.
At night, the park’s 729,000 acres of this vast swamp – otherwise unusable for development – are perfect for stargazing. There are eight campgrounds in Big Cypress, plus you can register for a backcountry permit and get even further from any light pollution you might encounter.
6. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Colorado’s least-visited national park. This is a good thing if you know (as we all do) that crowds mean light pollution! Black Canyon is a 90-minute drive from Grand Junction, but it’s more likely you’ll fly into Denver if planning a visit – that’s a 5-hour drive.
Like other remote parks, you’ll agree its worth it when you see how few people are around, including the surrounding countryside, which is a combination of mountainous and agricultural. Watch the stars whirl over one of the most impressive straight-drop canyons in the world.
7. Bryce Canyon National Park
All of Utah’s Mighty 5 make our list of the best national parks for stargazing – including, of course, Bryce Canyon National Park with its towering hoodoos. Neighboring Zion, but nothing like it, Bryce Canyon is an outdoor adventure wonderland during the daylight hours. Once the sun sets, you’ll be sharing your experience of the night sky with fellow astrotourists and a lot of astrophotographers who love the unusual rock formations for photos.
There are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon that tend to fill up quickly. So if you’re planning an overnight trip, be sure to arrive early the day before to try and snag a spot.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Bryce Canyon National Park.
8. Canyonlands National Park
Another of Utah’s Mighty 5 – and close to Arches National Park – it should come as no surprise that Canyonlands also makes our list of the best national parks for stargazing! In fact, if you’re planning to visit one, you might as well spend a second night stargazing at the other. After all, it takes only 45 minutes to drive between Arches and Canyonlands.
Canyonlands is comprised of three main areas: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Island in the Sky is the most popular and accessible part of the park to visit, and has great stargazing spots; if you want to escape the crowds and are willing to make the extra journey, consider stargazing in the Needles, or go backcountry camping in the Maze.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Canyonlands National Park.
9. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is perhaps the least-visited of Utah’s Mighty 5, but if you’re planning to explore the region, it’s definitely a must-stop. The park surrounds a “wrinkle” in the earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold – just another reason our planet is so freaking cool! Daytime visitors will enjoy the fantastic geology and rock formations which are distinct from the other four parks in this family.
Capitol Reef is also conveniently half-way between Arches/Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon/Zion, making it a great overnight stop on an epic stargazing road trip (if you’re planning one). You can stay in one of several camping options: the main campground, the group campground, or in the backcountry if you’re seeking more adventure.
10. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Located in northwest New Mexico, Chaco Culture National Historical Park’s big draw is the spectacular and well-preserved ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan people who once lived in this area. It is increasingly popular for astronomy buffs too – the park is in a remote area and there’s limited light pollution to impact your experience.
There is one campground at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, so if you plan to stay overnight be sure to make a reservation in advance.
11. Crater Lake National Park
It’s tempting to think of Crater Lake as a cool astronomical formation on earth (like one of these other famous impact craters), but it’s actually volcanic – not meteoric – in nature. Crater Lake is part of the Cascade Mountain Range, not far from the Oregon-California border on the northern side.
What makes Crater Lake a great stargazing spot (aside from the natural remoteness and lack of light pollution) is the chance to see or photograph the stars reflected in the calm waters of the caldera lake.
12. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
With a name like this, how could Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve not make our list of top stargazing national parks?! What draws people to Craters of the Moon is that it evokes a sense of otherworldliness – so much that Apollo astronauts trained for moon landings in the park!
While many people visit during the day to explore the rock-strewn landscape or try caving, stargazing is another great option here. From one of the two campgrounds at Craters of the Moon, you can look up at the stars and imagine how different the night sky might look from other planets (and moons) when we reach them someday.
13. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley made our list of the stargazing places near Las Vegas – in fact it is probably the best stargazing spot within a few hours of bright, glitzy Vegas. As you know, Death Valley is one of the lowest spots in North America, and one of the hottest places on earth. That’s all to say there’s not a lot else here, making for perfect stargazing conditions!
There are nine campground options in Death Valley, but they vary in access and availability by season. Another good option is the Oasis at Death Valley, the main lodging in the park.
14. Everglades National Park
As already mentioned, Everglades National Park is another great stargazing destination in Florida – it made our list of the best stargazing spots near Miami! Like Big Cypress, it’s a large area of preserved land with limited light pollution, ideal for seeing the stars.
Everglades in particular park offers one of the clearest views of the night sky to be seen anywhere in South Florida. There are two campgrounds with running water available here for those who’d like to stay the night. It’s one of the best places around if you’d like to sleep under a sky full of stars.
15. Glacier National Park
Located along the Montana-Canada border, Glacier National Park is breathtaking during the day – it easily rivals the stunning vistas located north of the border in Alberta, including Banff and Jasper National Parks (also great stargazing national parks in Canada!). Going-to-the-Sun road is appropriately named and a must-drive (during the day) if you’re planning a trip.
When it comes to stargazing, it’s those towering mountains and limited access that make it a great spot. There are thirteen! campgrounds in Glacier National Park – it’s all about how far you’re willing to drive to escape the crowds and light pollution and see the Rockies bathed in starlight.
16. Grand Canyon National Park
There’s no surprise that Grand Canyon National Park makes the list, right? It’s one of the most-visited national parks in the country (#2 in fact, after Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and hosts one of the country’s biggest star parties each June.
Whether you’re planning to attend the star party (pro-tip: plan way ahead!) or just going on your own, there are loads of good stargazing spots along the South Rim. If you want to escape the crowds, consider making the extra effort to go to the less-commonly-visited North Rim.
Read our complete guide to stargazing at Grand Canyon National Park.
17. Grand Teton National Park
If you haven’t figure it out yet, the American West is fantastic for stargazing – so here’s another spot to add to your list. Grand Teton National Park is located in Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains, south of Yellowstone National Park. But, due to its proximity to Yellowstone, it’s far less-visited. This works in your favor when seeking out dark sky spots.
Like Glacier National Park, Grand Teton is home to stunning mountain vistas and natural beauty. You can admire it by day, then stay in one of six campgrounds (or one RV park) to enjoy it under starlight too.
18. Great Basin National Park
From Area 51 and the Extraterrestrial Highway to wide open spaces that are prime for stargazing, Nevada is an astronomy/space nerd hot spot! That includes Great Basin National Park, located in eastern Nevada near the Utah Border.
While you may never have thought of visiting Great Basin, there’s more to it than fantastic stargazing. By day, you can see mountain views, wander in ancient forest groves, and explore underground caverns. At night, the night sky opens up overhead, and you can stay at one of the park’s seven campgrounds for the full night’s experience.
19. Haleakalā National Park
If your dream destination combines stargazing at night with laying on the beach all day, there’s no better choice than Haleakalā National Park on Maui. You can spend your days exploring the island, then ascend the slopes of the volcano to watch the sunset and the stars overhead.
Haleakalā is different than other parks in that there is no overnight accommodation and limited other amenities in the park – but you can either choose to do a DIY sunset/sunrise-plus-stargazing session, or attend one of the many ranger programs available to show you the night sky and introduce you to traditional Hawaiian astronomy.
20. Joshua Tree National Park
I won’t lie: I’m of two minds about Joshua Tree National Park. I love it for its otherworldly landscape and eponymous trees – which is fabulous for stargazing and astrophotography –, but I also struggle with how much light pollution you can experience when you’re stargazing in different parts of the park.
Joshua Tree is a great option for Southern California stargazers, and its 790,636 acres of protected land harbor some truly dark spots. But most of what you can easily access in the park is nearer the Coachella Valley and the bright lights of Greater Palm Springs.
That said, I still recommend planning at least one stargazing trip to Joshua Tree in your life – it’s like nowhere else on earth!
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park.
21. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Overlooked for California’s many other epic national parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park has been increasingly on the radar for astronomy enthusiasts over the past few years. The area is home to mountains, forests, and lakes – all of the natural wonders that make Northern California great – and is well-protected from light pollution. (The nearest “major” city is Redding, home to just 90,000 people.)
Lassen is a four-hour drive from San Francisco, making it a great weekend destination. There are eight campgrounds at Lassen, two of which are first-come, first-reserved. The rest are a mix of reservation and first-come, so it’s best to plan ahead if you want to stay at a particular campground during your stargazing trip.
22. Mount Rainier National Park
The Pacific Northwest is known for clouds, but if you happen to be at Mount Rainier National Park on a clear night you’ll understand why it makes our list of the best national parks for stargazing.
The sleeping giant Rainier is a dormant volcano – but its preservation as a national park ensures limited light pollution and some incredible night sky views from the slopes. There are four campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park, all open primarily in the summer – the perfect season for seeing the Milky Way!
23. Pinnacles National Park
Another oft-overlooked national park in California, Pinnacles is a great spot to escape the crowds and enjoy some solitude. The park is just 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, but feels like a world apart.
People are drawn to Pinnacles for the natural beauty and opportunities to explore. The park is accessed by Highway 146 – but is not actually connected in the middle, requiring you to plan ahead and hike if you want to cross the park.
If you want to spend the night in Pinnacles after stargazing, be sure to enter through the east entrance. This is the only one with access to the one campground in Pinnacles National Park.
24. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Let’s count Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as a 2-for-1 deal! The parks are very close to each other, nestled in the hills of the southern Sierra Nevadas. (You might recall that I really enjoyed stargazing further north in the Sierras, in Calaveras County.) Most people plan a trip to visit both parks, for which the primary draw is the enormous, towering Giant Redwoods.
At night, you can take advantage of the quiet, undisturbed forest for stargazing through the branches, or use one of the epic lookout points high in the mountains as a spot to enjoy the night sky. There are five main campgrounds in the two parks if you plan to make it a multi-night trip.
25. Shenandoah National Park
It might seem unfair, all these national parks in the west getting the love – but there are a few out east that are worth stargazing at too! Acadia, mentioned above, and Shenandoah National Park are both great national parks for stargazing nearer the eastern seaboard.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is far enough from bright city lights to afford good stargazing opportunities – and epic views of the surrounding region so you won’t have your view blocked by any trees.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Shenandoah National Park.
26. Voyageurs National Park
If you’re a long-time reader of STG, you’ve already heard of Voyageurs National Park: it made our list of the best spots to see the northern lights in the United States! Voyageurs is located in far northern Minnesota near the Canadian border; it’s far enough north for a chance to spot the aurora, and far enough from everything else to ensure great stargazing.
There are no campgrounds on the ‘mainland’ in Voyageurs National Park – they’re all accessible only by boat/water. If you’re planning to do an overnight in the park, check out Boatsetter which allows you to rent a boat from local boat owners! (Think Airbnb for boats.)
27. White Sands National Park
In late 2019, White Sands National Park became part of the national park family. Before that, it had been considered a national monument. But don’t let definitions and labels dissuade you from visiting. White Sands is a fascinating destination for its geology – and for its astronomical night sky views.
Many people choose to overnight in White Sands and climb up the dunes at night to enjoy the stars. With virtually unobstructed views in every direction, you’ll be astounded at how many stars you can see.
My friend Nicole spent an epic night shooting photos among the dunes; read her complete guide to visiting White Sands.
28. Yellowstone National Park
America’s oldest national park, Yellowstone is also one of the best national parks for stargazing. The vast protected lands of Yellowstone National Park stretch across northwest Wyoming and into Montana and Idaho. While it’s fair to say there are crowds in certain parts of the park, you can also escape them by visiting sights and scenery beyond the geysers and geothermal areas.
If you want to go stargazing in Yellowstone, consider visiting the park’s eastern half – or parts of the park in Montana and Idaho. There are 12 campgrounds throughout the park to choose from, which you can use as a base for the night after enjoying the dark skies overhead.
29. Yosemite National Park
No list of the best national parks for stargazing would be complete without these last two. First, Yosemite National Park, one of several crown jewels in the national park service. Yosemite was actually the first area of federally protected land in the United States; it became a national park in 1890. Since then, Yosemite has been drawing crowds for the epic natural views and starry skies overhead.
While Yosemite is exceptionally popular, you can still stargaze throughout the park. If you want to escape the crowds, consider exploring beyond the Yosemite Valley. There are thirteen campgrounds throughout Yosemite – but only four are in the Valley, so you have plenty of other options.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Yosemite National Park.
30. Zion National Park
Last but certainly not least, Zion National Park rounds out our list of the best national parks for stargazing. The final of Utah’s Mighty 5 – but the most visited by a long shot – Zion is breathtaking to behold, by day or night.
You can explore Zion Canyon during the daylight hours, marveling at the towering red formations – but after dark is where the park knocks it out of the, er, ballpark. Within Zion Canyon your view of the night sky might be limited but the foreground is fantastic; elsewhere in the park you can find more expansive views and fewer crowds.
Read our complete guide to stargazing in Zion National Park.
How many of these national parks have you visited? Let me know in the comments!