Flagstaff is known as one of the best stargazing destinations in the world and has the accolades to prove it. This town was named the first Dark Sky City in the United States and has been a pioneer in limiting light pollution. Flagstaff enacted the first city ordinance to protect the dark skies in 1958. Its continued effort to protect the night sky was rewarded again when Flagstaff became the first International Dark Sky City in 2001.
This makes Flagstaff a top destination for stargazing enthusiasts, even within the city limits. Most Dark Sky communities are located in the middle of nowhere. To go stargazing in the middle of the city of Flagstaff is a unique experience. This Northern Arizona town has a lot to offer, so remember to check out some of the other fun things to do in Flagstaff (during the daytime hours!).
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Flagstaff
Surrounded by the Northern Arizona desert, you can find countless places to see the stars within a 1-2 hour drive from Flagstaff. Here are 11 of the best stargazing spots in Flagstaff:
Buffalo Park is a large city park on the Northern edge of Flagstaff, about two miles north of downtown. This 215-acre park offers viewers a stunning backdrop for stargazing: You can see Arizona’s tallest mountains, the San Francisco Peaks, including Humphrey’s Peak, which reaches 12,633 ft. This park is free and open 24 hours. The main trail (~ 2 miles long) in Buffalo Park is wide, flat, and even, so you can go for a short night hike to find a good spot for stargazing.
Buffalo Park is also where the Annual Flagstaff Star Party takes place each September. You can read more details about this event below.
2400 N Gemini Rd, Flagstaff, flagstaff.az.gov
The Lowell Observatory is THE place for stargazing in Flagstaff. Located on top of a hill overlooking the city, the Observatory has a lot of history. Percival Lowell founded it in 1894, and the Observatory made its mark in 1930 when Clyde Tombaugh discovered everyone’s favorite non-planet, Pluto.
Today, Lowell Observatory is one of the best observatories in the U.S. It is still a scientific research institution but also a place to allow visitors to explore space and learn about astronomy; its mission is to make space accessible to everyone. You can see various exhibits, look through multiple telescopes, and participate in tours and events that will teach you about Astronomy, planets and constellations, and the history of the Lowell Observatory. If you can only do one stargazing activity in Flagstaff, this is the one you should definitely do!
1400 W Mars Hill Rd, Flagstaff, lowell.edu
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Flagstaff
If you have a car, you will have even more stargazing spots near Flagstaff at your fingertips. Within a one-hour drive from Flagstaff, you can see the stars at one of these fantastic places.
Just 20 minutes north of Flagstaff, you can get some incredible views of the stars at the Arizona Snowbowl. As the name suggests, this area will be cold and snowy during the winter, so this is a better option during the summer. While you can’t take the gondola up to the summit at night, you will still have spectacular views of the night skies from the various outlooks and parking lots on the way to the Arizona Snowbowl Lodge (closed at night).
9300 N Snow Bowl Rd, Flagstaff, snowbowl.ski
Meteor Crater National Landmark
Barringer Crater, located around 43 miles from Flagstaff towards Winslow, is another stargazing spot that connects your stargazing location to the stars above. Also called Meteor Crater, it’s 570 ft deep, has a diameter of almost one mile, and is known as one of the largest meteor craters in the United States.
Meteor Crater was formed about 50,000 years ago when a 300,000-ton meteor hit the Northern Arizona desert at over 26,000 miles per hour. The rim is only accessible during the day as part of a paid visit to the adjacent museum, but you can watch the sparkling night sky rise over the crater from below.
If you want to stay nearby and have an RV, you can stay at the Crater RV Park close to the museum.
Interstate 40, Exit, 233, Winslow, meteorcrater.com
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
This location is perfect for stargazers with a knack for history. Did you know that the Apollo 11 crew trained for the moon landing on Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument? The unique volcanic landscape is supposedly very similar to the moon’s surface, making for a stargazing experience.
You can even spend the night at Bonito Campground, right by the Sunset Crater Volcanic Visitor Center or O’Leary Group Campsite, both within the National Monument.
Wupakti National Monument
Wupakti National Monument should be on your Flagstaff itinerary. You can see a historic Pueblo village from 500 AD, which had over 100 rooms and housed up to 2000 people.
While the actual historic site is closed at night, you can see it from the visitor parking lot. The historical structure makes for an incredible foreground if you are into night sky photography or want to shoot the milky way. The sweeping vista of the Colorado Plateau and the Northern Arizona Desert is incredible at night!
25137 N Wupatki Ln, Flagstaff, nps.gov/wupa
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of Flagstaff
Northern Arizona is home to some of the most impressive natural wonders of the United States, and going stargazing at some of those iconic locations is an extraordinary experience. Within a 2 hour drive, you can visit the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Horseshoe Bend, and Prescott, all sites that are more than worth the drive.
Cottonwood is another recognized Dark Sky Community and is located just 20 miles Southwest of Sedona (63 miles from Flagstaff). This small town has a population of only 12,000 but is a stargazer’s paradise. The local library and astronomy club puts on star parties and tours for locals, and visitors alike. Some of the best spots to see the stars are Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Cottonwood Skatepark.
What could be more extraordinary than watching the Milky Way rise over the most majestic canyon in the world? Flagstaff is known as the gateway destination for the Grand Canyon and a great base to go exploring the National Park, which is about 1.5 hours (82 miles) north of Flagstaff. It is definitely worth the drive to see this natural wonder of the world.
The Grand Canyon has been designated a Dark Sky Park in 2016, so light pollution is minimal. Great spots for stargazing at the Grand Canyon are Mather Point, right by the Main Visitor Center, as well as Lipan Point and Moran Point off of Desert View Drive.
Grand Canyon Village, nps.gov/grca
This picturesque stargazing destination is 130 miles north of Flagstaff, but so worth the drive. The voluptuous 270-degree curve of the Colorado River, carved 1000 feet into the rocks is a bewitching sight during the day, but at night, under millions of sparkling stars, it is an experience you will never forget.
Prescott, another gorgeous mountain town in Northern Arizona, is about 95 miles (1 h and 45 minutes) drive Southwest from Flagstaff. Home to the Prescott Astronomy Club, the Embry-Riddle Prescott University Observatory, and the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarum, Prescott will make any stargazer’s heart beat faster.
The magnificent red rock formations that Sedona is famous for, make for a stunning stargazing backdrop, especially if you are into astrophotography. Sedona and Oak Creek Village, both right next to each other, are two of 5 Certified International Dark Sky Communities in Arizona, you are almost guaranteed to experience a dazzling night sky.
Sedona is located about 30 miles south of Flagstaff, but the winding roads, especially after nightfall can take just over 1 hour. Some of the best lookouts are Cathedral Rock Trail Head in the Oak Creek Village Dark Sky Community, Jordan Trailhead, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Two Trees Observing Area and Crescent Moon Picnic Area.
There’s an entire guide stargazing in Sedona if you’re sold on visiting.
How Good is the Stargazing in Flagstaff?
Flagstaff has four main reasons why it is one of the best stargazing places in the US:
- Dark Sky City: Flagstaff was established as the first International Dark Sky City in 2001 and provides excellent conditions to see the stars, even within city limits.
- Elevation: the city of Flagstaff lays at 6909 ft above sea level, and the high elevation reduces atmospheric distortion.
- Humidity: Flagstaff is located on a high desert plateau and therefore has very low humidity, which is considered best for stargazing
- Lowell Observatory: in Flagstaff, you can see through some of the best publicly accessible telescopes in the United States and see your favorite constellations up close.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Flagstaff
While you can go stargazing in Flagstaff year-round, the best time is from January to March. The crisp winter nights have low humidity and make for an extra clear stargazing experience. It can get bitter cold during the night, so dress warmly.
Arizona’s monsoon season is from the middle of June and usually lasts until September. However, these are more scattered thunderstorms rather than continuous rainfall. So you have an excellent chance to see some sensational starry nights, even during that time.
As Flagstaff is located in the High Desert, temperatures fluctuate a lot during the day and nights can be cold, even in summer. Make sure to pack accordingly.
Other Space Related Experiences in Flagstaff
Flagstaff Star Party
Each year in late September or early October, locals and visitors alike gather in Buffalo Park for the annual Flagstaff Star Party. This free event offers astronomy lectures, naked eye and hosted telescope observing, and more to make the starry skies accessible to everyone.
Lunar Legacy Experience
The Flagstaff Visitors Bureau has created a Lunar Legacy Experience about all things in Flagstaff related to Space. This fun Space-quest will take you all over the city and Northern Arizona to discover interesting artifacts, places, and stories related to Space and the stars above us.
Have any questions about where to go stargazing in Flagstaff? Let me know in the comments!