New Orleans is known for many things — from jazz to delicious food to a raucous party held every year in February (hint: you’ve probably heard of it: Mardi Gras!) — but stargazing is generally not high on the list.
While there are some spots to go stargazing within New Orleans, you won’t find as many options as other cities we’ve provided stargazing guides for. This is due to geography, climate, and unsurprisingly, light pollution. New Orleans is home to almost 400,000 people and it’s an inescapable fact that within popular tourist destinations like the French Quarter, the stars are basically impossible to see.
If you’re looking to explore further afield while visiting (or living in) New Orleans, you’ll find a lot more variety of stargazing options. Additionally, the Pontchartrain Astronomy Society connects Nawlins locals to get out and enjoy the night sky. Here are some of the best spots in NOLA to try and see the night sky.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in New Orleans
Within New Orleans proper, your options for stargazing are limited — and you’re not going to get particularly dark skies. For most city dwellers though, these few locations are convenient enough and offer good enough dark skies to still be an enjoyable night of stargazing.
The City Park in New Orleans is one of the oldest parks in the nation. It’s also home to the gorgeous Couturie Forest. Giving this magnificent forest a visit is one of the best ways to get out in nature without actually leaving town. It’s isolation from the rest of the city also makes it the perfect place to go stargazing New Orleans.
1 Palm Dr., New Orleans, LA 70124, neworleanscitypark.com
Like the City Park, Audubon Park is another great place to get away from the city lights and see some stars. It has a somewhat smaller and more intimate atmosphere than City Park. It also features the famous Tree of Life, which is a great place to set up at night and watch the stars.
6500 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70118, audubonnatureinstitute.org
Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront
One of the most popular hangout spots in New Orleans also happens to be one of the best places in the city to see the stars. The popular Lakefront is relatively well removed from the rest of the city. This means you won’t have to worry about too much light pollution interfering with your view of the stars.
1 Canal St., New Orleans, LA 70130
Stargazing Within One Hour of New Orleans
If you’re willing to spend up to an hour in the car, you can get to much better stargazing opportunities near New Orleans. Because so much of the countryside surrounding New Orleans is less-developed Bayou, these locations harness locals-only knowledge to point you to the best spots that won’t take a whole night to get there.
The Bayou Near Pointe á la Hache
Near the town of Pointe á la Hache, you can find a bayou that’s great for gazing at the stars. The best way to get there from New Orleans is to simply head towards the end of Louisiana Highway 39. The trip should take a little over an hour. You can find the bayou surrounding a bed and breakfast known as Woodland Plantation.
21997 LA-23, Port Sulphur, LA 70083
Lake Salvador Lakefront
Lake Salvador is surrounded by many miles of protected swampland. Because of this, there are actually a few great stargazing spots in the general area. Some of these include the Salvador Wildlife Management Area, the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and the Timken Wildlife Management Area. Any of these areas provide clear skies for viewing the stars.
Luling, LA 70070, wlf.louisiana.gov
The Buffer Zone in NASA Stennis in Mississippi
You can find great stargazing opportunities at the Stennis Space Center’s Buffer Zone. The skies are dark and clear, and you don’t have to worry too much about light pollution. However, please note that NASA has very strict rules about accessing this area due to rocket propulsion testing. Please be sure to check with them first before you try to enter the area.
1020 Balch Blvd., Hancock County, Mississippi 39529, nasa.gov
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of New Orleans
If you’re truly committed to a long night — or weekend — of stargazing near New Orleans, these spots within two hours’ drive are your best bet. You’ll reach some of the darkest skies in New Orleans by traveling to these communities and locations.
Near Abita Springs, LA
The small, quiet town of Abita Springs is a great place to see the stars, and you won’t have to drive too far to get there. You won’t have to worry about light pollution since you’ll be far away from the city. The town also has a number of campsites and cabins for rent if you’d like to camp underneath the sky.
Abita Springs, LA 70420, townofabitasprings.com
Feliciana Retreat Center
The Feliciana Retreat Center is a summer camp that’s surrounded by 200 acres of forest. It’s actually been rated as one of the best places in North America to view the sky at night by ASTRONOMY magazine in 1998. You can find it near Norwood, LA about a two and a half hour drive from New Orleans.
10274 LA-422, Norwood, LA 70761, felicianaretreatcenter.org
Near Franklinton, LA
Franklinton is another small town outside of New Orleans that’s good for getting away from the big city lights. In particular, its Bogue Chitto State Park is a popular spot for people to gather and observe the night sky. Again, there are campsites and lodges available in this park for those who want to spend the entire night stargazing.
Franklinton, LA 70438, townoffranklinton.com
Near Galliano, LA
The town of Galliano is only an hour and a half away from New Orleans and provides another retreat from the city’s light pollution. Keep in mind that the summers here can get a bit humid. For this reason, it’s best to wait until the winter time if you want to get a clear view of the sky from here.
Galliano, LA 70345
How Good is the Stargazing in New Orleans?
Getting a really good view of the stars in New Orleans is not easy. In most cases, the bright lights from the city are going to interfere with any real serious stargazing.
The aforementioned parks do provide some dark skies for stargazing. However, the best way to see the night sky is to get out of the city. As mentioned before, the Feliciana Retreat Center has one of the darkest skies in the country. This will provide your best opportunity to see the stars.
Best Times to Go Stargazing in New Orleans
The summers in New Orleans are often excessively hot and humid. This can definitely impede your stargazing experience. Because of this, it’s best to go stargazing in New Orleans during the winter months of November through March (don’t forget that if you plan your trip in February, you can also enjoy New Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras celebration!).
The best way to get a clear view of the night sky is to wait for an evening that’s cool, crisp, and clear, no matter the time of year.
Can You See the Milky Way in New Orleans?
In all honesty, you’re not going to be able to see the Milky Way within New Orleans. The light pollution is simply too strong. Even in the areas surrounding the city, it’s not going to be easy.
If you really want to see the Milky Way in Louisiana, your best chance is to go to the Feliciana Retreat Center or some of the previously mentioned rural towns outside of New Orleans. You have a chance of seeing it here, but even then, the view isn’t going to be as clear as some other areas of the United States.
Other Space Related Experiences in New Orleans
If you’re a real NASA buff, you already know that New Orleans is a great base for visiting one of NASA’s facilities… but here are all of the space-related experiences we recommend in the NOLA area:
- As mentioned, NASA’s Stennis Space Center is within one hour of New Orleans. The public visitor center, Infinity Science Center is a great spot for families, you can see the (canceled) Apollo 19 S-1C booster and a variety of other NASA module replicas, and book a bus tour of the NASA Stennis grounds. (website / website)
- Within New Orleans, Saint Charles’ Parish Library has a planetarium with regular planetarium shows on topics including black holes and seasonal stargazing. (website)
Where to Stay When Visiting New Orleans
In general, design trends in New Orleans are in a more traditional style — many people visit New Orleans to stay in an older, French Quarter style building with beautiful exposed brick that harkens back to New Orleans many heydays.
If you’re looking for something more modern — or even futuristic — consider these hotels:
- The Hotel Indigo Garden Districtis a harmonious blend of traditional New Orleans style and modern design, located in the beautiful Garden District. A quick walk around the neighborhood will show you why the name of the are is so apt, and you can catch the St. Charles streetcar into the heart of New Orleans. Click here to book: Hotels.com
- The Hotel Modern lives up to its name — though rooms are European sized (read: small), you’ll find every modern amenity and beautiful design throughout the property. The Hotel Modern is also just far enough outside of the main tourist areas that you can often find a good room rate, but are within walking distance of the sights. Click here to book: Hotels.com
- The design in each Ace Hotel is so unique, there’s no consistent rule that you’ll find a particularly futuristic aesthetic in any particular one. However, the New Orleans Ace — despite having distinctly earth-based elements like wooden furniture and a rooftop pool — is too good to pass up. Click here to book: Hotels.com
- Similarly, The Saint Hotel has an earth-based design: exposed brick walls and hardwood floors throughout the rooms and common areas. Despite that, plush dark blue carpet and rich blue ceilings in each room give this hotel a distinctly spacey vibe. Click here to book: Hotels.com
Do you have other questions about stargazing in New Orleans? Ask in the comments.
All photos in this post provided via NASA Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr.