For most people, a trip to Orlando means one thing: amusement parks! Whether you love the Disney characters or want to live on the silver screen at Universal – or you’re just one of the 70 million visitors for any other reason, Orlando is one of the most popular destinations in the U.S.
Less commonly talked about, Orlando is also an amazing destination to visit if you want to experience space tourism on earth. A short drive from Florida’s Space Coast, it’s common to see the vibrant trail of a rocket streaking to space in the skies over Orlando. You can also go stargazing in Orlando – if you know where to look. Here’s a guide to all the places in or near Orlando where you can catch a glimpse of the stars.
To save you time: if you are visiting Orlando and don’t have a car to see the city, your chances of going stargazing are pretty low. If, however, you have access to a car and the time to drive 1-2 hours out of Orlando, you can visit some of the darkest skies and best stargazing in Florida.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Orlando
Orlando with a normal but distressing amount of city light pollution, coupled with its blazing light displays at the major amusement parks, is one of the most challenging cities in which to go stargazing. For this map, we’ve included our best suggestions, including those that are a small drive from the city so you can actually find dark skies.
Here’s your best bet for seeing the stars within the city of Orlando.
Orlando Science Center
At the Orlando Science Center, you can find the Crosby Observatory. This houses the largest refractor telescope that’s accessible to the public in Florida, along with many other smaller telescopes. This telescope has a powerful lens that allows you to see across the entire galaxy.
777 E. Princeton St., Orlando, FL 32803, osc.org
Photo credit: Jill Bazeley via Flickr
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Orlando
While the options in Orlando aren’t great, there are some good stargazing spots within an hour’s drive from the city. These are perfect for a night of stargazing or if you want to watch an astronomic event like a meteor shower or passing comet.
Lake Apopka is one of the largest lakes in Florida with very little development in the surrounding areas. This makes it a great place to get away from the city and do some serious stargazing. Make sure to watch out for gators while you’re there.
2929 S. Binion Rd., Apopka, FL 32703, friendsoflakeapopka.wildapricot.org
Florida’s Space Coast
The Space Coast features one of Florida’s most powerful telescopes on the roof of its observatory. The Brevard Astronomical Society holds viewings there every weekend, so they can help you if you have any questions. Plus, the Space Coast is only a 45-minute drive from Orlando.
430 Brevard Ave. #150, Cocoa, FL 32922, visitspacecoast.com
Ocala Forest Campground
The Ocala Forest Campground is another great, natural area for getting away from the city lights. They also offer cabins and campsites for those of you that want to spend a whole weekend watching the stars. It’s a great way to reconnect with nature while enjoying the night sky.
26301 SE Hwy 42, Umatilla, FL 32784, fs.usda.gov
Harmony is a small town outside of Orlando that was planned with the express purpose of protecting its night sky. It’s even been recognized for its efforts by the International Dark Sky Association. They also host an annual Dark Sky Festival to celebrate these efforts.
Harmony, St. Cloud, FL 34773, harmonyfl.com
Port Saint John
Port Saint John is another small town that’s only 40 minutes away from Orlando. There are a number of parks and other natural areas that will help you get a good look at the night sky. Furthermore, it’s located near the Kennedy Space Center which frequently hosts astronomy-related events.
Port Saint John, FL 32927, portstjohnflorida.org
Photo credit: RomansTenNine via Flickr
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of Orlando
If you’re willing to commit the time to drive beyond the Orlando area, you’ll be well-rewarded with some of the darkest skies in Florida. These locations are perfect for a weekend trip.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is simply one of the best stargazing spots in the entire state of Florida – and it’s less than a two-hour drive from Orlando. It’s far removed from any city lights and is recognized as the state’s first Dark Sky Park. Please note that campsites and astronomy viewing pads must be reserved ahead of time.
33104 NW 192nd Ave., Okeechobee, FL 34927, floridastateparks.org
Chiefland Astronomy Village
This is an astronomy park located in the city of Chiefland, another one of the darkest parts of Florida. It’s operated by the Chiefland Star Party Group and features a number of permanent observatories. Buying a membership will give you access to the park, and it only costs $45.
5251 NW 52 Ct., Chiefland, FL 32626, fallstarparty.com
Sebastian Inlet is a somewhat isolated state park that provides some good stargazing opportunities. Its Atlantic Ocean beaches are especially good areas for observing the sky. Local astronomy groups have also been known to hold “star parties” here from time to time.
Sebastian Inlet, FL 32963, floridastateparks.org
Doe Lake Campground
Doe Lake Campground is a camping site centered around a Civilian Conservation Corps dining hall. Like other parks on this list, it is fairly well removed from light pollution from the cities. Keep in mind that reservations must be made ahead of time.
Doe Lake Campground, Umatilla, FL 32784, recreation.gov
Photo credit: Eric Lopez via Flickr
How Good is the Stargazing in Orlando?
The aforementioned Orlando Science Center is among the best places in Florida for stargazing. Aside from that, you honestly won’t have much luck in the city itself. The light pollution is simply too strong to get a good look at the stars.
That said, you can find some good spots if you travel outside the city. Many of the state parks mentioned on this list provide good stargazing opportunities. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, in particular, is excellent and is certainly worth the drive for any serious stargazer.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Orlando
The humidity in Florida can make it difficult to see the stars during the summer. For this reason, it’s best to wait until a cool, crisp night, preferably in the winter months. The best months for stargazing in Orlando are December through February, after hurricane season ends and before the humidity of the warm months returns.
It’s also best to wait until a new moon if you can. The light of the moon can obscure your vision of the stars, especially when it’s full.
Can You See the Milky Way in Orlando?
The truth is, you won’t have much luck seeing the Milky Way within Orlando. The light pollution inside the city is too strong. This pollution also stretches hundreds of miles, rendering the Milky Way invisible to other places on this list as well.
If you really want to see the Milky Way, your best bet is to visit Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. It’s the only place near Orlando where you have a really good chance of seeing our galaxy. It’s simply one of the best places in Florida for stargazing in general.
Photo credit: NASA via Flickr
Other Space Related Experiences in Orlando
If you aren’t able to see the stars while visiting Orlando, there are other ways to experience space on your trip:
- Even if you don’t go stargazing, the Orlando Science Center has a permanent exhibit on planet earth, and you can do solar viewing at the Crosby Observatory. (website)
- Extend your trip to Orlando and spend some time on Florida’s Space Coast. The Space Coast is comprised of six towns on the Atlantic coast and you can visit Kennedy Space Center. If you’re lucky, there will even be a rocket launch during your visit! (website)
- There are a handful of other planetariums in the Orlando area, including the Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State University. Shows happen weekly on Friday and Saturday nights. (website)
Where to Stay When Visiting Orlando
Most of the Orlando hotels with amazing design features are affiliates with the amusement parks, but we scoured to find the best options that will make you feel as close to space as possible.
- Near Disney in the Disney Springs Resort Area, B Resort & Spa is the place to stay. Modern, colorful designs and furniture make this hotel surreal while still supremely comfortable. Rooms start from $149 per night in the offseason. Click here to book on Hotels.com
- At Universal, the coolest hotel for funky, futuristic design is the Hard Rock Hotel. All room types have colorful, modern rock and roll elements; the Future Rock Star Suite exceeds that with a twinkling starry sky above some of the beds. Rooms start from $349 per night. Click here to book on Hotels.com
Have a great trip to Orlando!
Featured photo by Ricardo Mangual via Flickr