When it comes to stargazing destinations, Arizona is one of the best. With cities and communities committed to preserving the night sky and excellent weather for seeing the stars, it’s no surprise that the capital city, Phoenix, is one of the best cities you can live in or visit if you love stargazing.
Whether you endure some light pollution and stay within the city or head out into the desert or mountains to get better visibility, be prepared for some of the best stargazing in the United States, all within a few hours of Phoenix.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Phoenix
Phoenix, like many cities, is limited by light pollution in terms of in-city stargazing options. Though Phoenix, and nearby Tuscon, have embraced dark sky friendly lighting on a wider scale than most cities, it’s still an inevitability that you’ll be gazing through a haze of photons to see the stars.
You can, however, get somewhat better stargazing in a few places within the city — and some within a few minutes drive of the downtown core.
Tempe Town Lake
Tempe Town Lake is a popular hangout spot with many different activities available. One of these activities includes a stargazing class for beginners. This is a great way to get into stargazing if you’ve never tried it before.
80 E. Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281, tempe.gov
Photo credit: Ryan Cadby via Flickr
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Phoenix Mountains Preserve is only 20 minutes away from downtown Phoenix. Along with being a great hiking spot, it also offers one of the best panoramic views of the sky in the Phoenix area. Keep in mind that although the trails themselves are open until 11pm, most of the parking lots close at 7pm.
2701 E. Squaw Peak Dr., Phoenix, AZ 85028, visitphoenix.com
Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is where you’ll find the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory. It features a 16 inch diameter Meade telescope along with a modified Richey-Critien. These are open to the public every Friday and Saturday night.
2757 E. Guadalupe Rd., Gilbert, AZ 85234, gilbertaz.gov
Photo credit: National Park Service via Flickr
Estrella Mountain Park
Estrella Mountain Park is a 60-acre area of wild, desert land. There’s basically no lighting to speak of, so you won’t have to worry about light pollution interfering with your view of the stars. There are also occasional stargazing events that are held here throughout the year.
14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear, AZ, 85338, maricopacountyparks.net
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Phoenix
Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management via Flickr
If you’re willing to drive up to an hour outside of Phoenix, you’ll be well rewarded. Escaping the city lights for these smaller parks, communities, and rural areas will open up your eyes to the night sky in a whole new way.
Sun Valley Parkway
Sometimes referred to as the “Road to Nowhere,” Sun Valley Parkway is a surprisingly great place to watch the stars. That’s because there’s very little traffic, and the White Tank Mountains block most of the lights from the city. Just pull off to the side of the road and start stargazing.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Along with being one of the best places to go stargazing near Phoenix, White Tank Mountain Regional Park also offers Stargazing for Everyone events. This class will help you get familiar with all the major planets and constellations. It’s fun, affordable, and family-friendly.
20304 W. White Tank Mountain Rd., Waddell, AZ 85355, maricopacountyparks.net
Photo credit: Jan Pauw via Flickr
Cave Creek Regional Park
This park features elevations that range from 2000 to 3000 feet. This makes it among the best spots to get an up-close look at the stars. Like White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Cave Creek also offers classes to help you get familiar with the night sky.
37019 N. Lava Ln., Cave Creek, AZ 85331, maricopacountyparks.net
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a 21,099-acre area of desert land surrounded by mountains. As such, you’re pretty well protected from any city lights. You’re almost guaranteed to get a clear, open view of the sky.
16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr., Scottsdale, AZ 85268, maricopacountyparks.net
Photo credit: maplegirlie via Flickr
Hilltop at Sun Ridge Canyon
This hilltop has an elevation of 2500 feet, which will provide you with a great view of the stars. It’s also home to the CopperWynd Resort and Club. This way, you can relax in the daytime and get your stargazing done at night.
Fountain Hills, AZ 85268
Lake Pleasant is another park located in the desert surrounded by mountains. The nights are extremely dark, and you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a good view of the sky. There are also campsites available if you’d like to spend all night stargazing.
41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Rd., Morristown, AZ 85342, maricopacountyparks.net
Photo credit: Ryan Cadby via Flickr
Tres Rios Golf Course
Tres Rios Golf Course is a surprisingly great spot for stargazing. It’s surrounded by the Estrella Mountains and is a very dark, open area at night. Not to mention it’s one of the best places to go golfing in Arizona.
15205 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear, AZ 85338, estrella-golf.com
Spur Cross Ranch
The Spur Cross Ranch features over 2000 acres of open desert. Along with being a dark space away from city lights, it also hosts regular stargazing events throughout the year. These are a lot of fun and a great way to get acquainted with the night sky.
44000 N. Spur Cross Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331, maricopacountyparks.net
Photo credit: cloud2013 via Flickr
Usery Mountain Regional Park
Usery Mountain Regional Park is a 3600-acre park that’s quite secluded from any potential light pollution. It’s another site that’s used by Stargazing for Everyone. Along with stargazing, there are other activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking available here.
3939 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa, AZ 85207, maricopacountyparks.net
Mesa Community College
The Mesa Community College has a planetarium on their Southern and Dobson campus. Planetarium shows are held on the first Friday of most months, and anyone is welcome to join. The equipment they use is of a very high quality, and they have staff available that can answer any questions you might have.
1833 W. Southern Ave., Mesa, AZ 85202, mesacc.edu
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of Phoenix
Within two hours of Phoenix, you’ll find some of the best stargazing in the region. These spots are far enough from city lights that you can easily see the Milky Way — they’re also great during the daytime if you want to explore the rugged natural beauty of the Southwestern U.S.
Verde River Greenway State Natural Area
It’s a bit of a drive from Phoenix, but a trip to the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area is well worth it if you want to see the stars. It’s far removed from any light pollution, making it an ideal spot for stargazing. Fishing, swimming, and kayaking are also popular activities here.
2011 Kestrel Rd., Cottonwood, AZ 86326, azstateparks.com
The town of Sedona is in a desert community with high altitudes and clear skies almost every night. These conditions have made it a certified International Dark Sky City. There are also Sedona stargazing events where you’ll have access to expert astronomers and state of the art equipment.
Sedona, AZ 86336, visitsedona.com
How Good is the Stargazing in Phoenix?
The Phoenix area is actually a very good place for stargazing. Although you’ll have to deal with light pollution in the city itself, it’s not difficult to find darker, more natural spots. The desert landscapes and mountainous terrain make it an ideal spot for observing the night sky — and the saguaro cactus makes for a beautiful contrast in your astrophotography.
That said, you’ll get the best views if you journey a bit outside of Phoenix. Sedona, in particular, is a really great place to see the stars.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Phoenix
Arizona’s famously dry weather makes it possible to go stargazing any time you’d like. You can expect at least 200 days of clear skies throughout the year. The only thing you need to watch out for is Arizona’s monsoon season. This typically occurs between July and September. Other than that, conditions are optimal for stargazing all year round, so the months between October and June are great for stargazing in Phoenix.
Can You See the Milky Way in Phoenix?
Arizona’s ideal stargazing environment makes it possible to see the Milky Way in many places throughout the state where the skies are dark enough.
If you really want to see the Milky Way while visiting Phoenix, your best bet is to head over to Sedona. It has some of the darkest skies you’ll find within a reasonable distance of Phoenix. This will give you your best chance of seeing our galaxy.
Headed to Phoenix? Let us know your other stargazing questions in the comments.
Featured photo by Jerry Ferguson via Flickr