Hiking or skiing by day, stargazing by night… Where else can you spend a lifetime in the great outdoors and never see it all? Colorado, of course! While people know Colorado for its daytime adventures, it’s fast becoming one of the U.S.’s top states for astronomy and stargazing. There are some epic spots for stargazing in Colorado too, which doesn’t hurt!
In this post we’re highlighting the best places for stargazing in colorful Colorado. Whether you’re out among red rocks, blue alpine slopes, dusty dunes, or green grasslands, it’ll all look amazing once the sun goes down.
If you need equipment before setting out on a Colorado stargazing trip, we have a helpful resource on telescopes for every budget. Broadly speaking, the more you spend the better the telescope, but if you’re just starting out, these telescopes can be a good place to begin. You can also research what to see in the night sky during the month of your visit, as well as what you can see with the un-aided eye or with binoculars.
We’ve organized these locations in alphabetical order to be more impartial. This shouldn’t be considered a wholly comprehensive list of all places for stargazing in Colorado nor a list of the absolute darkest areas. Instead, you’ll find a selection of locations that have good to great night skies, interesting stargazing and astronomy programming, and the infrastructure (or lack thereof) to help you enjoy the night sky no matter your travel style. Read on for the best places for stargazing in Colorado!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
It’s no surprise that some of the best dark sky locations in Colorado are the state’s national parks. While Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park doesn’t have the same name recognition as some of Colorado’s other national parks and preserves, it is one of the state’s great stargazing spots.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison was certified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2015. Since then, the park has continued to develop astronomy programming for the public. This includes weekly ranger-led programs during the summer months, and an astronomy festival in the autumn. In 2020, the Black Canyon Astronomy Festival will be September 16-19.
Chimney Rock National Monument
Another of Colorado’s many natural wonderlands, Chimney Rock was once home to the Puebloan people. These ancient peoples chose their home for many reasons, and the night sky was a well-known fixture in Native American life before light pollution. You can learn about their culture and heritage as well as the modern understanding of the night sky at one of several night sky and full moon programs offered at Chimney Rock each month.
Dinosaur National Monument
From ancient fossils to ancient starlight, there’s nothing quite so humbling as a visit to Dinosaur National Monument. There, you’ll learn about the mind-bogglingly long history of our planet – and the creatures who walked before us on it. You can then follow up with one of the astronomy programs offered by the National Park Service.
Dinosaur National Monument was certified as a Dark Sky Park in early 2019. This makes it among the youngest in the country and underscoring how fantastic the quality of night skies are here. Be sure to check the website for any stargazing events happening at the Split Mountain Campground location before planning your trip.
Garden of the Gods
As featured in our Denver city stargazing guide, Garden of the Gods is one of the best stargazing spots in Colorado which is also easily accessed from major urban areas like Denver and Colorado Springs.
The geologic formations at Garden of the Gods provide a reminder that our planet is truly unique and beautiful – and are ideal for astrophotography if you’re mastering that skill.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Arguably one of the most fascinating natural wonders in Colorado – and there are many so that’s quite a debate – Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a weird and wonderful sight by day. It’s also a great spot at night. You can stargaze into skies that are almost entirely unaffected by light pollution or even natural obstructions.
Like Dinosaur National Monument, Great Sand Dunes was certified as a Dark Sky Park in 2019. This has brought increased attention and crowds to enjoy the night sky here. When you visit, you can ascend one of the dunes or attend an NPS astronomy program to have your mind blown by thousands of stars twinkling overhead.
In the foothills outside Fort Collins, Horsetooth Reservoir is one of the best stargazing spots in this part of Colorado. The long, tall lake provides an excellent barrier against nearby light pollution, and open spaces to admire the sky. Nearby Reservoir Ridge Natural Area is a good place to base your stargazing expedition.
Jackson Lake State Park
Most of the best stargazing spots in Colorado take advantage of the mountains to create ideal stargazing conditions. Jackson Lake State Park is the opposite. Northwest of Denver, out on the plains, this state park affords you the opportunity to see stars with a virtually unobstructed view from horizon to horizon.
Be aware you’ll need to arrange camping if you want to stay overnight in the state park.
Most people drive Loveland Pass on their way to the famous resorts in the area… But did you know it’s also a great stargazing spot? If you stop near the apex of Loveland Pass (nearly 12,000ft in elevation), you can get an amazing view of the stars, away from the blazing lights on nearby slopes and with far less interference from the earth’s atmosphere.
Pawnee National Grassland
Colorado is known for mountains and plains… But did you know there’s a sweeping grassland in the northeast part of the state? Pawnee National Grassland is part of the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests and is one of the best stargazing spots in Colorado!
During the day, you can learn about the history of this region – from Native Americans who lived in the area and give the grassland its name to White pioneers who tried to tame this corner of the Wild West. We couldn’t find any formal stargazing or astronomy events at Pawnee National Grassland. However, you can always check the official website or enjoy the sky with a night sky chart or star app.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Yes, Red Rocks is practically in the heart of bright, light-polluted Denver, geographically speaking. It’s also one of the best stargazing spots in Colorado for most urban residents who may not be up for a long drive or weekend trip to see the stars.
Everyone knows Red Rocks is great for concerts, but the big open space is also good for stargazing on nights when there are no shows happening. Because of its proximity to city lights, you’ll still face some light pollution, but it’s a good easy-access spot to try on a clear night.
Rocky Mountain National Park
One of Colorado’s most well-known national parks, Rocky Mountain National Park is an outdoor playground. It’s home to wildlife and high alpine areas for hiking, skiing, and camping. Oh, and yes, great stargazing.
High in the mountains near Estes Park, the night sky above Rocky Mountain National Park comes alive with seemingly infinite stars. The park has five campgrounds to choose from. They’re known to fill up in the summer months – so plan ahead if you’re doing an overnight stargazing trip here.
The UFO Watchtower in San Luis Valley
As the name suggests, The UFO Watchtower is pretty much ground zero for folks who want to look at the night ksy in the San Luis Valley. Whether they have or will actually discover any UFOs remains to be seen and confirmed by more scientific methods… But locals have long reported strange lights in the sky and experiences at night.
Even if you don’t have an ‘I Want to Believe’ poster hanging at home (The X-Files, anyone?), you are guaranteed to see one thing around the UFO Watchtower: an epic night sky.
Westcliffe & Silver Cliff
Colorado’s first certified Dark Sky Community, Westcliffe & Silver Cliff take great pride in the quality of their night skies. They have worked hard to protect them through light pollution-reducing fixtures and design. Since receiving their certification, the Wet Valley – including these two towns – has become an ideal destination for stargazing in Colorado.
They offer monthly events, a speaker series, regular star parties, and a dark sky festival to encourage locals and visitors to get out and enjoy this natural resource above us all.
Do you know other great spots for stargazing in Colorado? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: Bryce Bradford via Flickr