Not far from the center of the United States, you can’t deny that Kansas City is smack dab in the heart of America’s Heartland. Known for its incredible barbecue, top-tier sports teams, and public art – being home to more fountains than Rome, it’s nicknamed the City of Fountains – Kansas City, Missouri, and neighboring Kansas City, Kansas are great destinations, though often overlooked.
Like most cities, stargazing in Kansas City – Missouri or Kansas – isn’t optimal. There’s lots of light pollution in these twin cities and limited good dark spots. As you’ll see, this isn’t so much a guide to stargazing in Kansas City as to stargazing near Kansas City – but that’s because there aren’t good spots, not because I didn’t include them. I just want to manage expectations, so that you’re not surprised or think I’ve left off spots in Kansas City on purpose. (If you do know any I missed, please let me know in the comments so I can make this a better resource.)
No matter which of the two Kansas Cities you’re planning to visit or call home, you can use the city/cities as a base to strike out on a good stargazing trip. Here are the best spots for stargazing in Kansas City and the surrounding Midwest.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Washtáge Moⁿzháⁿ (Kaw / Kansa), 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^(Osage), Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo) peoples, among many others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Kansas City
When it comes to stargazing, Kansas City (both of them) is no different from any other urban area. Finding good spots that are protected from artificial light is quite a challenge. Luckily, there are many great places within 1-2 hours of the city.
Warko Observatory is the best place you’ll find for stargazing in Kansas City. Perched on the roof of Royall Hall, the Warko Observatory is owned by the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
The Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC) operates the 16 3/8-inch Newtonian reflector and the newer telescopes; a 14-inch Meade LX200 computerized, Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector plus a Meade Coronado solar telescope mounted piggyback. Like many of its counterparts, Warko Observatory is open to the public on Friday nights from May through October. The program includes presentations of diverse astronomical topics and, of course, viewing sessions through telescopes.
800 E 52nd St, Kansas City, MO
Stargazing Spots Within 1 Hour of Kansas City
If you’re new to stargazing, it won’t take you long to notice that driving a few miles from the city pays off big time. Below you’ll find five excellent stargazing spots within one hour of Kansas City.
Located in Clay County, Smithville Lake is one of the best Kansas City stargazing places.
This 7,190-acre reservoir on the Little Platte branch of the Platte River is a paradise for lovers of fishing and boating. But, its extensive grounds also attract local stargazers in search of quiet surroundings and dark skies. You’ll find lots of dark areas around the lake, where you can see a ton of stars without much interference from the lights of Kansas City. If you’d like to spend the night, Smithville Lake also offers camping sites.
Weston Bend State Park
Weston Bend State Park sits on the east bank of the Missouri River. A paradise for outdoor lovers, this state park has it all: hiking and biking trails, campgrounds, and picnic facilities.
But the park’s beauty also resides in its scenery: the property has some of the most impressive fall colors, scenic river views, and, yes, you guessed right, star-filled skies. Weston Bend State Park is in one of the darkest areas of the state – and it’s only 30 minutes away from Kansas City! You’ll find the best stargazing spots along the riverbank and at scenic overlooks.
Battle of Lexington State Historic Site
At one hour from Kansas City, Battle of Lexington State Historic Site is known for being a fantastic museum that traces down Missouri’s history. Very few know it’s also one of the best stops for stargazing in Kansas City. So much so that the Astronomical Society of Kansas City has selected the property to host public viewing nights. The area has unobstructed views of the night sky and is secluded from the unwanted glare of artificial lights.
Observatories always are an excellent alternative when you’re unsure where to go stargazing near your city. Powell Observatory is one of the local’s favorite Kansas City stargazing spots.
The Astronomical Society of Kansas City hosts public nights at the observatory and invites stargazers to explore the beauty of our universe. They provide small telescopes, but you can bring your own or a blanket and listen to the lecturers. Public nights are hosted from May to October on clear nights.
Monkey Mountain Park
Monkey Mountain Park isn’t home to either mountains or monkeys – sorry if I just ruined your expectations. However, this nature preserve does have beautiful dark skies. Monkey Mountain Park is as close to being out in the wild as you can get in the KC area. Consequently, the property is endowed with all the elements you need for a successful stargazing session: lots of wide open fields, oak of light pollution, and a good elevation. Head to the open meadow at the top for the best views of the night sky.
Stargazing Spots Within 2.5 Hours of KC
If driving one hour can make such a difference in the sky’s quality, driving 2.5 hours will reward you with some of the best dark areas in the state. Here are five stargazing spots within 2.5 hours of Kansas City.
Michigan Valley is a reservoir spanning 4,000 acres. Thanks to being located on the shores of Pomona Lake, the property is famous for its excellent fishing and boating opportunities.
But what makes Michigan Valley a top stargazing spot is its location. The reservoir is surrounded by undeveloped areas and quiet suburbs. There’s very low light pollution and the urban glare from bigger cities, fortunately, doesn’t reach this site. You can find dark spots along the lake, but try to avoid standing too close to the campaign sites.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better spot for stargazing in Kansas City than Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
As its name suggests, you’ll see nothing but endless miles of prairie sprawling before your eyes. Maybe you spot a bison in the distance, but that’s it. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has excellent dark skies and is open at night for visitors. It is a favorite of Kansans stargazers and you’ll need little more than a pair of binoculars to see the cosmos in all its glory.
Fall River State Park
Fall River State Park consists of 980 acres of forested floodplains, tall grass prairie, and blackjack savannah.
If you want to combine a family getaway with a stargazing trip, I think Fall River is an excellent choice. The park has activities for every age and interest. There’s hiking, canoeing, birdwatching, fishing, swimming, boating, water skiing, and camping. When it comes to stargazing, Fall River is nestled in the Flint Hills region, which happens to be one of the darkest regions in the state and the most popular place to view dark skies and meteor showers in Kansas.
Have an interest in astrophotography with a fascinating foreground? If so, Teter Rock is the place you’re looking for. Some stargazers only focus on the sky and the stars for their photos. However, others love the composition created by dramatic geological formations against a star-littered sky.
Teter Rock is not a “natural” geological formation, but an upended limestone monolith erected by James Teter to help homesteaders get oriented and find their way to the Cottonwood River. Still, it’s the perfect object to create a good photo. By the way, Teter Rock is also located on the Flint Hills, so expect pitch-dark skies and thousands of twinkling stars.
Cross Timbers State Park
Cross Timbers State Park stands out for its forested areas and winding hiking trails. Unlike other parks mentioned here, Cross Timbers attracts mainly road-trippers who need an overnight stay or die-hard campers who love primitive camping. You’ll hardly find families or locals throughout the year.
For stargazing, head to the green hills that surround the lake to find open spaces – the campgrounds sit in heavily wooded areas. You’ll find gravel and paved roads to the shore areas, make sure to follow them and carry a flashlight so you don’t get lost.
Best Time of Year to Go Stargazing in Kansas City
If you’re sold on planning a stargazing trip in Kansas City, you might wonder when the best time is to visit. If you do have that flexibility, I recommend looking at autumn for your visit: September and October are the best months to go stargazing in Kansas City. This is due to the number of clear days, lower humidity as summer winds down, and less chance of rain on any given day, but not waiting too long for Kansas’ and Missouri’s winter to set in.
Can You See the Milky Way in Kansas City?
As you can guess from the lack of stargazing spots in Kansas City, no, you won’t be able to see the Milky Way in Kansas City.
However, you can see the Milky Way in most places located on the Flint Hills: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Fall River State Park, and Peter Rock. These places have animal light pollution and are far from urban centers. If you go on a clear night, there’s a high chance you’ll see the Milky Way.
Have any other questions about stargazing in Kansas City? Let me know in the comments below!