Maryland is known for may things, including – but certainly not limited to – blue crabs, baseball, and Old Bay seasoning. (I can still imagine the smell in my mind!) But what about stargazing in Maryland?
Most people are surprised to learn that I was actually born in Maryland and spent the first few years of my life there. That’s often overshadowed by the other places I’ve lived, especially Alaska where many of my formative space experiences happened (seeing Hale-Bopp, viewing the aurora, etc.). Nevertheless, my origin story begins as a Marylander, and I still have plenty of family in the Old Line State.
If you’re planning to visit Maryland for some reason or call it home as I once did (well, I was mostly pre-verbal but you get the idea), you might be curious about stargazing in Maryland. There are a number of good stargazing spots across the state, and many more that locals know and protect. Below you’ll find some of the best places for stargazing in Maryland, to inspire you to plan a stargazing trip or event. Add in a visit to Washington D.C. for all the space-y stuff there and you’ve got the makings of an excellent astrotourism trip!
Anne Arundel Community College
Located in Arnold, Anne Arundel Community College and its associated observatory is one of the best spots for stargazing in Maryland, especially if you’re a beginner. The observatory is open to the public and hosts numerous monthly events to introduce newbies to astronomy and the art of stargazing.
Its location is also privileged to allow you a deeper dive into the sky, sitting on the second-highest point in Anne Arundel County. Visitors can bring their stargazing gear, and those who haven’t invested any yet can borrow the observatory’s equipment. The only downside of stargazing at this observatory is that the facility isn’t open year-round and only welcomes community members from August to February.
If you’re wondering where to stargaze in Maryland to spot the Milky Way, Assateague Island is a location like no other. A 37-mile-long barrier island, a stargazing place of choice for people who enjoy astrophotography. It is easy to see why. The juxtaposition of the Milky Way against the rolling waves fits the definition of a dream shot for me.
As a general rule, the sky is darker towards the east of the island, as it is right over the Ocean. You can spend the night at Assateague Island National Seashore, Pocomoke State Forest, Assateague State Park, or simply lay a towel somewhere along the island’s miles of Atlantic beachfront.
Bear Branch Recreation Park
Bear Branch Recreation Park in Westminster is one of the most family-friendly spots for stargazing in Maryland. The park houses the Bear Branch Nature Center, home to a 40-seat planetarium offering three stationary telescopes. Everyone can visit the facility for free and participate in the planetarium’s numerous guided night sky tours.
The Westminster Astronomical Society is in charge of the planetarium and organizes meetings and tours. Visitors who sign up for an astronomical tour will enjoy a galaxy tour and then a telescope viewing session to see the “live” version of what they’ve just learned.
City of Greenbelt Observatory
Run by the ASG, the City of Greenbelt strives to make the vast universe and its wonders available to everyone. The observatory and its staff offer a bunch of activities for rookies to advanced-stargazers. They host astronomy lectures, star parties, and occasional simulation and virtual-reality software presentations for modeling space.
Their monthly lectures invite guest speakers from the nearby NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. You know you’ll walk away with invaluable knowledge if you sign up for one of these.
Gaithersburg Observatory Park
Gaithersburg Observatory Park is an obligatory stop for astronomy buffs who want to learn more about the historical background of this fascinating science. Built in 1899, this historic observatory was one among a worldwide network of six observatories established at the end of the 19th century. The observatories cooperated to measure how the Earth wobbles around its axis of rotation.
Today, the Gaithersburg Observatory Park doesn’t have this function after introducing automated facilities. However, everyone can visit it and explore the facility’s history. Additionally, The Gaithersburg Community Museum holds special events here periodically, including stargazing and other astronomy events to learn about the planets and stars of the night sky.
Green Ridge State Forest
Arguably one of the most scenic spots to go stargazing in Maryland, Green Ridge State Forest is a 49,000-acre state forest in Western Maryland. The forest is the largest contiguous block of public land in the state and sits only an hour away from Hagerstown, far enough from urban centers to retain its dark skies.
The best news for stargazers is that the forest offers nearly 100 primitive campgrounds throughout its surface. If you can be picky with the date you visit, I suggest you go there during the Fall to get the most scenic views, day and night. This time of year is excellent for driving in the mountains while taking in the beautiful scenery as the leaves change colors. Get ready to experience the magic of the twinkling stars rising above your eyes and against the forest’s impressive foliage.
The largest island in the Chesapeake Bay, Kent Island is a man-made beach brimming with the characteristic charm of seaside towns. It is an ideal spot for stargazers who like to surf the night sky by the sea. While the island doesn’t provide the darkest skies, you can still find decent areas to set your telescope.
You’ll have better luck down at the yonder end of Kent Point Rd. This area is far enough South and escapes the urban gleam from Annapolis. If you’re willing to drive, there is an excellent area east of the Kent Narrows. There are no city lights to spoil your night views.
St. John’s College Observatory and Planetarium
If you’re in Annapolis, you can stop by St. John’s College Observatory and Planetarium. The Observatory and Planetarium are open to the public and run stargazing sessions on Monday and Thursday evenings throughout the academic year. Everyone can attend their astronomical events, although the staff encourages visitors to contact the planetarium in advance to check the event schedule. You can also check out their Facebook page to stay up on the latest events.
UMD Astronomy Observatory
Opened in 1964, UMD Astronomy Observatory is another Maryland stargazing spots you should consider. The observatory is your best bet if you want your kids to take their first steps in stargazing. Its most famous events are the open houses hosted on the 5th and 20th of each month.
The open house starts with a 30-minute lecture where visitors learn about the galaxy and a tour of the facility. Next, they hold a viewing of celestial objects through the observatory’s telescopes, weather permitting.
You should check out the observatory’s “Learn the Sky Nights” program if you’re a local. It is a non-credit class during the summer each year and teaches students some basic amateur observing techniques.
Have any questions about these spots for stargazing in Maryland – or know of others I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments!