Memphis is a city known for many things: great sports, great music, great food, and great sunset views across the Mississippi each evening. I’ve been fortunate to visit Memphis several times due to friends living in Bluff City, but usually confine myself to the city limits and enjoy all that Memphis has to offer – rather than focusing on my love of astronomy. Given all the neon on Beale Street and other city lights, you might wonder: can you go stargazing in Memphis?
As you’ll see, Memphis (like many Midwest cities) has a lot of light pollution in the urban core – but offers unique stargazing opportunities for those willing to seek them out.
Below you’ll find a guide to the best places for stargazing in Memphis, or rather near Memphis. You’ll need a car to reach them, but whether you call the Home of the Blues home or are traveling through, you’ll be well rewarded with Milky Way views and starry skies overhead beyond the boundaries of Memphis.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the O-ga-xpa Ma-zhoⁿ (O-ga-xpa) (Quapaw) and Chikashsha I̠yaakni’ (Chickasaw) 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 Memphis
Normally, I kick off these stargazing guides with a list of decent spots for urban stargazing. However, my research revealed an unfortunate reality: there aren’t any good places for stargazing in Memphis.
You might be feeling annoyed, since you probably searched something like “stargazing in Memphis” to end up on this page. Unfortunately, it’s necessary for me to have that phrase in the title to ensure you find this resource at all – and to make it clear that while there aren’t great stargazing spots within the Memphis city limits, you can find some good spots within an hour of the city (and even darker skies further afield).
If you’re ready to discover those spots for stargazing near Memphis, read on.
Stargazing Spots Within 1 Hour of Memphis
Stargazing near big cities is always challenging. Luckily, Memphis has accessible spots for those who can’t make a long drive to pursue their astronomical interests. Below you’ll find the best places to go stargazing in Memphis.
Arkabutla Lake is a haven for anyone who loves water sports. But there’s more to this place than fishing and swimming. Located in north Mississippi, Arkabutla Lake is a serene retreat featuring over 30,000 acres of land. There are hiking and biking trails, campgrounds, and picnic tables. When the night comes, feel free to find a stargazing spot along the waterfront or in one of the campsites. Local stargazers recommend going to the top of the dam for sweeping views of the night sky.
Collierville Arlington Rd.
Collierville Arlington Rd. is one of the best Memphis stargazing places, according to locals. Located in East central Shelby, this street runs through a forested area, and there’s not much around, except for a few houses scattered here and there.
In addition to the lack of urbanization, there are no street lights along the road, so it gets super dark after the sun sets! You’ll find plenty of open green areas, although I would recommend going out there in the daylight first so you can find them.
If you frequent stargazing blogs, Lakeland often comes up as one of the top places for stargazing in Memphis.
Nestled in Shelby County, Lakeland is famous for its rural feel and tight-knit community. This small suburb sits 24 miles away from Memphis and is a lot less urbanized, meaning there’s less light pollution and more stars across the sky. Local stargazers usually go to one of Lakeland’s parks for their stargazing sessions. You can try your luck at either International Harvester Managerial Park, Windward Slopes Park, or Zadie E. Kuehl Memorial Park.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
It’s hard to believe Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is only half an hour drive away from Memphis. At 12,539 acres, the sense of remoteness you get once you arrive in the park makes you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. The park is accessible year-round, though it closes at 5 pm.
Consequently, to go stargazing, you need to book a camping site. Spending a day or two shouldn’t be a problem as the park offers tons of fun activities, including opportunities for hiking, kayaking, biking, and more.
Rhodes College Observatory
Perched on top of Rhodes Tower, the Rhodes College Observatory is one of the best Memphis stargazing spots if you’re taking your first steps in stargazing and need a bit of guidance.
The observatory is home to a 20 inch PlaneWave CDK f/6.8 reflecting telescope plus a collection of computerized Celestron 8 inch telescopes. The observatory hosts open house events related to astronomy throughout the year. Besides hosting night viewing sessions, the staff gives talks on varied astronomy topics, ranging from constellations to new discoveries in the field. Check their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to stay tuned on their upcoming events.
Shelby Farms Park
Photo credits: Noel Pennington (R) & Bunny Jager (L) via Flickr
Shelby Farms Park is the perfect place to go and get your weekly dose of night observation. Just 20 minutes from Downtown Memphis, Shelby Farms Park governs 4,500 acres, being the largest urban parks in the country. The park has more than 40 miles of trails and a pedestrian lake that circles Hyde Lake.
Shelby Farm Park is also the meeting point of the Memphis Astronomical Society (MAS). They host stargazing events near Hyde Lake throughout the year, providing telescopes to view constellations, planets, and star clusters.
Village Creek State Park
Village Creek State Park is only about an hour drive from Memphis. Located in Arkansas, the park consists of 7000 acres situated entirely upon an unusual geological formation called Crowley’s Ridge.
The nature is gorgeous to say the least. There’s no shortage of activities at the park. It features fantastic hiking trails throughout the forested hills, a golf course, equestrian stables, and much more. The park closes at 5 pm, so you have to spend the night if you want to stargaze here.
Stargazing Spots Within 2.5 Hours of Memphis
It’s no secret that you need to get as far as possible from big cities to appreciate the wonder of our galaxy properly. For those who’re willing to drive a bit more, here are four stargazing spots that will reward you with dark skies and bright stars.
Big Hill Pond State Park
Only 75 miles east of Memphis, Big Hill Pond State Park is Memphians’ go-to spot for a two- or three-day camping trip.
The park is located in the southwestern part of McNairy County and encompasses 4,138 acres of timberland and hardwood bottomland. Due to its remoteness, the park sits above spectacular dark skies. It also has activities to keep families entertained for days. During your visit, you can go horseback riding, hiking, fishing, or simply have a picnic and enjoy the nature surrounding you.
Great River Road
The Great River Road is a network of roads that follow the course of the Mississippi River.
Most road-trippers will tell you that driving it is an unrivaled experience to get the best views of the longest river of North America. But very few know that the sides of the road also have numerous spots where you can pull over and set up your stargazing gear. Luckily, a stretch of the Great River Road passes through downtown Michigan. Whether you drive north or south, the road is full of little nooks that escape the city lights. Just make sure you pull over somewhere safe.
Greers Ferry Lake
Greers Ferry Lake is a hidden gem nestled down the foothills of the Ozark mountains. Freshwater and clear and clean. The park has earned recognition as a model for its environmental cleanliness, with its lake being one of the clearest and cleaner in the country. Their preservation efforts can also be perceived in the beautiful skies that unfold above the park. You won’t find pesky lights as the park has very few spots with artificial lighting. Keep in mind Greers Ferry Lake opens weekdays from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m, so you’ll need to spend the night to go stargazing.
Natchez Trace State Park
Natchez Trace State Park is a hidden gem located in Henderson County, Tennessee. It is an awesome place to get away from life and enjoy a peaceful quiet few days. And, of course, go stargazing! There’s nothing but trees and lakes surrounding the park. So rest assured the stars will shine brightly.
This park also offers miles of off road trails, designated horse trails, multiple campgrounds for tent camping as well as full power RV sites. As it is located right off interstate 40, the park is also a convenient respite for weary road-trippers.
Planetariums in Memphis
Like observatories, planetariums provide guided and contextualized experiences for newbies who want to learn about the fascinating world of astronomy and space science. Below you’ll find all the info about Memphis’ stunning planetarium: Sharpe Planetarium at MoSH.
Memphis is lucky to have the Sharpe Planetarium. Located inside the Memphis Museum of Science & History (formerly the Pink Palace Museum), the planetarium organizes shows to teach children and beginners to spot significant stars and other objects in our skies. Their rotating programs are immersive and do an excellent job at showing how astronomy has impacted on different cultures and civilizations throughout the centuries. Admission is $4.50 for adults and $4 for children aged 3-12.
Best Time of Year to Go Stargazing in Memphis
The best time to go stargazing in Memphis is in late fall, winter, and early spring. During these seasons, the nights are darker and longer so you’ll have plenty of time to spot nighttime delights hanging high in the sky. If you get to be picky, try to go stargazing when there’s no full moon to overshadow the stars with its light.
Can You See the Milky Way in Memphis?
Unfortunately, no, you can’t see the Milky Way in Memphis or anywhere near it. Like most populous cities, Memphis is a victim of light pollution, which makes it impossible to see the majestic Milky Way.
The best places in Tennessee to spot the Milky Way are quite far from Memphis. Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area are both top stargazing destinations in the state and even are designated International Dark Sky parks. If you want to get a view of the Milky Way, you are better off driving to these places.
Do you know of any great spots for stargazing in Memphis, or have questions for these stargazing places near Memphis? Let me know in the comments!