Whether you love the Twin Cities equally or are partial to one over the other – Minneapolis, no, St. Paul, no Minneapolis! – there are plenty of reasons to love Minnesota‘s two biggest cities. Great shopping, great sports teams, good food, and access to the outdoors – what more do you need?
How about stargazing spots? Of course, it should be no surprise if you’re on a site called Space Tourism Guide that we care about dark areas where you can enjoy the night sky.
Admittedly, since the Twin Cities is twice the size of many cities, you also have to contend with twice the light pollution common in urban areas. For this reason, if you want to go stargazing in Minneapolis or St. Paul, you’ll need to plan ahead to leave the city at least a little bit.
Below I’ve put together a list of the best spots for stargazing in the Twin Cities, as well as better options further out of town. Whether you call Minneapolis or St. Paul home, or are visiting or passing through and want to see an astronomical event, these are the spots to consider planning a visit.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ and Wahpekute peoples, among 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.
Stargazing Spots in the Twin Cities
Live in the Twin Cities area and need to get your astronomy fix? Look no further! Here are the two best spots for stargazing in the Twin Cities.
Tate Laboratory of Physics & Astronomy
The Tate Laboratory of Physics & Astronomy is a long-time popular place for stargazing in Minneapolis. It offers free public observing nights every Friday during the academic year. The experience is highly educational. Volunteers set up multiple 8-inch reflecting telescopes and guide you through the universe, answering common questions about the universe and various astronomy-related topics.
ExploraDome (Bell Museum of Natural History)
While the growth of space tourism is undeniable, most of us won’t have the chance (or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones!) to book a flight on Virgin Galactic. But… you can have a pretty awesome journey through the galaxy at the ExploraDome.
This traveling planetarium offers visitors an immersive experience where they can explore the night sky and learn about astronomy. The programs explore astronomy topics from different perspectives and resort to multiple sciences to explain the origin of the universe.
Photo credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art via Flickr
Stargazing Spots within 1 Hour of Minneapolis-St. Paul
Photo credit: Ryan Mathieu via Flickr
Stargazers know that city lights are the number one enemy when you want a good view of the night sky. But we also know that driving as little as an hour can have a great impact on the sky’s quality. Below you’ll find seven great places to go stargazing within 1 hour of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Afton State Park
Afton State Park is one of the top places for stargazing in St. Paul. Despite being only 30 minutes away from the city, it offers visitors a dark sky area where they can observe the stars and constellations. The best spots for stargazing in these parks are the forest and meadow trails. As a heads up, try to avoid the trails toward north as they’re covered by a lot of trees that may hinder your vision of the night sky. There is also a public beach area if you’d like to shoot the stars reflected in the water.
Baylor Regional Park
Located 45 minutes away from Minneapolis, Baylor Regional Park is a hidden gem for stargazers. The park is quite small, it covers 201 acres. But it houses an observatory: the Eagle Lake Observatory. It is owned and operated by the Minnesota Astronomical Society (MAS). They host numerous astronomy-related events that everyone can attend, from public viewing nights to star parties and even camping!
Cherry Grove Observatory
The Cherry Grove Observatory located south of the Twin Cities is another great alternative for stargazing. According to regulars, the observatory is an ideal place for stargazing in the Twin Cities if you’re taking your first steps in the marvelous world of stargazing. It hosts numerous star parties throughout the year. They’re mainly held on Friday nights with Saturday night backups if cloudy. However, just to be sure, always check their calendar.
Interstate State Park
Easily one of the best spots for stargazing in Minneapolis, Interstate State Park offers everything stargazers need: open sky views, little light pollution, and quiet surroundings. The park comprises two parks, the Wisconsin park and the Minnesota park. Together they offer 1,628 acres of fun. During the day, you can go hiking and marvel at the strange geological formations, or canoe and kayak on the St Croix River. When the night comes, find a quiet nook and set up your telescope.
Metcalf Observing Field
Located on the east side of the metropolitan area, Metcalf Observing Field is a tiny lot within Belwin Conservancy. It doesn’t have the best skies, given its closeness to urban communities, but it still is way better than anywhere else in the city. The Minnesota Astronomical Society organizes stargazing events in this lot throughout the year – they’re not very organized with the dates, so always call to ask and confirm future events.
Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area
If hiking and stargazing are two activities you like to combine, Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area could be a good alternative for you. The area governs 5,490 acres and is home to a very scenic portion of Minnesota River. It features well-appointed campgrounds where you can spend the night and even look at the stars from.
William O’Brien State Park
William O’Brien State Park along the St. Croix River is one of the top places for stargazing in St. Paul. There’s no shortage of things to do. People come here to camp, to canoe, to swim, to fish, to hike, and yes, to stargaze. In fact, it’s one of the few places where you can see the Milky Way. Different organizations, like the University of Minnesota, hold stargazing events in the park. Feel free to explore the grounds and once you find a suitable spot, turn off the lights and enjoy the starry night.
Stargazing Spots within 2 Hours of Minneapolis-St. Paul
If an hour makes a difference, imagine two! Those who’re up for a longer drive will enjoy some of the best skies in the Twin Cities.
Universe in the Park
Universe in the Park (UitP) is a program from the Department of Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin. The university takes the program to state parks throughout Wisconsin with the goal of bringing people closer to the wonder of the cosmos. They present slide shows, give astronomy-related talks, and lead public viewings of the night sky
The 2023 schedule isn’t ready yet, but make sure you check their website to stay tuned!
How Good is the Stargazing in the Twin Cities?
As you might expect, stargazing in Minneapolis or St. Paul is not as good as stargazing outside the Twin Cities. Light pollution is a very real problem for all of us urban dwellers who love the conveniences of city life – so when we want to enjoy the night sky we’ve got to be willing to leave those areas.
Luckily, there are lots of good spots within an hour of the Twin Cities, so you can plan an evening of stargazing without a ton of driving or the need for an overnight stay.
Best Times to Go Stargazing in Minneapolis-St. Paul
Like many Midwest cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul are plagued by two separate issues that affect stargazing prospects throughout the year: warm, humid summers and frigidly cold, often cloudy winters. For this reason, the best times for stargazing in the Twin Cities is usually the spring and fall – and the fall is certainly the better of the two. If you’re planning a trip to the Twin Cities and want to optimize your stargazing prospects, aim for mid-September through October.
Can You See the Milky Way in the Twin Cities?
Due to light pollution, it may be difficult to see the Milky Way in the Twin Cities. You’ll be better off venturing out to one of the darker sky areas mentioned above for the best chance of viewing it.
Have any other questions about stargazing in Minneapolis or St. Paul, or these surrounding dark spots? Let me know in the comments below!