The Ultimate Guide to Stargazing in Moab
There are a few places in the United States that are just spectacular for stargazing. They are smaller cities, and usually visitors are focused on the amazing landscape and outdoor adventures that surround them. Places that might come to mind with this kind of description include Sedona, Tucson, and Moab – among many others, especially in the Southwestern U.S.
What most people forget is that these outdoor playgrounds that are so great during the daylight hours are often excellent for stargazing – and it’s well worth it to stay up late and see the spread of stars overhead even after a day of adventure. In this post, I’ll share a guide to stargazing in Moab based on my experiences visiting the area in early 2020. As you’ll see, Moab has excellent opportunities for stargazing and outdoor adventure during the day.
So if you’re planning a trip to Moab and have just realized that you might want to go stargazing there – or you’ve known for a long time that Moab is a great stargazing destination, read on. You’ll soon know the best places for stargazing in Moab, and other important tips and tricks for planning your Moab trip.
Featured photo credit: Jacob W. Frank/NPS
When to Visit Moab for the Best Stargazing
To make the most of your Moab stargazing trip, you want to schedule your visit when there’s a new moon. The skies will be darker and the stars brighter since the moon won’t outshine them.
Regarding the time of the year, if possible, try to visit Moab in one of these three months: September, June, or January. Each month has its pros and cons.
- January in Moab is synonymous with solitude and clear skies. The area receives very little tourism as January is the coldest month. It’s a great time to visit if you want to have all of Moab’s parks and skies for yourself.
- June is another good alternative as the weather is generally dry and clear. Contrary to January, Moab receives tons of tourists in June as it is the beginning of the peak tourism season. Bear in mind that the arrival of tourists can also increase light pollution in the area.
- September is the clearest month in Moab but is also the month with the wettest days, with an average of 5.1 days with at least 0.04 inches of precipitation.
Traveling to Moab
People who want to go stargazing in Moab have two ways to reach the city: by car or by plane.
Driving to Moab, Utah, is fairly easy. You can take Interstate 70, a mainline route connecting Utah to Maryland. It is just 31 miles north of Moab. Another alternative is to drive through Highway 191, which runs through Moab’s downtown.
If driving isn’t within your possibilities, you can always book a flight. In most cases, people have to come through Denver or Salt Lake City. These cities have the two closest major airports. Then, they rent a car and drive to Moab. It’s about a six-hour drive west to Moab from Denver and a four-hour drive north from Salt Lake City.
Since June 2018, people can take a plane directly into Moab’s Canyonlands Field Airport. SkyWest Airlines offer daily commercial flights to Moab from Denver and Salt Lake City. Once you arrive at Moab Airport, you’ll follow the same steps, rent a car to get around town, and then go out to some sights.
Where to Go Stargazing in Moab
There’s no shortage of places to go stargazing in Moab. The city is a dream for adrenaline junkies as it is for stargazers. Let’s take a look at the locations with the clearest skies.
1. Arches National Park
Photo credit: Jacob W. Frank/NPS
Arches National Park is one of Moab’s crown jewels. Day or night, the park is stunning. It is home to impressive red rock scenery and the largest concentration of natural sandstone arches, over 2,000 to be more precise.
Arches National Park is only eight minutes away from Moab by car. You’ll get impressive views of the night sky pretty much everywhere you go, but you should drive further north to ensure the glare from Moab’s lights doesn’t hinder the viewing.
According to the park’s website, the following areas are prime locations for stargazing in Arches National Park:
- Balanced Rock Picnic Area
- The Windows
- Garden of Eden Viewpoint
- Panorama Point
2. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is Utah’s largest national park. The park’s impossibly dark and pristine skies have made Canyonlands a popular stargazing destination. So much so that the International Dark-Sky Association designated Canyonlands as a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park in 2015. The park has spared no effort trying to preserve its natural darkness and uses special “night-sky friendly” lighting fixtures and bulbs.
Thirty miles away, Canyonlands isn’t as close to Moab as Arches, but this only means that there will be no sign of light pollution. During summer, the park organizes ranger-led stargazing activities for less experienced people and would like a guided tour of the park’s night sky.
3. Dead Horse Point State Park
Photo credit: fortherock (R) and Bettina Woolbright (L) via Flickr
Another Dark Sky Park, Dead Horse Point State Park is one of Moab’s top and most accessible areas for stargazing. The park ticks all the boxes a good stargazing location should have: it sits at 5,900 feet high, cities are nowhere near sight, and mountains are far enough not to block the horizon. What more could you ask for? The rangers love to show around the park’s pristine skies and organize tons of night activities, from walks under the full moon to telescope gazing sessions.
4. Grandstaff Canyon Wilderness Area
Located northeast of Moab, the Grandstaff Canyon Wilderness Area, is popular for hiking enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. The area is slightly more off the beaten path and draws visitors who want to escape the sea of tourists in Arches National Park.
Despite being less popular, the area’s landscapes are second to none, home to stunning scenery and the Morning Glory Natural Bridge. You can set up your telescope near the parking lot (on Utah Scenic Byway 128), or you can also drive up the Sand Flats Road, which provides access to the upper portion of the WSA, to find a more secluded and elevated stargazing spot.
5. Behind the Rocks Wilderness Area
Behind the Rocks is one of the top Moab stargazing spots for seclusion and solitude. The WSA sits south of Moab and comprises 12,635 acres of Navajo Sandstone fins, domes, Slickrock benches, knobs, and canyons.
The area’s terrain is similar to most Colorado Plateau land, but getting around is quite challenging. There are tons of scenic hiking and driving trails you can follow to find decent stargazing spots. Pritchett Canyon OHV Trail is a popular trail for off-road driving, but it is also one of the most challenging ones.
6. Castle Valley
Castle Valley is a quiet oasis thirty minutes north of Moab. I can’t stress enough how wonderful the night skies are in this town. Castle Valley is also an excellent alternative if you want a break from the crowded national parks.
The drive is amazing, as you’ll be winding along the US 128 Scenic Byway. The road follows the Colorado River with gorgeous views of the Sandstone Cliffs and Canyons.
Castle Valley town is uncrowded, with a population of 319 inhabitants. While you’ll find endless spots to stargaze, given the absence of urban development, the town offers no amenities besides basic services.
7. Along Onion Creek
Last but not least, Onion Creek is one of the Moab stargazing places worth visiting. Onion Creek Road sits 45 minutes northeast of the city of Moab and is your ticket to stunning scenery and pitch-dark skies. While challenging, the trail is driveable if your vehicle has fairly good clearance.
The scenery at Onion Creek is second to none. Along the drive, you’ll witness some of the most beautiful views of red rock, and if you make it to the top, you’ll enjoy pretty views of Fisher Valley Ranch and the La Sal mountain range.
Stargazing Tours in Moab
If you like the idea of stargazing in Moab but would feel better with a guide to ensure you go to the best spots and don’t have to worry about the details, there are a number of astronomy tours in Moab.
- Moab Astronomy Tours offers both public and private group tours, as well as Full Moon hikes and tours focused exclusively on viewing the Moon.
- Moab RedRock Astronomy takes groups outside of the Moab area to a flat area with expansive views; there, guide Alex sets up his telescope and introduces you to the wonders of the night sky.
There are also astronomy programs offered by park rangers in both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Swing by each park’s respective Visitor Center to see if a talk will be offered during your visit.
Where to Stay in Moab
After a night of stargazing, you’ll need somewhere to rest before the sun rises again. There are campgrounds in all of the parks should you choose to pitch a tent, car camp, or stay in an RV there; if that’s not your style, I recommend staying in Moab instead. There are loads of independent and chain hotels in town, plus other accommodation options like VRBOs.
What to Do During the Day in Moab
In addition to stargazing, there are obviously lots of other outdoor adventure activities to enjoy in Moab. On my travel site, I’ve shared a list of my favorite things to do in Moab, including:
- Hiking in the national parks (like Arches or Canyonlands)
- Viewing petroglyphs
- Off-roading (there are a number of operators who offer great tours for this!)
Be sure to check my post above, if you want more tips on how to spend a few days in the Moab area and enjoy it both by day and at night.
Have other questions about stargazing in Moab and the surrounding area? Let me know in the comments!