15 Marvelous Spots for Stargazing in Montana
They don’t call Montana “Big Sky Country” as a superlative: if you’ve ever been to Montana, you know it truly has some of the widest, openest, sweeping skies – there’s something special in the air that just makes that dome above us seem to stretch on forever.
While this certainly makes for some awesome daytime views – mountain scapes and windswept clouds and storms rolling across the prairie – it also means that Montana is an awesome destination for stargazing… and one that’s seriously overlooked and underrated.
Whether you call Big Sky Country home or are just planning a trip that will take you through, I highly recommend trying to spend at least one night stargazing in Montana. Below you’ll find some of the best places to do so, though there are countless others including local spots that you may know or will only hear about by stopping and chatting with locals.
If you want to go stargazing in Montana, you’ve come to the right place: this list is just a teaser for all the great spots where you can see the Big Sky filled to the brim with stars.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Apsáalooke (Crow), Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧ ᓴᐦᖾᐟ (Blackfoot / Niitsítapi ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ), Michif Piyii (Métis) 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.
American Prairie Reserve
Few Montana stargazing spots deserve a visit as much as the American Prairie Reserve. In terms of ecosystem preservations, the vast American Prairie has been neglected or developed, until the American Prairie Reserve appeared. This non-profit organization is the living image of “go big or go home”.
Their goal is to create the largest nature reserve in the contiguous United States and reintroduce bison to the landscape. Thanks to its lack of development, the American Prairie Reserve boasts a world-class night sky. You’ll find plenty of stargazing opportunities at Antelope Creek Campground area, if you want to spend a full night under the stars.
Located near the southwestern corner of Glacier National Park, Apgar Lookout is a prime spot for stargazing in Montana. It’s a 7.1-mile hike to the top of the lookout. But, along the way, you’ll find endless nooks from where to soak in the night sky. Give yourself a challenge, plan ahead, and try to make it to the top. You’ll be rewarded with a horizon view extending as far as the eye can see, covered in a blanket of stars.
Nestled in Glacier National Park, Avalanche Lake is a favorite among stargazers and hikers alike for its natural beauty. It’s a wonderful hike to the lake. You’ll venture in a lush forest where massive trees lead the way, a river cuts the gorge and rocks around it, and culminates in the star of the show, Avalanche Lake. This view not only ends perfectly to photos but offers dramatic reflections of the mountains and forest behind it.
The Beartooth Highway is yet another world-class place for stargazing in Montana. Start driving at sunset and you’ll reach the top of the road right when the stars burst onto the scene. The treeless landscape takes you as close as you can be to the dark sky, where, thanks to the lack of light pollution, the Milky Way makes an appearance, too.
If you’re not up for a long drive, there are numerous campgrounds before the road starts ascending, suitable to watch the stars: Greenough Lake Campground and M-K Campground are a few of them.
Nestled between the Bitterroot Range and Sapphire Mountains, Bitterroot Valley is a perfect respite for the night after days of adventure – but don’t doze off just because the sun has gone down.. The valley is famous for offering tons of recreation opportunities, from hiking and backpacking to steakhouses and breweries. It’s also one of Montana’s hidden gems, so you won’t find a lot of crowds here.
Blue Mountain Observatory
Blue Mountain Observatory is perched on top of Blue Mountain at 6,300 feet in elevation; we all know observatories are great for stargazing, even if they’re not open to the public – but Blue Mountain Observatory is open to the public on occasion.
Operated by the University of Montana, the observatory hosts numerous star parties in the summer so the public can explore planets, star clusters, distant galaxies, and nebulae. Make sure you check their website for the latest info and to book a date.
Brush Lake State Park
Located in Dagma, Brush Lake State Park is by far one of the top Montana stargazing destinations; it was recently designated as a dark sky area.. The park boasts some of the best skies in the state. It sits in a remote area where endless grass fields and a pristine lake are the only inhabitants. No cities, no lights, no buildings. You can set up your telescope in the park’s campground located on the northeast side of Brush Lake. By the way,
You won’t have to travel too far into the park to find this location. Right inside the entrance, you’ll find the Dusty Star Dome at the St. Mary Visitor Center. Kick off your Glacier National Park stargazing adventure by viewing the stars from the 20-inch PlaneWave telescope here.
Dusty Star Dome
In 2019, a 20-inch PlaneWave telescope was installed in the Dusty Star dome observatory. And it’s been one of the best additions to profit from the pristine skies of Glacier National Park Conservancy which is an International Dark Sky Park. The observatory hosts star parties throughout the season. You can check out their website for future events and the requirements.
Dubbed Bozeman’s playground, Hyalite Canyon is a little nook outside of Yellowstone National Park. The area offers a plethora of recreation activities, from fishing to biking. Hyalite Canyon has plenty of open sky areas and there’s very little light pollution to hamper your views.
As a heads up, this is one of the most popular areas among locals to enjoy a day out – expect some company, especially in the summer months.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a great option if you’re looking for a guided stargazing experience. Throughout the year, the Central Montana Astronomy Society hosts Star Parties at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. They provide everything you need, from the telescopes to knowledgable assistants who’ll walk you through the stargazing process.
Lost Trail Pass
The Lost Trail Pass is an unbeatable place to surf the night sky. This mountain pass extends through Idaho and Montana, and every inch of the road offers a possibility to stargaze. As it sits 7,000 feet above sea level, you’ll enjoy sweeping, unobstructed views of the stars. Feel free to explore the area. However, if you need a safe bet, head over near the Idaho and Montana border for the best spots.
Medicine Rocks State Park
Medicine Rocks State Park is a gem of a park in every aspect imaginable. Theodore Roosevelt described it in 1883, saying Medicine Rocks was “as fantastically beautiful a place as I have ever seen”.
The scenery truly is fabulous; it’s truly mystical to stand beneath the rock arches and unique sandstone pillars carved out by the elements over the millennia. Thanks to its remoteness, the stars here can shine as brightly as ever. In a similar line, the park isn’t a bad place to get some lightning and thunderstorm shots as well in the event the skies aren’t cooperating for stargazing when you visit.
I won’t lie, it’s a bit of an effort to reach the top of Mount Sentinel, but the stars you’ll enjoy from here are of unmatched beauty. Hey, the best views come after the hardest climb, right? Get there around sunset to see the reddish light coat Missoula, the River, Lolo Pass, and University of Montana. Oh, and don’t forget to look for the “M” on the west face of Mount Sentinel.
Pictograph Cave State Park
Famous for preserving the vestiges of the cultures that once called these lands home, Pictographs Cave State Park doesn’t fall behind in the stars department either. The park is right in the middle of nowhere, with no sign of nearby cities and their pesky lights. Those who set up their telescopes here will be treated to a collection of sparkling stars and galaxies spread across Montana’s night sky.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a prime spot for stargazing in Montana – but I probably don’t need to tell you that if you’re a die-hard astronomy lover. The popular American national park sits under spectacular dark skies where the stars come out every night for your delight.
Don’t confine your viewing session to the most popular spots; if you need a bit of guidance, the best places for stargazing in the park are Dunrave Pass, Firehole Lake Drive, and any campground.
Know of any other great spots for stargazing in Montana that I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!