7 Noteworthy Spots for Stargazing in Nevada
As a travel writer, I’m perhaps not supposed to have favorites. But the more I explore Nevada, the Silver State, the more it becomes one of my favorite places – and it’s especially great for those of us who love activities surrounding the night sky: there are almost countless great places for stargazing in Nevada!
You see, Nevada is among the ten least densely-populated states, and the vast majority of its residents (3.14 million) live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area (2.8 million). This means that the rest state is – generally speaking – quite empty and has limited light pollution to interfere with the starry skies above.
I just got back from a stargazing-focused trip (October 2022), and decided to put together a list of the stargazing spots in Nevada that I recommend. This is far from a comprehensive list, but instead some of the places I’ve been which are also relatively easier to reach; you can always got way further off the beaten path than these if you want to go stargazing in Nevada!
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Newe Sogobia (Western Shoshone), Shoshone-Bannock, Nüümü (Northern Paiute), Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Nüwüwü (Chemehuevi), Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute), and Pipa Aha Macav (Mojave) 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.
Along the Extraterrestrial Highway
I recently had the chance to drive the Extraterrestrial Highway – at night. Let me tell you: it is dark out there. I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere darker than the 98-mile E.T. Highway that stretches across the Nevada desert north of notorious Area 51.
Most people drive this road trip route by day, making stops at iconic spots like the Black Mailbox and the E.T. Fresh Jerky shop, but if you’re up for an adventure, you can drive all or part of the route at night, and make a stop at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel as part of your journey. Just be aware that you’re out on the open range along this route, so it’s best to go slow, watch out for cows, and admire the stars.
Cathedral Gorge State Park
Over along the east side of Nevada, there are a number of fantastic state parks and public lands that highlight the state’s history – both natural and human-influenced. One such spot is Cathedral Gorge State Park, a fascinating small area with some of the coolest slot canyons I’ve had the pleasure to hike in.
Cathedral Gorge SP is roughly 1,800 acres and home to 22 camp sites, which are perfect if you want to make the most of an overnight stay in the area. I recommend getting set up, then grab your red headlamp and head over to the Moon Slots. You can set up an incredible foreground for some astrophotography, or explore the increasingly narrow slots while enjoying slivers of the starry sky above.
Ely Star Train
If you’re visiting Nevada during the summer months, be sure to look into riding the Ely Star Train – though admittedly, you might want to sign up for their email list now as they usually sell out 18-24 months in advance!
I have unfortunately not ridden the Ely Star Train because of this extensive wait list, but I have ridden another one of the night trains offered by the Northern Nevada Railway and can attest: the line the train runs out onto does take you well away from the lights of Ely into a dark pocket where you can see more stars than you can count.
On the Star Train specifically, you’ll be joined by a ranger from Great Basin National Park who brings necessary equipment and teaches the whole group about the stars once you disembark the train at the far point of the ride.
Pro-tip: There’s also a Sunset, Stars & Champagne Train that usually has more availability but no park ranger or telescopes aboard.
Great Basin National Park
Speaking of Great Basin National Park, Nevada’s only national park is understandably one of the best spots for stargazing – like so many of our nation’s national parks. I’ve already got a complete guide to stargazing at Great Basin, but I encourage you to spend more than just one day and night in the area to get the most out your time there (especially since it’s one of the most remote parks and takes time to travel there, no matter where you come from!).
There are plenty of informal spots for stargazing, and five campgrounds you could post up in all night, but the best experience is if you can attend one of the ranger-led astronomy programs at the purpose built astronomy amphitheater near the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. (The caves are well worth a visit too!)
Nearby, you can also stay at the Stargazer Inn, and the Baker Archaeological Site offers a nice spot for astrophotography with the Snake Mountains that comprise the park as excellent foreground for the Milky Way overhead.
Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary
Nevada is home to two dark sky parks certified by the International Dark Sky Association (technically three if you count Death Valley, but the vast majority of access to that park is in California so I’m not including it here). Great Basin is the first one, and Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area is the second – and better from a stargazing perspective.
Massacre Rim was certified as a dark sky sanctuary, the highest class of certification, meaning it has some of the most pristine dark skies in the world. There are only 16 such locations around the world (as of writing), so you know it’s top-notch.
However, Massacre Rim’s incredibly darkness comes from one fact: it’s also incredibly remote. Massacre Rim is more than 150 miles north of Reno, and there is limited infrastructure for overnight visitors. There are campsites at the nearby Applegate and Black Rock Field Offices, Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, and Modoc National Forest, but other than that, it’s car camping if you want to make it an overnight trip to see the stars.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
Nevada is known for its ghost towns – over 600 are known and documented – but there’s one in particular that draws the most visitors. On the route between Beatty, Nevada, and the entrance to Death Valley National Park along Daylight Pass Road, you can easily miss – but shouldn’t skip – the turn to visit Rhyolite Ghost Town.
This ghost town is one of the Silver State’s most well-preserved, and you can still see mine shafts and tailings on the hillsides around the buildings that give you a sense of the old town that once stood here – including hotels, stores, an ice factory, and a red light district (naturally!).
Rhyolite is particularly popular for astrophotography, since the buildings are an excellent foreground to help you give context to the stars overhead. Thanks to the city’s proximity to Death Valley – a certified dark sky park – light pollution is a bit better than average, too.
Tonopah Stargazing Park
Last but not least, I was delighted to discover that the tiny town of Tonopah, population 2,192, has a dedicated area for stargazing on the outskirts of the community – it’s an excellent model for other towns who want to encourage astrotourists.
A short ways of US Highway 95 and up a small hill, you’ll find a fenced-off area with a simple sign designating the park. The fence is shielded to reduce light pollution once you’re within the park, and inside are picnic tables and benches, as well as pads for telescope set up. It’s a simple but brilliant solution to help locals and visitors enjoy the natural resource of the night sky in their part of Nevada.
These are just a few of the many awesome spots to enjoy the darkness that’s so prevalent above Nevada. Have any questions about these places for stargazing in Nevada, or want to suggest other places I can add to my list? Let me know in the comments below!