City Stargazing Guide

The 9 Best Places to Go Stargazing in Phoenix

When it comes to stargazing destinations, Arizona is one of the best. With cities and communities committed to preserving the night sky and excellent weather for seeing the stars, it’s no surprise that the capital city, Phoenix, has some really solid stargazing spots in the vicinity of the urban core.

Still though, stargazing in any city isn’t easy; even if you’re familiar with the area, you’ve still got to find a spot where the light pollution – light shining up in the sky that interferes with your ability to see the stars – is low. This guide covers those places within an hour of downtown Phoenix that are the darkest places for stargazing.

Stargazing in Phoenix - Tempe Town Lake - Ryan Cadby via Flickr

Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, or you call “The Valley” home, here are the best spots for stargazing in Phoenix, using 2022 dark sky data. Let’s get out and explore the wonders of the night sky!

In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the O’odham Jeweḍ, Akimel O’odham (Upper Pima), and Hohokam 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.

This post was originally published in June 2018, and was updated most recently in April 2024.

The Best Spots for Stargazing in Phoenix

Stargazing in Phoenix Map 2024
Click to interact with the map

Phoenix, like many cities, is limited by light pollution in terms of in-city stargazing options. Though Phoenix, and nearby Tucson, has embraced dark sky-friendly lighting on a wider scale than most cities, it’s still an inevitability that you’ll be gazing through a greying haze to see the stars if you try and do so in and near the city center (including Tempe, Mesa, and neighboring communities).

In the remainder of this post, I’ve listed the best stargazing spots with a Bortle score of 5 or lower in order of darkest to brightest, and in the order of closest to the center of Phoenix to the furthest by driving time. Ready to discover each one?

Sun Valley Parkway

  • Bortle Score: 4.5
  • Distance from Downtown Phoenix: 44 minutes

Sometimes referred to as the “Road to Nowhere,” Sun Valley Parkway is a surprisingly great place to watch the stars. That’s because there’s very little traffic, and the White Tank Mountains block most of the lights from the city. Just pull off to the side of the road and start stargazing.

Lake Pleasant

  • Bortle Score: 4.5
  • Distance from Downtown Phoenix: 49 minutes

Lake Pleasant is another park located in the desert surrounded by mountains. The nights are extremely dark, and you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a good view of the sky. There are also campsites available if you’d like to spend all night stargazing.

Stargazing near Phoenix - Lake Pleasant - Ryan Cadby via Flickr

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

  • Bortle Score: 4.5
  • Distance from Downtown Phoenix: 53 minutes

The Spur Cross Ranch features over 2000 acres of open desert. Along with being a dark space away from city lights, it also hosts regular stargazing events throughout the year. These are a lot of fun and a great way to get acquainted with the night sky.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

  • Bortle Score: 5
  • Distance from Downtown Phoenix: 38 minutes

Along with being one of the best places to go stargazing near Phoenix, White Tank Mountain Regional Park also offers Stargazing for Everyone events. This class will help you get familiar with all the major planets and constellations. It’s fun, affordable, and family-friendly.

Cave Creek Regional Park

  • Bortle Score: 5
  • Distance from Downtown Phoenix: 41 minutes

This park features elevations that range from 2000 to 3000 feet. This makes it among the best spots to get an up-close look at the stars. Like White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Cave Creek also offers classes to help you get familiar with the night sky.

Stargazing near Phoenix - Bonito Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

  • Bortle Score: 5
  • Distance from Downtown Phoenix: 47 minutes

McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a 21,099-acre area of desert land surrounded by mountains. As such, you’re pretty well protected from any city lights. You’re almost guaranteed to get a clear, open view of the sky.

Other Stargazing Spots in Phoenix

There are also some other stargazing spots you might want to visit that are even closer to town – but they are correspondingly brighter so keep that in mind if you decide to go stargazing at one of these compared to those I’ve already covered.

  • Estrella Mountain Park (Bortle: 5.5) – Estrella Mountain Park is a 60-acre area of wild, desert land. There’s basically no lighting to speak of, so you won’t have to worry about light pollution interfering with your view of the stars. There are also occasional stargazing events that are held here throughout the year.
  • Hilltop at Sun Ridge Canyon (Bortle: 6) – This hilltop has an elevation of 2500 feet, which will provide you with a great view of the stars. It’s also home to the CopperWynd Resort and Club. This way, you can relax in the daytime and get your stargazing done at night.
  • Usery Mountain Regional Park (Bortle: 6) – Usery Mountain Regional Park is a 3600-acre park that’s quite secluded from any potential light pollution. It’s another site that’s used by Stargazing for Everyone. Along with stargazing, there are other activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking available here.

Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Phoenix

Arizona’s famously dry weather makes it possible to go stargazing any time you’d like. You can expect at least 200 days of clear skies throughout the year. The only thing you need to watch out for is Arizona’s monsoon season. This typically occurs between July and September. Other than that, conditions are optimal for stargazing all year round, so the months between October and June are great for stargazing in Phoenix.

Can You See the Milky Way in Phoenix?

Arizona’s ideal stargazing environment makes it possible to see the Milky Way in many places throughout the state where the skies are dark enough. If you really want to see the Milky Way while visiting Phoenix, your best bet is to head up to Sedona. It has some of the darkest skies you’ll find within a reasonable distance of Phoenix. This will give you your best chance of seeing our galaxy.

Do you have other questions about stargazing in Phoenix and where to go? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help you plan an epic night under the stars!

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Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.