Look up and lose yourself in the cosmos, right from the vibrant heart of North Carolina! Raleigh, a bustling metropolis, serves as your gateway to the grandeur of the universe; though it is plagued by light pollution as all cities are, there are some great spots for stargazing in Raleigh and the surrounding region.
From the coastal plains to the majestic mountain peaks, each landscape in the Tar Heel State hosts uniquely dark skies that transform into a galaxy gazer’s paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned astronomer or a starry-eyed novice, the night sky above Raleigh and the broader North Carolina region beckons you to embark on a stargazing journey like no other.
Read on to discover some of the best spots for stargazing in the “City of Oaks” (a nickname that dates back to 1792, a blink in the astronomical calendar!)
In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Lumbee, Skaruhreh/Tuscarora (North Carolina), and Mánu: Yį Įsuwą (Catawba) 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 Raleigh
Like in most big cities, good stargazing areas do not abound. However, there’s a spot for stargazing in Raleigh that won’t disappoint you.
Dorothea Dix Park
Dorothea Dix Park is Raleigh’s version of Central Park and is famous for its amazing sunflower beds. However, this urban park also is one of the best spots for stargazing in Raleigh. You’ll find tons of open spaces to set up your telescope and wander in the night sky. Also, many organizations have Dorothea Dix Park as a meeting point and host stargazing events throughout the year.
Note: The park is open 24 hours a day, though it’s worth checking the website to ensure there won’t be events or other closures when you plan to visit.
Stargazing Spots within 1 Hour of Raleigh
If you’re willing to hop in the car and head out of the city, you’ll be well rewarded: light pollution drops quickly once you leave Raleigh’s light bubble, and there are some good stargazing spots within an hour’s drive of Raleigh.
Falls Lake Dam
Falls Lake Dam is situated approximately 30 minutes north of Raleigh. This location is a great escape from traffic noise, and the best way to enjoy nature without the long drive.
Being relatively far from the city, the skies have a pretty decent quality to enjoy the cosmos. The dam overlooks Falls Lake, so it offers beautiful surroundings for photos, too. Bring a blanket or chairs to sit and enjoy the night sky!
Jordan Lake Dam
Located southwest of the city, Jordan Lake Dam is another noteworthy Raleigh stargazing spot. The park is a beautiful place to camp – the campsites are large and separated by trees. So you aren’t on top of your neighbors! The park has nine lakes, which will be your best bet when the sun goes down.
At night, the lakeshores become pitch dark and the stars get reflected in the water. You’ll definitely want to come back!
Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center is a fantastic place to go stargazing in Raleigh if you’re looking for an educational and fun experience.
The center features state-of-the-art telescopes and a fantastic planetarium where they play shows about diverse astronomy topics. They occasionally host stargazing events and public observation sessions. But you’ll have to check their website for specific dates.
Stargazing Spots within 2 Hours of Raleigh
Have a bit longer to enjoy your stargazing session, or are you planning an overnight/weekend trip for a special astronomical event? Within a two-hour drive from Raleigh, the stargazing gets even better – and it’s well worth the drive if you want the best chance of seeing the Milky Way, meteors, or whatever else inspires you to head out under the night sky.
Bladen Lakes State Forest
Located about 2 hours southeast of Raleigh, Bladen Lakes State Forest offers a great opportunity for stargazing. It is very secluded – you barely bump into other visitors.
The only downside is that there is tons of dense pinewood that may hamper your view of the night sky. Nonetheless, there’s not much light pollution, so you can enjoy relatively dark skies and observe stars, planets, and other celestial phenomena.
Medoc Mountain State Park
If hiking and stargazing is your thing, Medoc Mountain State Park is for you. The 3,893-acre park has some of the most well-groomed and marked trails in the state. Moreover, the natural beauty and scenic views are a treat. There’s no shortage of opportunities for stargazing here.
Away from major urban centers, Medoc Mountain State Park offers relatively dark skies, making it an excellent location for observing the night sky.
Staunton River State Park
Staunton River State Park is the cream of the crop when it comes to stargazing spots near Raleigh. The property has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park. It boasts some of the most pristine dark skies in the area – though it is worth noting that this spot is in Virgina, not North Carolina.
Like all dark sky parks, there’s minimal light pollution so you can enjoy the best views of the stars, planets, and even the Milky Way. The park also offers camping facilities for overnight stays if you want to spend the night.
Town Creek Indian Mound
Town Creek Indian Mound is a historic site situated in Mount Gilead, about 2 hours southeast of Raleigh. It’s a little off the beaten path but well worth visiting.
While primarily known for its archaeological significance, the site also provides opportunities for stargazing. The location’s rural setting offers relatively low light pollution, allowing visitors to observe the night sky. Plus, the ancient mounds are the perfect background for some night shots!
Uwharrie National Forest
Last but not least, Uwharrie National Forest is a prime Raleigh stargazing spot, too. The forested area is considered one of the least polluted areas near Charlotte. It is also one of the best places to see the Milky Way in a clear night sky. You’ll find numerous spots to see the stars.
However, the lookout at Little Long Mountain is one of the best spots in the area. From the Joe Moffitt trailhead it’s a short hike and can be navigated with flashlights.