Even with large cities like Milwaukee and Madison, the state of Wisconsin still has a small-town appeal that makes it popular for people wanting to relax and enjoy nature. The state is also notable for its many stargazing locations and attracts many astronomy enthusiasts every year.
There are plenty of areas throughout the state in towns, state parks, and other places where you can observe the night sky. Here are thirteen of the best places to go stargazing in Wisconsin.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, and Oma͞eqnomenew-ahkew (Menominee) 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 February 2022, and was updated most recently in September 2023.
Map of Where to Go Stargazing in Wisconsin
By popular request, I’ve added a map to this post to help make it easier to understand where each of the best spots for stargazing in Wisconsin can be found. I hope this helps you plan the ultimate stargazing trip!
Devil’s Lake State Park
Devil’s Lake State Park is a popular park with excellent stargazing opportunities. Ideally, you want to visit the riverbank to get a wider view of the starry sky.
The Madison Astronomy Society arranges stargazing events at regular intervals here. At these sessions, you can watch the Milky Way through powerful telescopes and marvel at the wonders of the solar system.
Devil’s Salt Lake Park measures about 9,217 acres, making it the biggest park in the Wisconsin area. It also boasts some of the clearest and most detailed views of the starry skies in Wisconsin. There are plenty of campgrounds and hiking trails for you to explore as well.
Dane County Parks
Dane County is Wisconsin’s second-largest county and where Madison, the state capital, is located. The county has plenty of parks and campsites where you can observe Wisconsin’s darkest skies. Stargazing is just one of the many fun things you can do in Wisconsin’s capital.
One of the best locations in Dane County for stargazing is Brigham County Park, a 232-acre site that borders Blue Mounds village. Here, you’ll find the East Blue Mound, the highest point in Dane County and a popular location for stargazers. Donald County Park is another excellent choice for stargazing, with clear views of Wisconsin’s skies.
Indian Lake County Park is a 791-acre site that ranks among the largest parks in Dane County. This park has spaces for recreational activities, including hiking, biking, and stargazing. Just follow the winding trails that lead to the hilltop church to enjoy breathtaking views of the moon, stars, and planets at night.
Beaver Creek Reserve
You can visit the Beaver Creek Reserve to take part in stargazing sessions at the nearby Hobbs Observatory.
The Hobbs Observatory is one of Wisconsin’s few active observatories. Here, you can view celestial bodies, including the moon and stars, using the observatory’s giant telescope. If you visit on a clear night, you’ll enjoy views of the starry sky through the open domes.
Beaver Creek Reserve has a group campsite that you can reserve ahead of your trip. Otherwise, the sleeper cabin should be your next option for accommodation. If you plan to leave early, ensure to arrive close to sunset since observation sessions begin about an hour after the sunsets.
Newport State Park
If you’re looking for one of the best places to stargaze in the state, you can’t go wrong with Newport State Park. This park is one of the few Wisconsin parks certified as a “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark-Sky Association back in 2017.
Newport State Park is an ideal spot to experience once-in-a-lifetime astronomical events such as the Perseid Meteor Shower. You’ll also get incredible views of starry skies at night, which you can enjoy with your friends and family. The only catch is that you may have to haul your camp gear to the site.
Photo credits: James Jordan (L) and Jim Bauer (R) via Flickr
Big Bay State Park
No list of key stargazing spots in Wisconsin can be complete without mentioning Big Bay State Park. Located in the famous Apostle Islands, this 2,350-acre park is where stargazers come to enjoy the celestial lights.
The park is notable for its clear sky views at night, so bring your telescope and prepare for an exciting stargazing experience. If you’re lucky, you might see the famous Aurora Borealis lights.
Big Bay State Park is also a magnificent spot for nature walks and has over 9 miles of trail. Picnic tables, restrooms, fire grills, water tanks, electricity, and other comforts are also available. The park has both indoor camps and outdoor campsites for visitors.
Wildcat Mountain Park
Need to detach from the hustle-and-bustle of city life and explore the outdoors? Head over to Wildcat Mountain Park in Ontario, Wisconsin, to enjoy canoeing, hiking, fishing, and birdwatching. You can end your day the perfect way — by watching the stars as they glow brightly at night.
Wildcat Mountain Park is far from the pollution that hinders stargazing in cities. If you arrive in time, you can enjoy unobstructed views of the night sky in all its glory.
You should consider reserving a cart-in site if you want the best nighttime views. Cart-in sites are located further away in the woods, away from cars, allowing you to see the stars better. You also get a cart, which is helpful for hauling a large load to the campsite.
Lawrence L. Huser Astronomy Center
For avid astronomy enthusiasts, nothing beats a weekend spent watching the stars and learning about astrological bodies. If this appeals to you, make sure to add Lawrence L. Huser Astronomy Center to your itinerary. There are very few locations that offer a better stargazing experience than this astronomy center.
Lawrence L. Huser Astronomy Center organizes star-watching sessions for small groups, with some events free to the public. Each session starts between 8-9 pm and includes astronomy sessions and group discussions with other astronomy fans.
These programs are organized by the Starsplitters Astronomy Club, a collection of amateur astronomy enthusiasts. The group collaborates with schools, nonprofits, and other institutions to introduce everyone to the beauty of this hobby.
The site has two powerful telescopes for visitors who want to explore the wonders of the night sky. You can choose to come along with chairs or blankets for a more relaxed stay. However, you’ll need to register as a camper with the Wyalusing Park if you wish to camp overnight.
Blue Mound State Park
Blue Mound State Park is located atop West Blue Mound, the highest elevation in Southern Wisconsin. The park avoids the impact of lights from nearby areas and provides top-tier stargazing experiences for visitors.
The park has two observation centers that attract birdwatchers during the day and stargazers at night. Several astronomical bodies, including stars and the moon, are visible to the unaided eye from each observatory. Lucky visitors can even sight the occasional meteor shower.
For an all-around experience, take advantage of the park’s recreational facilities. There are miles of trail suitable for hiking, biking, and nature exploration. You can also visit the nature center to immerse yourself in some of Wisconsin’s best natural attractions.
Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area
The Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area is mainly known as a wildlife refuge rather than a stargazing hub. However, the site offers Wisconsin an excellent opportunity to take in the night sky undisturbed by lights from other places.
For anyone just starting as a stargazer, this is the ideal spot for observation sessions. You don’t need to navigate heavily wooded areas or brave dark bushes before you can set up your observation station.
Horicon Marsh has other fantastic recreational opportunities for patrons. You can watch wildlife at the various animal refuges, bike, or hike through the multiple trails in the area.
Ernest Hüpeden’s Painted Forest
The Painted Forest in Sauk County houses a powerful telescope belonging to the Edgewood Astronomy Outreach. The group encourages wider participation in astronomy in Wisconsin by organizing free stargazing sessions for public members.
You’ll see planets, stars, and other planetary bodies at these star parties while learning more about the planetary system from trained instructors. These events are also great opportunities for you to connect with other astronomy enthusiasts.
Past events include witnessing the sighting of major celestial bodies, including Jupiter, Saturn, Polaris, Venus, and the Perseid meteor shower. With its dark-sky views, this location provides astrophotographers with the opportunity to take amazing pictures.
Yanna Research Station
Yanna Research Station, a dark-sky observation station operated by the Madison Astronomical Society, is suitable for experienced stargazers looking for better star-watching opportunities. You do need a membership to have access to the observatory, but you can bring along family and guests with you.
The observatory has portable telescopes that you can use for private observation sessions. It also has several open-dome buildings that provide spectacular nighttime views and other observation stations around the complex.
Lapham Peak State Park
Lapham Peak State Park is located in the Kettle Moraine Forest and is 25 miles away from Milwaukee. Visitors to the park can experience many activities, ranging from birdwatching, horseback riding, hiking, and sledding.
The park’s inclusion on this list is because of the 45-feet observatory, in which stargazers flock at sunset to catch magnificent views of the starry sky. This is the highest point in Waukesha County so that you can watch stars with no interference from external light sources.
Harrington Beach State Park
Built on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Town of Belgium, Harrington Beach State Park scores high for its scenic views, nature trails, top-tier rated campgrounds, and accessible picnic areas.
The park contains The Jim & Gwen Plunkett Observatory, which has a giant telescope that weighs thousands of pounds. You can get unobstructed views of the stars at night, so make sure to check it out if you’re close by.
As you can see, there are great stargazing spots across the Badger State. Have any questions about these places for stargazing in Wisconsin, or know of others I should add? Let me know in the comments.