The Pacific Northwest has a reputation of clouds and rain – don’t believe it. While Washington and Oregon certainly get their share of rainy days (and nights), there are plenty of days (and nights) when it doesn’t rain and you can enjoy some incredible stargazing opportunities. Across the state you can enjoy the stars – especially in central and eastern Oregon.
I’ve traveled through Oregon many times, and have had the good fortune to see the night sky there too. Heck, I even watched the 2017 solar eclipse from Oregon! It’s a great astronomy destination, no matter which way you slice it.
If you’re traveling to or through Oregon and want to enjoy the stars over the Beaver State, read on. After reading, you’ll know almost twenty incredible places for stargazing in Oregon.
1. Alvord Desert
In the shadow of the Steens Mountain, Alvord Desert is every stargazer’s dream. What makes it so special? It is one of the lowest light pollution spots in the U.S. While there are no official campgrounds, you can set camp anywhere on the desert flats and enjoy the star-studded sky.
2. Broken Top
Getting to Oregon’s extinct stratovolcano Broken Top is quite tricky. First, drive 20 miles west of Bend and then hike into the Three Sisters Wilderness. Once you see breathtaking scenery with the turquoise waters of the neighboring No Name Lake, you know you’re there. This alpine beauty rewards visitors with a unique view of the night sky.
3. Cannon Beach
National Geographic unsurprisingly listed Cannon Beach as one of the 100 most beautiful places in the world in 2013. During the day, admire Haystack Rock, a 235-feet high sea stack jutting out of the sea. During the night, walk along the shore and admire Haystack Rock again. This time, with a backdrop of the galaxy.
4. Christmas Valley
Christmas Valley is an unexpected Oregon stargazing place. Located in Central Oregon, this lonely town is home to a tiny population, a few gas stations, restaurants, and motels. But thanks to the endless miles of sagebrush prairies and the absence of excessive artificial light, Christmas Valley has clear dark skies where the stars can shine brightly.
5. Crater Lake
Crater Lake is one of the seven wonders of Oregon. And it is one of the best spots for stargazing in Oregon. During the summer, the park offers two developed campgrounds to spend the night, Mazama and Lost Creek. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go backcountry camping, but be aware that a permit is required all year round for overnight trips in the park.
6. Dee Wright Observatory
Perched on the summit of McKenzie Pass, the Dee Wright Observatory combines the worlds of geology and astronomy. Constructed on the lava flow which erupted from Yapoah Cone 2,900 years ago, it has privileged views day and night. While it’s not astronomically based, you can bring your telescope and enjoy unpolluted dark skies.
7. Dixie Butte
Dixie Butte is another worthwhile destination for stargazing lovers. A standalone summit in the Blue Mountains, this site offers spectacular views above and below your head. Although the fire lookout on top is staffed during the summer only, you can visit the summit all year round. Get there in the evening so you can witness the stars shining in the endless night.
8. Fire Lookouts
There are twenty fire lookouts in Oregon, with three of them in the darkest parts of the state. Once the risk of fire ceases, these lookouts are open for booking overnight stays. Keep in mind these lookouts are very popular and get packed pretty quickly, so call in advance to book your stay.
9. Hart Mountain
One of Oregon’s fault-block mountains, Hart Mountain is a magical spot with natural beauty, wildlife, hot springs, and, yes, you guessed right, dark skies. The mountain offers two primitive campgrounds. However, backcountry camping is allowed, too, so you’ll have plenty of options to find your ideal stargazing spot.
10. High Rocks
The High Rocks summit and its former lookout make a great stargazing spot. Located in Mt. Hood National Forest, this site is quite remote (and the roads are rutted), so you’ll need a sporty vehicle to get there. The ride is totally worth it since the High Rocks summit is free from the stargazer’s biggest enemy: light pollution.
11. John Day Fossil Beds
John Day Fossil Beds is another good place to gaze at the stars. Set in Central Oregon, this goldmine of natural attractions lies beneath some of the darkest skies in the state. When the sun sets, experience how the vibrant array of colors that invades the fossil beds during the day fades into darkness, and the gleaming stars appear.
12. Lost Lake
Also found in Mt. Hood National Forest like High Rocks, Lost Lake offers an unmatched stargazing experience. After the night has made its majestic entrance, the dark sky becomes a perfect canvas to admire the stars. Even prettier are the stars mirrored on the waters of 245-acre Lost Lake, making you feel as if you were floating in the galaxy.
13. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
This bird sanctuary is one of Oregon’s stargazing spots, too. While birdwatching is the main attraction, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge also offers natural darkness to bring out your telescope. The refuge welcomes thousands of visitors every year, so it is well prepared with many campgrounds or nearby hotels where stargazers can stay.
14. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
The ever-changing sands of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area are the complete package, with beaches, wildlife, and dune buggy tours. But the fun doesn’t stop at night. The wind-sculpted sand dunes become the perfect spot to marvel at the silvery stars. Be sure to get the recreational passes you might need.
15. Prineville Reservoir State Park
Prineville Reservoir State Park is one of the best spots for stargazing in Oregon. There, the nights are so dark and the stars so bright, that the park has earned a certification as a designated spot from the International Dark-Sky Association. This stargazing gem offers regular programming to help visitors understand the value of darkness and enjoy the night sky.
16. Steens Mountain
Once a sacred place for the Native Americans who lived on its slopes, this long fault-block mountain should be on your list of Oregon’s stargazing spots. As the highest point in the state, Steens Mountain is a sheltered spot away from light pollution, which makes it ideal to explore the distant sky at night.
17. Trillium Lake
Trillium Lake is 40 miles away from Portland, so you’ll need an hour and a half drive to get there. Set 3600 feet above sea level, the campground gifts visitors with spectacular views of the starry night. The site also offers great daytime activities. So, it could be a good spot for a weekend getaway.
Bonus: The Hopservatory
If you’re serious about the cosmos, you can’t miss this place in Bend. The Hopservatory was born to educate visitors about the beauty of the galaxy and encourage better care for the planet. Day and night, their team offers solar viewing, night viewing to spot the stars and planets, and private tours with resident astronomers. Of course, they also offer delicious beer if you enjoy that too!
There you have it – 17 incredible stargazing spots in Oregon. Have questions about these places for stargazing in Oregon, or want to share your own fave spot? Let me know in the comments!