Although stars make up less than one percent of the known universe, they’re the main characters of the theater in our skies. We could also consider the light pollution from cities and towns akin to a glaring phone light while trying to enjoy a movie. To fully immerse ourselves in the play of the cosmos we need to find a stage without distractions. Use the following guide to find areas in the United States free from the affront of light pollution and rich with cosmic cinematics.
What is a dark sky park?
Dark sky parks are protected areas in the U.S. with low levels of light pollution and astonishing, unadulterated views of the night sky. Even though we live in an era of rampant light pollution, various groups, like the Dark Sky Association, make a valiant effort to create areas with darker skies. The United States has over 16 dark sky sanctuaries and over 60 dark sky parks throughout its landscape. Below are some of our recommendations for star-filled camping in the United States .
Northern and central Maine are coveted locations for dark sky campers. In central Maine, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Maine Woods Initiative has a protected dark sky sanctuary of nearly 200 square miles. This includes the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area and the Nahmakanta Public Reserve. In the north rests Baxter State Park , home to Mt. Katadhin and the Katahdin Woods. These two regions are split by the Nesowadnehunk Deadwater and both have a myriad of hiking trails, lakes, ponds, and waterfalls to enjoy while the sun is out. Although most of the woods in Northern and Central Maine are privately owned, you can find plenty of opportunities for boondocking camping trips and secluded sights away from lights.
Adirondacks (Northern New York)
As the Eastern half of the United States is densely populated, dark sky parks are few and far between. However, one of the most beautiful regions in the U.S. and a coveted area for stargazers is the Adirondacks, home to the Thousand Islands and Whiteface Mountain . During the day, you can hike up majestic peaks and take in views of the lakes and streams embedded by glaciers thousands of years ago. A majority of the parks in this region are open 24 hours, so you can even roll in under the stars for an overnight stay on your way to Montreal. If you’re brave enough to go winter camping, you might get to see the aurora borealis in this area!
West Virginia Forests
West Virginia is home to some of the most iconic forests in the United States. The Shenandoah and Monongahela National Forests are both dark zones that will excite even the most seasoned astronomers. The Monongahela Forests offer skiing under starlit skies and for the truly adventurous, hiking over large valleys and cliffs. Take your camper down some country roads to Shenandoah for great boondocking spots and Bureau of Land Management camping. This national park is the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, possibly the oldest mountains in the world! Climbing up the pristine ridges of these mountains grants astounding star-studded skyline sights.
Eastern Oregon is a sparsely populated region, making light pollution a minor concern when looking for dark sky parks. The geography of this region is extremely diverse, with high deserts, hot springs, and canyons, so you’ll never run out of breathtaking views. Our recommended locations for Eastern Oregon include Steens Mountain, Malheur National Forest, and Fremont National Forest.
In the daytime, Steens Mountain offers views of giant valleys, rolling forests, and multi-colored desert trails. Near the foot of Steens Mountain, you can experience the full wonder of the Milky Way while camping on a vast desert plain. Because the area is accessible with an RV , it makes an ideal camping spot for dark sky campers with trailers .
West & Central Wyoming
Two of the most notable locations for dark sky parks in the United States reside in Wyoming, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Bighorn National Forest . To the north of the Bridger-Teton Forest is the well-known Yellowstone National Park and to the east is the Shoshone National Forest . Skiers and nature enthusiasts won’t want to miss camping in this region. For the adamant hiker, Bighorn National Forest delivers long and winding trails through giant rock formations and portions of the Great Plains.
The surrounding area is operated by the Bureau of Land Management, so there’s tons of dispersed camping for anyone looking to find some isolation. With so many campsites to choose from, finding the right one for your style of camping should be a breeze. Just make sure to pack extra layers of clothing so you can comfortably stargaze during colder nights.
Southern Texas is home to Texas’ darkest skies and one of its most distinguished National Parks, making it the perfect location for dark sky camping. The most prevalent spot in this region, Big Bend National Park , is one of the most remote, and least visited National Parks in the country. If you can make it out there, you can enjoy the Rio Grande winding through 500 million-year-old canyons by day and humbling views of the Milky Way by night. The landscape at Big Bend also makes it ideal for rafting and mountain biking. We recommend visiting this region in the Fall or early Spring to avoid high temperatures throughout the day, but the nights should be just comfortable enough to stargaze next to a campfire.
Colorado / New Mexico / Oklahoma Border
The panhandle region of Oklahoma, the southwestern corner of Colorado, and the northeast corner of New Mexico stand out as first-class stargazing spots. Aspiring astronomers gather at the annual Okie Tex Star Party at Black Mesa State Park on the edge of the OK panhandle. In New Mexico, you can visit Clayton Lake State Park and discover dinosaur tracks during the day and ponder meteors at night. Additionally, around the town of Springfield, Colorado are a plethora of RV parks, grassland campsites, and canyon trailheads with gorgeous views of the cosmos.
Similar to Maine, the Southeast has very few spots with little light pollution. With that being said, southern Georgia is still a prime location for dark sky camping. The surrounding swamplands and sounds from the wildlife make for especially enchanting nights.
Specifically, Southern Georgia’s 402,000-acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge provides just enough uninhabited land to counter the lights from the cities and towns. While you’re waiting for the sun to give way to night’s dark skies, enjoy alligator spotting at the Okefenokee swamp, or hiking along the 9-mile Swamp Island Drive.
Find your stargazing vehicle Humans are naturally drawn to constellations and stellar formations the same way we crave to escape into the wild. Venturing into the unknown is somehow both captivating and daunting – by gazing into the stars we get a taste of this reality with our feet firmly planted on the ground. For those wishing to go even further into the unknown, a NASA-inspired adventure vehicle could be your overland shuttle to less-traveled trails and darker skies. Contact a dealer today to find your perfect stargazing companion.