Under Lucky Stars, a star map company that allows you to purchase products with star maps based on specific coordinates and dates, has released a list ranking all of the 62 U.S. National Parks according to how good they are for stargazing.
Using the Bortle Dark Sky Scale, a measure of the artificial light ratio, and the annual visitorship (favoring those parks less visited, as you’re less likely to encounter light pollution from overnight guests), the list by Under Lucky Stars highlights parks primarily in the western states – but a few that might surprise you.
Here are the top 10 from that list; you can see the full list on an interactive page on the company’s website.
As a reminder, while many national parks are open to visitors in varying capacities, travel restrictions and requirements vary between states and parks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to check before planning a trip and comply with local regulations.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Great Basin National Park is among the least visited in the national park system (according to a 2020 list by Travel & Leisure) and scores a 1 on the Bortle Dark Sky scale – as low as the scale goes. If you’re looking to escape crowds and enjoy the night sky, this unvisited park in eastern Nevada is a good option.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Nestled along the Rio Grande in southwestern Texas, Big Bend National Park has been certified by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) as a Dark Sky Park since 2012. Like Great Basin, it scores a 1 on the Bortle scale and has virtually no artificial light pollution.
Redwood National & State Parks, California
Redwood National & State Parks (a national park service unit that combines federally-and state-protected lands) may not seem like an obvious contender for the list of top stargazing spots. After all, how can you see through the trees overhead? Luckily Redwoods grow in groves, offering openings where you can peer up to see the stars beyond.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Another lesser-visited national park, North Cascades National Park in northern Washington State is a great place to escape crowds. According to the Under Lucky Stars list, it receives the fewest visitors of any, at just over 38,000 visitors per year. This contributes to low artificial light and the park’s 2 on the Bortle scale – that is, it’s a great spot to see the night sky.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Voyageurs National Park is one of the few parks in the contiguous United States that’s difficult to reach: most of the park is accessible only by boat and therefore most easily accessed in the summer months. Don’t let that deter you though: Voyageurs is a great spot to go stargazing (also a 2 on the Bortle scale) and for seeing the northern lights when the conditions are right.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
California is home to nine national parks, but Lassen Volcanic National Park is among the least visited in the Golden State. Home to wild geologic formations and steaming fumaroles, it is also a prime stargazing location, and hosts the Lassen Dark Sky Festival most years in August.
Guadeloupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Another lesser-visited national park on the list, Guadeloupe Mountains National Park receives barely 200,000 visitors per year according to Under Lucky Stars. This is undoubtedly due to its remoteness along the Texas-New Mexico border and relative inaccessibility – there are basically no roads within the park, just trails. All this contributes to great quality dark skies and stargazing prospects.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park is an unusual experience by day: who expects a giant sand dune in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains? That uniqueness extends into the night, as Great Sand Dunes boasts a 2 on the Bortle scale and relatively low artificial light pollution despite its relative proximity to cities like Colorado Springs and Denver.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
While this isn’t a great year to visit Crater Lake National Park due to the ongoing wildfires in southern Oregon, it’s normally one of the best places for stargazing near the populated Interstate 5 corridor that runs along the West Coast. Crater Lake scores a 1 on the Bortle scale and has negligible light pollution; it’s perfect for a trip in 2021 or later – and the 2024 Annular Solar Eclipse will pass right over the park (mark your calendars!).
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
A list of the best national parks for stargazing just wouldn’t seem complete without one of Utah’s Mighty 5 (which also includes Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Zion). As an IDA-certified Dark Sky Park, Canyonlands National Park makes the top 10 list due to its size and accessibility that help reduce artificial light pollution, which combine with dark skies (1 on the Bortle scale) to make for pristine stargazing.