Late summer is perhaps the best time to view the Milky Way, and there are several great places to go to see it. Due to the light pollution and smog in many big cities, you can only see the Milky Way out in the rural, wild lands of the U.S. Thankfully, many of our favorite National Parks make excellent spaces for stargazing and organizations and communities like the International Dark-Sky Association are working to “encourage communities around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.” Check out these certified Dark Sky Parks this summer and catch some stellar views, both during the day and at night.
Grand Canyon NP, Arizona
Just added to the list of Dark Sky Parks in June 2016, the Grand Canyon—one of America’s most beloved national parks—is an excellent place to catch views of the U.S. canyonlands, fascinating wildlife and stunning stars. You can choose from various lodges or pitch a tent, take a river trip and take a variety of day—and overnight-hikes. To make the most out of your visit, take a ranger-led night sky walk and talk tour for a unique experience. The Grand Canyon was the second most-visited National Park last year, so expect some crowds when you visit, and bring plenty of water!
Death Valley NP, California
Known as the hottest and driest national park, Death Valley is not a park many people visit in the summer. However, it is a great time of year to see the stars, so if you can bear the heat, go out into the California desert for some stellar views. Twice a month, rangers set up telescopes and give guided tours for visitors to learn about the night sky during the full and new moons, so check the calendar before you go. The wide-open land of red and orange rocks and sand dunes turns into a quiet, magical nightscape after the sun sets.
Big Bend NP, Texas
“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in heart of Texas.” The song proves true, as Big Bend remains one of the darkest regions in the U.S. Whether you’re camping up in the Chisos Mountains or roughing it by the river, the views are stunning. The summer months have extreme heat warnings and drought conditions, so come prepared with water, a hat and sunscreen. It is Texas, after all.
Natural Bridges Monument, Utah
Natural Bridges was the first Dark Sky Park to be certified by the IDA, and it remains one of the most stunning. With enormous natural rock bridges carved by ages of water and erosion, hiking trails and several other Dark Sky Parks only a couple hours away, this region in southern Utah is filled with endless adventure and beautiful scenery. The nearby Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks are also IDA-certified Dark Sky Parks.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
If you’re not a fan of the hot summer desert, take a trip to northern Pennsylvania for more trees and cooler weather. Renowned for its exceptionally dark skies, Cherry Springs also has campsites, hiking trails and hunting access to the Susquehannock Forest. If you want to mix things up, go in August during the annual Woodmen’s Show, featuring a variety of lumberjack contests.