After months of quarantining, self-isolating, and social distancing, chances are you’ve spent more time than you’d like to admit staring up at your ceiling. If you have the luxury of backyard access, maybe you’ve gotten outside to gaze up at the constellations. But between city smog and artificial light pollution, you’re likely only seeing a portion of the full night sky’s glory. There’s something undeniably magical about connecting with the cosmos, and we think it’s time to start dreaming about where your next stargazing adventure may (eventually) take you.
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Thankfully, the U.S. is home to plenty of stellar star-studded destinations. From far-flung getaways free of crowds, to designated International Dark Sky Places, these stargazing hot spots can be found coast to coast.
The main rule of thumb is simple: the darker, the better. Whether peering through a state-of-the-art telescope or simply gazing up at the celestial wonders overhead, there’s no wrong way to do it. Here are seven epic U.S. spots where you can see the stars like never before.
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Set Your Sights on These Stellar Stargazing Destinations Across America
Joshua Tree, California
California’s sprawling Joshua Tree National Park straddles across two deserts: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It’s known for its otherworldly geological features that have been sculpted over the centuries by whipping winds and torrential rains. For many Los Angelenos, this portion of the “Inland Empire” offers the best stargazing opportunities around. With the rise of astrotourism, park leaders have recently stepped up their game to preserve what darkness remains, which can be found in the park’s eastern wilderness area. Due to their efforts, Joshua Tree National Park is recognized as an official International Dark Sky Park. Aspiring stargazers can choose to camp out at one of the park’s 500 campsites, or opt to book a stylish Aribnb, like The Pinto (located less than 10 minutes from the park entrance.
Perched approximately 8,000 feet above the bright city lights, Aspen is the perfect place to clearly trace the constellations or spot a shooting star. The iconic ski destination combines all the right stargazing ingredients: impressive elevation, crisp mountain air, wide-open vantage points, and pitch-black night skies. Throughout the summer, guests of The Little Nell can get in on the action by joining the hotel’s adventure concierge and a local astronomy expert on a private Audi Q7 or Q8 tour to witness meteor showers, quarter moons, and more. They’ll even arrange an excursion to Aspen’s T Lazy 7 Ranch, where participants can use a high-powered telescope to observe distant planets and galaxies invisible to the naked eye.
Burnsville, North Carolina
It’s safe to say that astrotourism is Burnsville’s major claim to fame. Situated about 35 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, this small town serves up some big outdoor adventures with a dash of good old-fashioned American charm. Here, visitors flock to the Mayland Earth-to-Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory. The observatory sits at an elevation of 2,736 feet, providing a 360-degree view of the night sky. Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about astronomy while viewing the planets through a custom-built Newtonian telescope and other nifty instruments. Public Community Viewing Nights are typically scheduled around the moon cycle and run for two hours but have been paused until further notice due to COVID-19. However, private viewings for groups of eight people or less can still be organized for $300.
The Hawaiian Islands
Although not part of the contiguous US, the Hawaiian Islands offer some of the most astounding stargazing opportunities in the world. Strung along in the Pacific Ocean, the archipelago provides countless jaw-dropping views of the twinkling night sky. Maunakea (or Mauna Kea) is a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, measuring more than 33,500 feet. It’s also home to the world’s largest research observatories, including more than a dozen massive telescopes—although extremely controversial due to their cultural and ecological impact. Instead, book a stay at Montage Kapalua Bay, set along the picturesque waters of Namalu Bay and located on the northwestern edge of Maui. The resort is slated to resume its Celestial Navigation program this summer, led by a Polynesian celestial navigator from Maui’s Voyaging Society.
Saranac Lake, New York
Looking for a remote escape not too far from New York City? Then jump in the car and head upstate toward the charming village of Saranac Lake. Tucked away in the Adirondacks and approximately 300 miles (or a five-hour road trip) north of Manhattan, Saranac Lake is one of the best retreats in the northeast to view the heavenly bodies above. The Point serves as the ideal basecamp. Originally built as a Great Camp for William Avery Rockefeller II, the estate is now a rustic resort and became the first Relais and Châteaux hotel in North America. With just 11 distinct guest rooms, visitors are invited to explore the property’s expansive 75 acres. A fan favorite is “the point of The Point,” a secluded hideaway overlooking Saranac Lake, where telescopes, homemade s’mores, and craft cocktails await.
Cosmic Campground, New Mexico
With a name like “Cosmos Campground,” you know the stargazing is bound to be top-notch. This 3.5-acre site is nestled in the gigantic Gila National Forest of western New Mexico. Cosmos Campground is one of only 12 International Dark Sky Sanctuaries on earth and was the very first North American destination to receive the distinction (thanks to the unparalleled quality of its starry nights and protected nocturnal environment). The lands boast some of the darkest natural night skies in the world, and visitors won’t find any artificial light sources for at least 40 miles. It’s a no-frills, bare bones destination, but has been known to throw the occasional “star party” in the past (although upcoming events have been postponed due to coronavirus concerns). But then again, this place is best appreciated in solitude.
Mackinaw City, Michigan
While Michigan’s southern stretches are known for lively cities like Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo, the opposite is true of the northern Lower Peninsula (aka “the mitten”). The region is home to multiple dark sky areas, but the Headlands is the only given International Dark Sky Park status. The park comprises some 550 acres of woods and miles of undeveloped shoreline, lending to its inky appeal. Toss a recently opened, $9 million observatory and event center into the mix, and you get one of the best stargazing destinations in the country. Needless to say, visitors are in for an out-of-this-world treat, whether viewing the cosmos through the facility’s 18-foot dome or seated around a crackling beach bonfire.
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