In our hyper-plugged-in times it’s all too easy to forget how magical the night sky can be. (It doesn’t help that stoplights and 24-hour Rite Aid signs don’t exactly provide ideal viewing conditions.) But there are still plenty of great places to admire the cosmos. Whether you want to count meteors, spot constellations or just ponder existence, these eight spots are a brilliant (get it?) choice. So book your trip ASAP. And bonus: Most of them are just as awe-inspiring in daylight.
Death Valley National Park, California
There are several reasons the famed SoCal desert makes a prime viewing spot: Its massive size (over 5,000 square miles), its dry climate (aka no humidity and pretty much zero chance of clouds) and plenty of wide, flat landscapes. FYI, in case you didn’t know: This is the hottest place in the country, so schedule your visit during the cooler months.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
The Big Island boasts beautiful beaches, tasty coffee and a front-row seat to the heavens, in the form of a 14,000-foot-high volcano. No wonder it’s the site of one of the world’s preeminent astronomical research centers. But even non-scientists can get in on the action: Free stargazing tours depart from the visitor center every evening.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
Utah is home to innumerable gorgeous natural wonders, but this area holds the unique honor of being the first International Dark Sky Park and one of the darkest places ever assessedby the National Park Service. What that means is it has virtually zero light pollution, allowing you to see thousands of stars that wouldn’t otherwise be visible—and a few striking rock formations while you’re at it.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes the sky over this park on the Mexican border. Along with excellent star visibility, you’ll find dramatic canyons, fields of wildflowers and blooming cactus and very few other tourists—it’s one of the country’s largest and least-visited national parks. (We can’t fathom why…have you seen that view?)
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Widely considered to be the best stargazing destination east of the Mississippi, this park’s remote location atop a plateau means an open, uninterrupted sky with almost no light pollution. Leave your flashlight behind: On the clearest nights, the Milky Way is bright enough to cast shadows.
Denali National Park, Alaska
The site of North America’s tallest peak is an incredible place to see stars (not to mention stunning landscapes), but you also have a good chance of spotting another skyward phenomenon: the Northern Lights. Due to the park’s high latitude, you won’t get much darkness in the summer; the best stargazing (and aurora-gazing) can be found in fall, winter and early spring. (Bring a parka.)
Backpackers flock to Big Sky country for its breathtaking mountains and lakes, pristine ecosystem, wildlife sightings—keep an eye out for mountain goats and moose—and, yes, unreal celestial displays, thanks to a location far from any major cities. (And there are a handful of lodges and chalets for those who aren’t looking to go full Wild.)
Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona
This astronomical center in the Sonoran Desert houses the largest and most diverse collection of optical and radio telescopes not just in the country, but in the world. It’s an active research center, so you’ll need to book one of the nighttime tours to use the telescopes, but trust us, these high-tech instruments are leagues beyond that hobby ’scope you got for your ninth birthday.