City lights drown out the night sky. But there are still places to go for spectacular stargazing.
Dark sky parks and IDA-certified locations are the best places to view cosmic events.
From Alaska to Wyoming, here's a list of some of the darkest skies in each of the 50 US states.
Light pollution, which is caused by artificial lights glaring into the night sky can impact your chance of seeing comets, distant planets, the Milky Way galaxy, meteor showers, and more.
So in order to give yourself the best shot at seeing any cosmic show, you might want to head to an area that limits night lights. These are often officially zoned "dark sky parks", which have clear views of the night sky when the weather permits.
There is even an International Dark-Sky Association, which can dole out an official dark sky park status. Only the clearest of night skies, unimpeded by light pollution, are allowed the honorable IDA-certified title.
Over half of the 50 US states have at least one location that's IDA-certified. And some states, like Utah and Michigan, have many. We've compiled a list of some of the darkest places in each US state for the best front-row seats to any celestial show.
Alabama: Cheaha Mountain
If you're up for a longer drive, Conecuh National Forest in the south of Alabama may be even darker.
Alaska: Murphy Dome
You can get stellar night views, and even see the aurora, in most of Alaska. Other great stargazing spots include Eklutna Lake, Denali National Park, Flattop Mountain, Hatcher Pass, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Arizona: Chiricahua National Monument, IDA-certified
Arkansas: Buffalo National River, IDA-certified
California: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, IDA-certified
Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, IDA-certified
Also, try Jackson Lake State Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Connecticut: Lovers Leap State Park
Delaware: Trap Pond State Park
Florida: Big Cypress National Preserve, IDA-certified
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is also recognized as a dark-sky park by DarkSky International.
Georgia: Stephen C. Foster State Park, IDA-certified
Hawaii: Mauna Kea
Idaho: Craters of the Moon National Park, IDA-certified
To the south, City of Rocks National Reserve also has breathtaking night skies.
Illinois: Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
Indiana: Beverly Shores and Indiana Dunes National Park
Iowa: Whiterock Conservancy
The Whiterock Conservancy says it has the darkest skies in Iowa. Other locations recognized for stargazing in the Hawkeye State include Eastern Iowa Observatory, Preparation Canyon State Park, Annett Nature Center, and Eden Valley Wildlife Refuge.
Kansas: Arikaree Breaks
Be careful, since roads can be rough in some places through the Arikaree Breaks' landscape of canyons, visitors have said. Other places in the Sunflower State to stargaze include Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and Teter Rock.
Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park, IDA-certified
Mammoth Cave National Park received IDA certification for its exceptionally clear night skies in 2021. It is the first site in the Bluegrass State to receive this designation.
Louisiana: Kisatchie National Forest
Kisatchie is Louisiana's only National Forest and is often a popular place for astrophotographers for its stunning views of the Milky Way galaxy.
Maine: Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC) Maine Woods, IDA-certified
The Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC) Maine Woods property was IDA certified in 2021 and the first International Dark Sky Park in New England.
Maryland: Tuckahoe State Park
Both Tuckahoe State Park and Point Lookout State Park have minimal light pollution and are considered ideal spots for stargazers in Maryland.
Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore
Michigan: Dr. T.K. Lawless Park, IDA-certified
Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park, IDA-certified
The park holds star parties each year. You can check when the next one is on the park's event calendar. If you're not near Voyageurs or missed its star party, you can find other star parties across the north star state on Bell Museum's webpage.
Mississippi: Natchez Trace Parkway
The region has three campgrounds so you can set up your tent and stargaze all night long if you like. Other places in Mississippi with noteworthy dark skies include Choctaw County and De Soto National Forest.
Missouri: Whetstone Creek Conservation Area
Other options include Echo Bluff State Park or Stacy Park.
Montana: Glacier National Park, IDA-certified
Another scenic place is Waterton Lakes National Park, which also spans into Canada.
Nebraska: Merritt Reservoir State Recreation area, IDA-certified
Nevada: Great Basin National Park
New Hampshire: White Lake State Park
You can also catch some great cosmic views at Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, White Lake State Park, and Coleman State Park.
New Jersey: Cape May Lighthouse
Star parties are often held at Belleplain State Forest if you want to catch the view with some fellow sky enthusiasts.
New Mexico: Capulin Volcano National Monument, IDA-certified
The state is rich with different places to view the stars. Some of your many other options include Chaco Culture National Park, Clayton Lakes State Park, and El Morro State Park.
New York: Lake Taghkanic State Park
North Carolina: Cape Lookout National Seashore, IDA-certified
If Cape Lookout isn't what you're looking for, you can also head to Mayland Earth to Sky Park, Bare Dark Sky Observatory, or Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
If you'd rather take a little hike to your stargazing location, North Dakota Tourism Department recommends Pembina Gorge or Sully Creek State Park.
Ohio: Observatory Park, IDA-certified
Oklahoma: Black Mesa State Park
Oregon: Prineville Reservoir State Park, IDA-certified
Pennsylvania: Cherry Springs State Park, IDA-certified
Rhode Island: Frosty Drew Observatory
Each Friday during the summer, the Frosty Drew Observatory & Science Center holds Summer Stargazing Nights from 6:30 to 11 p.m., weather permitting.
For Rhode Island's darkest skies, head to Block Island, according to the Providence Journal.
South Carolina: Capers Island
Only accessible by boat, Capers Island is the definition of remote. If bringing your own camping gear is a little too rustic for you, the Oconee State Park in Mountain Rest has cabins and is ideal for stargazing according to the former director of South Carolina State Parks.
South Dakota: Custer State Park
South Dakotans are spoiled for choice when it comes to dark skies. The Black Hills Astronomical Society holds events at Custer State Park in the Black Hills National Forest. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the Badlands National Park also puts on Night Sky Viewing events. It's a great place to see the Milky Way, too.
Tennessee: Obed Wild and Scenic River, IDA-certified
Tennessee boasts two IDA-certified dark parks: Obed Wild and Scenic River and Pickett CCC Memorial State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area. Both have regular star-viewing events hosted by astronomy groups.
Texas: Big Bend Ranch State Park, IDA-certified
Texas is huge, so it's only fitting that it has plenty of places to see the night sky on full display. Big Bend Ranch State Park in West Texas, Copper Breaks State Park in the Panhandle Plains, Hill Country's Enchanted Rock Natural Area, and South Llano River State Park are all IDA-certified. Plus, the Texas State Park website has a whole page listing parks and how dark they rank, so you can find the best option in your area.
Utah: Zion National Park, IDA-certified
Over 20 places in Utah have earned IDA designations. Northern Utah has Antelope Island State Park, Dinosaur National Monument, East Canyon State Park, Jordanelle State Park, North Fork Park, Rockport State Park, Steinaker State Park, and Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Goosenecks State Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Rainbow Bridge National Monument are in the southeast. Southwestern Utah is home to Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Fremont Indian State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Zion National Park.
Vermont: Kettle Pond State Park
Several parks in Groton State Forest have dark skies, including, Big Deer State Park, Boulder Beach State Park, Kettle Pond State Park, Ricker Pond State Park, and Seyon Lodge State Park, according to Go Astronomy.
Virginia: Natural Bridge State Park, IDA-certified
It can be hard to find light-free skies east of the Mississippi. Luckily, Virginians can travel to five IDA-certified dark sky parks in their state: James River State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Rappahannock County Park, Sky Meadows State Park, and Staunton River State Park.
Washington State: Mount Rainier National Park
Washington State doesn't have any IDA-certified dark parks, but the National Park Service has a list of places dim enough to see stars. They include Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Olympic National Park, and San Juan Island National Historic Park. The state parks also have some stargazing events, including at Lake Wenatchee State Park.
West Virginia: Watoga State Park, IDA-certified
West Virginia's largest state park also happens to be IDA-certified. Forests surround Watoga State Park, helping keep light pollution low.
Wisconsin: Newport State Park, IDA-certified
Located on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Newport State Park holds an IDA certification. Further north, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also offers dark nights and lake views.
Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park
Home to one of the most famous national parks in the US, Wyoming's wide-open spaces are great for seeing stars.
While neither is IDA certified, both Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton National Park have low light pollution, as do the Devil's Tower National Monument and the Fossil Butte National Monument.
Wyoming Magazine also recommends Jackson Hole, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center, and Lake Flaming Gorge.
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