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The top dark sky parks in all 50 states with the clearest nights to enjoy mesmerizing meteor showers

Map of the US at night lit up.
Map of the US at night lit up.HUM Images / Contributor / Getty Images
  • City lights pollute the night sky. But there are still places to go for meteor showers and 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 obstruct your view of catching spectacular cosmic sights like comets, distant planets, the Milky Way galaxy, and this week's spectacular Geminids meteor shower.

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

snowy overlook with a large stone with the words bald rock printed on it and wooded hills spreading out in the distance below toward mountains
You can drive right up Cheaha Mountain, outside Birmingham, and walk to an overlook called Bald Rock.Billy Pope, OutdoorAlabama.com

If you're up for a longer drive, Conecuh National Forest in the south of Alabama may be even darker.

Alaska: Murphy Dome

green spiral ribbon aurora borealis in the night sky above a snowy field with a person and a small white observatory
This hilltop outside Fairbanks is a great place to see the aurora borealis in winter.Mark Thiessen/AP Photo

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

bumpy mossy rock pinnacles rise up from shurbs into the distance until a shrubby hill and then a brown rock mountain in the background against a cloudy sky
The Cochise Head formation rises above a field of rhyolite rock pinnacles in Chiricahua National Monument.NPS/C. Bubar

Arkansas: Buffalo National River, IDA-certified

calm blue and brown river cuts through hills of bare trees
The Buffalo River cuts through the Ozark Mountains.NPS

California: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, IDA-certified

purple and orange wildflowers fill a green field in front of a grey shrubby mountain
A massive spring wildflower bloom caused by a wet winter spreads in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.Steve Gorman/Reuters

California's other certified dark-sky sites include Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park.

Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, IDA-certified

brown craggy cliffs stretch down into a winding canyon with the sun setting behind clouds
The sun sets over Black Canyon of the Gunnison.NPS / Victoria Stauffenberg

Also, try Jackson Lake State Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area.

Connecticut: Lovers Leap State Park

river runs under a red covered bridge with trees and greenery on either side
The Housatonic River runs through the woods of Connecticut.Helen O'Neill/AP Photo

Delaware: Trap Pond State Park

bald cypress trees with the appearance of a bundle of trunks around the base rise above bright green ferns on the ground
Trap Pond State Park is home to the northernmost naturally occurring stand of bald cypress trees, like the ones pictured here in Louisiana.Tim Graham/Getty Images

Florida: Big Cypress National Preserve, IDA-certified

milky way stretches across dark purple night sky above shaggy palm trees around a small shack
The Milky Way stretches above Big Cypress National Preserve.NPS

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is also recognized as a dark-sky park by DarkSky International.

Georgia: Stephen C. Foster State Park, IDA-certified

white great egret bird with long legs, neck, and beak perches on a fallen log between tree trunks
Great Egret preens itself on the trunk of a fallen cypress tree along a wilderness water trail near the Stephen C. Foster State Park.Stephen B. Morton/AP Photo

Hawaii: Mauna Kea

silhouette of a mountain ridge with four round telescope facilities above the clouds against a blue sky
Mauna Kea is topped with telescopes that astronomers use for professional stargazing.Caleb Jones/AP Photo

Idaho: Craters of the Moon National Park, IDA-certified

two people in puffy jackets stand on a dark ridge beneath a starry sky looking at a large comet with a forked tail above a horizon of sunset colors
A couple watches the comet NEOWISE streaking across the skies above Craters of the Moon.NPS Photo / Matt Dietrich

To the south, City of Rocks National Reserve also has breathtaking night skies.

Illinois: Middle Fork River Forest Preserve

a beaver swims across water surface
Look for beavers while you're there.AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez

Indiana: Beverly Shores and Indiana Dunes National Park

derek hough man in jeans tan shirt and blue baseball cap jumps with one up in the air behind him on top of a sand dune with grass overlooking lake michigan
The town of Beverly Shores is on Lake Michigan, right next to Indiana Dunes National Park.Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for National Park Foundation

Iowa: Whiterock Conservancy

Scenic view of lake by trees against sky, Cedar Rapids,Iowa.
Iowa is famous for its corn fields, but it has plenty of spaces where nature still dominates.James Poulose / Getty Images

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

Large open fields of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve with a schoolhouse in the distance.
The large open fields of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas offer visitors a clear view of the night sky with minimal light pollution.Education Images / Contributor / Getty Images

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

Night sky seen from the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
Beautiful night sky seen from the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.National Park Service

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

Statesman Tree in Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana.
The Statesman Tree, shown here, is a 220-year-old pine tree in Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana.Philip Gould / Getty Images

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

Dead River in Maine in Autumn.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Maine besides its darks skies.Laura Zamfirescu / Getty Images

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

The night sky in Tuckahoe State Park in Maryland.
The night sky in Tuckahoe State Park in Maryland.Heather Randall / Getty Images

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

Beach on Cape Cod Bay, Truro
Beaches, like this one on Cape Cod Bay, are far from city lights and offer a spectacular view of the night sky.Education Images / Contributor / Getty Images

The seashore is considered one of the darkest regions in the area. Farther north, Halibut State Park is also a good spot and local astronomy clubs will sometimes host star parties there.

Michigan: Dr. T.K. Lawless Park, IDA-certified

The Milky Way over Lake Michigan at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park, shown here, is another IDA certified spot in Michigan.Diana Robinson Photography / Getty Images

Dr. T.K. Lawless Park is one of three IDA-certified locations in Michigan. The other two are Headlands Dark Sky Park and Keweenaw Dark Sky Park.

Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park, IDA-certified

A wolf staring at the camera.
The Voyageurs Wolf Project studies the wolves in and around Voyageurs National Park.Star Tribune via Getty Images / Contributor / Getty Images

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

Wild yellow roadside daffodils.
You can also check out these beautiful wild daffodils during your visit to Natchez Trace Parkway.UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor / Getty Images

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

A view of whetstone creek conservation park during the day. Its clear waters reflect the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds.
Whetstone Creek Conservation AreaMissouri Department of Conservation.

Other options include Echo Bluff State Park or Stacy Park.

Montana: Glacier National Park, IDA-certified

Goats standing on an overlook above a turquoise lake in the mountains.
Goats standing on an overlook above a turquoise lake in the mountains.Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Another scenic place is Waterton Lakes National Park, which also spans into Canada.

Nebraska: Merritt Reservoir State Recreation area, IDA-certified

A photography of the Merritt Reservoir at night, with a clear view of the stars. Framed by trees on either side.
The annual Nebraska Star Party has been held at Merritt Reservoir since the '90s.Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Nevada: Great Basin National Park

Star trails over Great
Star trails over Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park.Eric A Norris/Getty Images

New Hampshire: White Lake State Park

A view of White lake state park with the deciduous forest framing the water along the right.
A view of White lake state park with the deciduous forest framing the water along the right.Visitnh.gov

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

A view of the Camp May lighthouse during the day with fluffy white clouds behind it.
Cape May Lighthouse is still an aid to navigation. Visitors who climb the 199 steps to the top of the lighthouse are rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, according to Visit New Jersey.Visit New Jersey

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

Sunset over Capulin Volcano National Monument. The volcano is a slight bump on the horizon line, and a scraggly tree sits in the foreground, backlit against the blue, yellow and orange sky.
Sunset over Capulin Volcano National Monument, which is part of the National Park Service's Dark Sky Ambassador program.Jim Schlett

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

The last bit of sun shines above the dark black tree and mountain line that frames the crescent of the lake. Above it, a thin line of yellow sky sits below a royal blue early night sky, already filled with stars.
Scenic view of lake against sky at night in Lake Taghkanic State Park.Bryan Dinello/Getty Images

North Carolina: Cape Lookout National Seashore, IDA-certified

A view of the Cape Lookout lighthouse just before sunset. The clouds on the top of the frame are a soft fuchsia, with the sky underneath them a stark creamsicle orange, the lighthouse off to the left of the screen is checkered white and black.
A view of the Cape Lookout lighthouse just before sunset.NikonShutterman/Getty Images

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

Sky at night over Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Sky at night over Theodore Roosevelt National Park.NPS/Jeff Zylland

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

A father and daughter gaze up at the stars in front of the Monteville Observatory Park in Ohio. The sky is purple and orange and filled with brilliant stars.
A father and daughter gaze up at the stars in front of the Monteville Observatory Park in Ohio.Ohio Department of Development

Oklahoma: Black Mesa State Park

A rocky hoodoo in the corner of the frame sits in front of a clear view of the milkyway and night sky in Black Mesa, OK.
A rocky hoodoo stands against the night sky as the Milky Way sets near Black Mesa, Oklahoma. -John Davis/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Oregon: Prineville Reservoir State Park, IDA-certified

Stars begin to come out at twilight in Prineville Reservoir State Park.  The sky is a vibrant purple, streaked with pink fluffy views of the milky way. Below sits a sparsely shrubbed embankment.
Stars begin to come out at twilight in Prineville Reservoir State Park.samafoto/Getty Images

Pennsylvania: Cherry Springs State Park, IDA-certified

A tent is lit up from the inside so as to appear bright orange in an otherwise dark forested area. The milkyway and countless bright stars dot the sky above it.
Camping in Cherry Spring State Park under the stars.Michael Ver Sprill/Getty Images

Rhode Island: Frosty Drew Observatory

The Frosty Drew Observatory, a domed builiding, in Rhode Island at night with the Milky Way above
Rhode Island's Frosty Drew Observatory holds weekly star viewings during the summer.Marion Faria Photography via Getty Images

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

A full moon rises over a tent next to a campfire on Capers Island, Charleston SC.
Capers Island is remote, so you'll want to pack everything you need for an overnight, including a tent.Tom McCorkle via Getty Images

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

Stars show in a light sky above Stockade Lake near Custer Park in South Dakota
Stars shine in the sky above Stockade Lake, the largest in Custer State Park.Doug Michaels via iStock/Getty Images

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

The Melton Creek Falls at the Obed Wild and Scenic River in Eastern Tennessee
Waterfalls spill into the Obed Wild and Scenic River.Kannan Sundaram via iStock/Getty Images Plus

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

A stretch of road is seen amid an arid, sloping landscape.
The moon rises over an open road in the Big Bend Ranch State Park, near Presidio, Texas.John Moore/Getty Images

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

A person wearing a backpack sits on rocks looking at many stars in the Milky Way at Zion National Park
Zion National Park is just one of many places in Utah to see lots of stars and the Milky Way.Carlos Fernandez via Getty Images

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

Two people paddle kayaks on Kettle Pond in Groton, Vermont with a background of a forest in autumnal colors of orange, red, and yellow
Kettle Pond in Groton, Vermont offers fall foliage by day and starlight by night.Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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

Christmas lights in red and green illuminate the Natural Bridge State Park, December 18, 2021
The Natural Bridge State Park's eponymous landmark is reason enough to visit, even when it isn't lit up with Christmas lights.Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

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

mount rainier in washington state
Mount Rainier in Washington has gorgeous views during the day and at night when the stars are out.bradwetli photography/Getty Images

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

A groundhog sits in the grass in West Virginia
A groundhog sits in the grass in a park in West Virginia.Troy Harrison/Getty Images

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

The moon rises over Devils Island's caves, one of the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin
The moon rises over Devils Island, one of the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin.Posnov/Getty Images

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

A full moon rises over the Wyoming wilderness at Yellowstone National Park, making the sky look purple
A full moon isn't the best time to see stars, even at a place as dark as Yellowstone National Park.Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

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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