If you want to gaze in wonder at the Milky Way…
hunt for star clusters or connect the dots of constellations, stargazing in Utah’s parks is the place to be.
The Beehive state boasts the highest concentration of the best dark skies in the world, as determined by the International Dark-Sky Association, which certifies places with stellar starry nights.
The best stargazing in Utah can be found in national and state parks all over the state. How many dark sky parks are in Utah? The latest count is 14, with more to come since Utah State Parks launched a Dark Sky Initiative to add another 10 parks to the list.
Wild Dark Skies
What are Dark Sky Parks and How Many Are There?
If you’re wondering what Dark Sky Parks are, they’re parks with a certification that can only be attained once the park meets certain specifications. To be classified as a Dark Sky Park, the park must have excellent stewardship of the night sky by making efforts to preserve and protect its dark sites. As of August 2019, there are over 120 certified International Dark Sky Places (IDSP).
Here are the best places to go Stargazing in Utah
Canyonlands National Park
The Colorado River is just one of the rivers that shape the Canyonlands National Park. Wind your way through tons of canyons while you observe the buttes before you stargaze. Drink in the fresh air and take in the milky white stars radiating brightly in an area that sometimes feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Capitol Reef National Park
The nights get very dark here, with minimal light pollution to allow for impeccable skies that are perfect for stargazing. Get a glimpse at what the earth could’ve been like millions of years before we even existed.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Sitting at over 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks National Monument offers a unique perspective from an elevated location.
Dinosaur National Monument
As the name suggests, Dinosaur National Monument is a place where dinosaurs frequented. Not only can you experience illuminating starry nights, but if you come during the day, you can also marvel at the dinosaur remains embedded in the rock.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Breath-taking views of the sky that seem never to end await you at Dead Horse Point State Park. View red and gold rock canyons that look as if they aren’t even a part of this planet.
Goblin Valley State Park
Some of the darkest skies in Utah light up your trip by making your way to Goblin Valley State Park for some stargazing. Abstract rock formations and red sandstone statues give the park an unearthly vibe that’s perfect for experiencing the brilliant night sky.
Great Basin National Park
Near the Utah border, the Great Basin National Park makes a mesmerizing option for investing your vacation time. It is technically in Nevada and is between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch Mountains areas.
Hovenweep National Monument
Experience a little bit of history. Hovenweep National Monument offers dozens of ancient stone structures to explore just off the familiar path.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Also Utah’s first national monument, Natural Bridges features three naturally occurring bridges that don’t quite look like they belong. Explore the wonder while taking in a majestic, night sky.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Something about bridge monuments and epic stargazing seems to go hand in hand. Maybe it’s their remote location that leaves you feeling lost in space. Rainbow Bridge National Monument contains one of the world’s largest known natural bridges.
Steinaker State Park
This state park boasts beautiful starlit skies coupled with daytime adventures galore. During the summer you can camp, swim, hike, and fish. Experience the wilderness park-style.
Weber County North Fork Park
An outstanding view of the stars from on top of the mountains, Weber County’s North Fork Park offers an elevated, up-close, and personal display of the illuminated, night skies.
Located in Wayne County, the town of Torrey earned Utah’s first International Dark Sky Community designation. This was because of how bright the stars are there that make for a magical stargazing trip.
Where Can I Stargaze In Or Near Salt Lake City?
Sometimes traveling a long way to visit stargazing locations can be inconvenient. If you want to stick around Salt Lake City, while still enjoying the starry views of the Utah night skies, here’s where you need to go.
Antelope Island State Park
Get out your cameras. Known for vibrant, starry nights, Antelope Island State Park is just far enough from any big cities to avoid light pollution, but close enough to be convenient. Approximately one hour north of Salt Lake City.
When is the Best Time for Stargazing in Utah?
The best time to stargaze is during cold, clear winter nights, on moonless nights or in the days before and after each new moon. Spring and autumn are great times to stargaze because the nights are longer and it’s not as cold as the winter.
But even summer nights are splendid for gaping at the Milky Way. The key is to get out of the cities and into the wild.
Which is why river trips are an excellent way for astro-tourists to get their fix: The river will take you to remote, virtually untouched places where no light pollution can spoil the view.
Holiday River Expeditions, in partnership with Salt Lake city’s Clark Planetarium offers specialty stargazing trips, in which experts trained in astronomy lead nighttime stargazing parties. Those trips take you on the Green or Colorado rivers through Desolation Canyon, Cataract Canyon, Lodore Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon.
But virtually every white-water rafting trip offers the chance for out-of-this-world wonder.
Here is the 2020 Stargazing trip line-up:
By: Heather May
Heather May’s first white water rafting trip was the Gates of Lodore with Holiday River Expeditions and she can’t wait to return. She’s an award-winning journalist based in Salt Lake City. She covers travel, food and health for a variety of publications. You can connect with her at www.linkedin.com/in/