Where Are the Darkest Skies in the US? Find the Best Astronomy Location for Every State

Dark skies are a prerequisite for astronomers. We explain in our comprehensive light pollution guide that we can see only 100 celestial objects from a big city, which isn’t sufficient for stargazing at all.

Even though we can do astronomy in the city, it’s obviously better if we can drive to a dark sky location, where the Bortle Scale measure is four or less.

Fortunately, every state in the US has at least one designated dark sky area where you can get the best possible views. In this article, we’re sharing details of the best one for all 50 states.

For now, let’s explore the darkest skies in the US. Click on the Table of Contents box below to go straight to your preferred state.

Where is the Darkest Sky on Earth?

The darkest skies on Earth are classified by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), and the darkest of them receive the “gold tier” title. This indicates that these locations contain minimal light pollution, so you can see the greatest number of celestial objects.

Showing the Milky Way rising above Paranal Observatory
The joy of a dark sky location (source)

According to the IDA, stargazers can see at least 5,000 stars if not more, which is in line with our count of how many stars you can see.

The US has 11 national parks with certified dark skies, which we will learn about in the next section.

Some notable gold tier dark sites around the globe are:

What is the Darkest City in the US?

The darkest city in the US is Yakutat in Alaska, where you can see the most stars and celestial objects.

But what about the contiguous states? In each of them, where are the darkest skies?

We’ll look at that next.

The Darkest Sky Location in Each State of the U.S.

Alabama

  • Conecuh National Forest
  • Website URL (opens a new tab)
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Two regions in this forest: the Open Pond Recreation Area and the Nellie Pond offer the best views.

Alaska

  • Denali National Park and Reserve
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • Fall, winter, and spring seasons are the best times because the nights are long. The Milky Way is also visible. 

Arizona

  • Tonto National Monument
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Night hikes (guided) and “park after dark” events are regularly held. 

Arkansas

  • Buffalo National River
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Weekly night sky programs in the summer and regular educational astronomy programs are worth exploring.

California

  • Death Valley National Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • IDA gold tier certified. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Furnace Creek are the best spots within the valley.

Colorado

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • More than 10,000 stars may be visible.

Connecticut

  • Hidden Lake Observatory
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.
  • This one is a private observatory, so special permissions may be needed.

Delaware

  • Killens Pond State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.

Florida

  • Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • Florida’s first dark sky-designated park. Astronomy pad sites can be reserved, but observers must have only red lights. 

Georgia

  • Stephen C Foster State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.
  • This park has IDA’s gold-tier ranking. Paddle in Okefenokee and make use of the 60 available campsites; there are more than 5000 stars to enjoy. 

Hawaii

  • Mauna Kea Summit
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • A beautiful place to stargaze, but please be mindful of the 40% drop in air pressure.

Idaho

  • Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • This place is considered the “gold standard” for stargazing. The Milky Way may be visible with the naked eye, but carry binoculars or a small telescope all the same.

Illinois

  • Weinberg-King State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.

Indiana

  • Tippecanoe River State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.

Iowa

  • Moore-Gosch Memorial Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • 22 available campsites. No reservations required, first come first serve basis.

Kansas

  • Fall River State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.

Kentucky

  • Golden Pond Observatory
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.

Louisiana

  • Catahoula Lake
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.

Maine

  • Baxter State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Minimal artificial light is used in these areas, the Milky Way can be seen without telescopes.

Maryland

  • Point Lookout State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.
  • Stargazing from the beach, what more can be said? 

Massachusetts

  • Martha’s Vineyard
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.
  • This one’s an island and it’s very popular in the summer. So it should be available during stargazing seasons (spring, fall, and winter). 

Michigan

  • McKim Alpena County Observation Site
  • No website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.

Minnesota

  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • Beautiful location to see the northern lights.

Mississippi

  • Grand Coteau Observatory
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.

Missouri

  • Bunch Hollow Conservation Area
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.

Montana

  • Buffalo Camp
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • Reservations with and without electricity are available, and guests can stay a maximum of 7 days.

Nebraska

  • Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.

Nevada

  • Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • Numerous trails to explore even at night, 14 units and a handful of  RVs available. Great Northern Moose Lodge

New Hampshire

  • Great Northern Moose Lodge
  • No website URL available
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • This one’s actually a Bed & Breakfast place that’s often used by members of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society.

New Jersey

  • Belleplain State Forest
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4.5 on the Bortle chart.
  • The place allows only red flashlights. Sometimes, the South Jersey Astronomy Club hosts skywatching events here.

New Mexico

  • Clayton Lake State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • A 14-inch telescope is available, as well as dinosaur tracks that visitors can check out while waiting for the sun to set.

New York

  • Wakely Mountain
  • Website URL (there is no official website, but this link consists of many details about reaching the location)
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • It’s actually a 3 mile hike up the mountain; moderately strenuous. 

North Carolina

  • Ocracoke Campground
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • The place is accessible by ferry. There are no specifically designated campgrounds, so viewers are free to set up their own spaces.

North Dakota

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • It’s 30 miles away from a big city, so there’s very little pollution. Observers can also drive to designated viewing areas on top of plateaus.

Ohio

  • Cincinnati Astronomical Society Dark Sky Site
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.
  • It’s the Cincinnati Astronomical Society’s dark-sky location with a telescope.

Oklahoma

  • Boktuklo Trail Head
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Five miles east of Honobia, a forest trail.

Oregon

  • Ochoco National Forest
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • Look for the Cottonwood Pit Campground. Free for all, first come first serve basis.

Pennsylvania

  • Cherry Springs State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • Both Black Forest and Cherry Springs star parties are hosted here.

Rhode Island

  • Block Island
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.

South Carolina

  • Caesars Head State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 4 on the Bortle chart.

South Dakota

Tennessee

  • Pickett CCC Memorial State Park & Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • The astronomy field is at the parking lot of Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area.

Texas

  • Big Bend Ranch State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • IDA-certified gold-tier park, also the largest in Texas. Go to River Road, the Contrabando Trailhead, Big Hill and the Hoodoos for the best views.

Utah

  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 1 on the Bortle chart.
  • The entire IDA-certified park contains sandstone formations, similar to Mars. Permits for drone usage are available. 

Vermont

  • Northern Skies Observatory
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • Headquarters of the Northeast Kingdom Astronomy Foundation.

Virginia

  • Douthat State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • IDA certified, more than 2,000 stars visible.

Washington

  • Colville National Forest
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Look for Aladdin Valley for the best views.

West Virginia

  • Watoga State Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 3 on the Bortle chart.
  • This park is applying for IDA certification as a dark sky, so they have many amenities favoring low light pollution.

Wisconsin

  • Chequamegon National Forest
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.

Wyoming

  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Website URL
  • The region ranks Level 2 on the Bortle chart.
  • Look for Colter Bay Campground, can be booked up to 6 months in advance.

Astronomy Clubs

For more information about any of the sites listed above, or alternatives that we’ve not covered, be sure to make contact with one of the many local astronomy clubs to be found in each state.

We’ve got a full list of several hundred U.S. astronomy clubs here. The link opens in a new tab so you won’t lose this page.

Summary

Wherever you are in the US, we hope this article will guide you to the darkest region in your local area.

While we’ve mentioned only one park or reserve for each state, please visit Clear Dark Sky for more such places not just in the US but all across the world.

You can also make use of IDA’s map to visually look for officially designated dark sky places.

We hope you have a wonderful time under the stars. Happy stargazing!


Written by Sharmila Kunthuner