If your national or state park adventure ends at sundown, you’re missing out. America’s protected areas offer some of the darkest, starriest night skies on Earth. From lakes to deserts, these are the country’s top locations for stargazers.
To determine the best stargazing hotspots in the U.S., Icelandair analyzed 84 places recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association for their exceptionally starry nights. Factors like brightness, elevation, and Bortle ranking—which measures the visibility of celestial bodies from the ground at night—were taken into consideration.
Capitol Reef National Park tops the list with an overall rating of 94 out of 100. The natural site is famous for it ridges and canyons carved into the Utah desert, offering unobstructed views of the horizon from its higher elevations.
In second place is Goosenecks State Park just north of Utah’s southern border. It’s one of five Utah parks on the list. New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada are also represented, officially making the West the top region for astronomy enthusiasts.
Even if your local skies aren’t as dark as you’d like them to be, there are plenty of reasons to look up from your backyard at night. On Thursday, December 14, the annual Geminid Meteor Shower reaches its peak in the Northern Hemisphere. If you view the shower in an ideal setting—like one of the parks on the list below—you can expect to see up to 120 shooting stars per hour.
The Top 10 Stargazing Hotspots in the U.S.
- Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
- Goosenecks State Park, Utah
- Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
- Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico
- Great Basin National Park, Nevada
- City of Rocks National Preserve, Idaho
- Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado
- Clayton Lake Street Park, New Mexico
- Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
- Zion National Park, Utah