With its wide-open spaces and more than 84 million acres of national parks, the USA has some of the world’s best stargazing possibilities.

Despite the global increase in light pollution, the vastness of the USA means there is an incredible selection of Dark Sky Parks where the Milky Way can easily be seen with the naked eye. Whether you’re an expert at spotting the Big Dipper or new to stargazing, gaze up into the heavens to the backdrop of some of America’s most picturesque and famous national parks.

Milky Way over Death Valley

The best National Parks for Stargazing, according to a Dark Night expert 

According to Rader Lane, a National Park Service Dark Night Ranger in the Grand Canyon, a visit to a Dark Sky Park is “often the unexpected highlight” of many travellers’ trips.

One of the best states for stargazing is Arizona, and within the famous Grand Canyon, Rader recommends heading to the Desert View Watchtower to “capture the historic structure in the foreground and the central bulge of the Milky Way in the background. It makes for incredible photographs.”

Rader’s other favourite spots include Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida where “one will see some of the most pristine night skies in the United States,”, while “Chaco Culture in New Mexico is the best place to stargaze if one desires to feel the pulse of the cultural astronomy of the southwest. It is one the richest archaeo-astronomical sites in the world, one of the darkest places in the country, and the park has its own observatory it uses for public programs.”

Meanwhile, the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah is “arguably the darkest place in the contiguous United States, virtually free of all light pollution. It is located high on the Colorado Plateau in a dry, remote, juniper-pinyon landscape. This. Place. Is. Dark.”

“The abundance of campground opportunities combined with the relative proximity to large cities like Las Vegas makes Death Valley an easily attainable place to stargaze. It is surrounded by mountains largely shielding the skyglow of Las Vegas and Los Angeles from view” he adds.

For more intrepid travellers, Rader suggests the Great Basin National Park in Nevada. “The night-sky tripper must make a long journey to arrive at one of the most remote parks, but it has some of the most pristine skies. To watch the stars among ancient, gnarled, bristlecone pine trees offers a strong dose of the sublime, in the true sense of the word: a mixture of awe and even fear of the beauty that is, by definition, incomprehensible.” 

Grand Canyon by night

The 50 Best Places in the USA for Telescope Stargazing

For amateur and professional astronomers alike, access to a telescope or planetarium opens a whole new perspective and insight into our skies – assuming, of course they are lucky enough to have a clear night. To make trip-planning easier, we’ve researched the best 50 places in the USA for public telescope access according to TripAdvisor.

At the 50 observatories, planetariums, universities, museums and anything in between, stargazers will also be able to learn more at guided astrology sessions, constellation talks, astronomical festivals or star parties; where amateur astronomers gather with telescopes and binoculars of all types and sizes to observe planets, comets and deep-sky objects together.

#1 Oregon University Observatory, Sunriver (near Bend), Oregon

5 on TripAdvisor (84% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

The observatory is open for public Night Sky Viewing on Wednesdays and Saturdays ( 8-10pm) and Daytime Solar Viewing on Wednesday to Sunday ( 11am-2pm). Sunriver’s elevation, pitch-dark surroundings, and crystal-clear air make it the perfect place to witness a meteor shower, get a glimpse of globular clusters, nebulae and deep space binary stars, as well as our closest star, the Sun. With over 30 telescopes from Tele Vue refractors to a 30-inch Newtonian, visitors won’t be lining up for just one quick peek. Entry is $10 per person. For more information visit the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory

#2 McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas

4.5 on TripAdvisor (77% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evening, the visitor centre opens for Twilight and Star Party programs. The Twilight Program is a theatre-based session led by the centre’s education staff, while the star parties offer access to several telescopes in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park. Visitors receive a guided orientation in the open-air amphitheatre and then rotate through various telescopes to view stars or planets targeted by staff. Entry costs $15 per person. For more information visit the McDonald Observatory website.

#3 National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro, New Mexico

4.5 on TripAdvisor (73% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

The visitor centre here features an award-winning documentary narrated by Jodie Foster, plus exhibits describing radio astronomy and the VLA (Very Large Array) telescope. The VLA hosts three free guided tours on the first and third Saturday of each month at 11.00am, 1.00pm, and 3.00pm These guided tours last about 50 minutes and take visitors to behind-the-scenes areas at the VLA. The First Saturday Tour event culminates in an evening of free Guided Night Sky Telescope Viewing at the Etscorn Observatory on the Campus of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology located in Socorro. The night-time event begins at dark and lasts two hours. For more information visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Website.

Very Large Array telescope, New Mexico

#4 National Air & Space Museum, Washington D.C. 

4.5 on TripAdvisor (69% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

From 12pm  to 3pm on Wednesday to Saturday, guests can view the wonders of the sun and the universe at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory. Staff will be on hand to help observe the sun, moon and other objects in space using solar-filtered telescopes. White-light telescopes show a view of the sun's surface and the hydrogen-alpha (red light) and calcium-K (purple light) telescopes show its atmosphere. Entry is free. For more information visit the Air & Space Museum website.

#5 Kitt Peak National Observatory Nightly Observing Programme, Tuscon, Arizona

4.5 on TripAdvisor (67% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Kitt Peak National Observatory is home to one of the largest arrays of optical and radio telescopes in the world. In addition to conducting ground-breaking astronomical research, the visitor centre programmes are open for daytime guided tours and a variety of evening stargazing programs. The Nightly Observing Programme is an introductory star-gazing programme which is great for beginners, and for those who want to experience some telescope viewing. The start time is generally 60 to 90 minutes prior to sunset, (times vary throughout the year) and includes a light dinner. They run every night except 15th July - 1st September. The programme costs $120. For more information visit the Kitt Peak National Observatory website.

#6 Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona

4.5 on TripAdvisor (66% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Famous for its discovery of Pluto, Lowell Observatory was established by Percival Lowell in 1894 and right from the beginning he was inviting people up to what the Flagstaff locals affectionately called "Mars Hill" (where the observatory lies) to observe through his telescopes. For the past 125 years, the observatory has continued to do astronomical research and maintain public outreach programs. Monday to Saturday the observatory is open 10am – 10pm with a schedule of tours, activities and telescope viewings each day, including access to the 24" historic Alvan Clark & Sons refractor and newly opened Giovale Open Deck Observatory. Entry to the observatory is $22 for adults. Find more information here

#7 Griffith Observatory, LA, California 

4.5 on TripAdvisor (65% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith left funds in his will to build a public observatory in Los Angeles because he believed in the transformative power of observation. Since opening in 1935, Griffith Observatory has fulfilled his vision by offering public telescope viewing through the historic Zeiss telescope, historic coelostat (solar telescope), and portable telescopes on the lawn. Free public telescopes are available each evening the observatory is open and the skies are clear. Knowledgeable volunteers are available to help guide visitors. Free public star parties are held monthly at Griffith Observatory from 2pm to 9.45pm.Free. For more info visit the Griffith Observatory website.

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

#8 Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii

4.5 on TripAdvisor (65% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Hawaii is spectacular for stargazing and the Bishop Museum’s J. Watumull Planetarium was the first planetarium to open in all of Polynesia. The Chronos II star machine provides one of the most vivid, realistic recreations of the night sky available today, with 8,500 pinpoint stars and realistic, bright planets. The Stars Tonight show (on the first Saturday of the month) offers public viewing through the observatory telescope and from the observatory deck, weather permitting. $10 per show. For more info visit the Bishop Museum website.

#9 Cincinatti Observatory Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

4.5 on TripAdvisor (64% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

This National Historic Landmark is open on Thursdays and Fridays (and some Saturdays) throughout the year. Astronomy Evenings here typically include short presentations on a wide variety of topics, a short tour and then time for stargazing through the 1845 telescope. This family-friendly evening (7+) is the perfect way to see the moon, Saturn, Jupiter and stars. The programme is held rain or shine but the viewing is weather permitting. Entry fee $7. For more info visit the Cincinatti Observatory website

#10 Museum of Science, Boston, Massachusetts

4.5 on TripAdvisor (63% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Astronomy After Hours at the Museum of Science are run every Thursday evening in July and August, and Fridays in October. The public are invited to view stars, planets, the moon and other astronomical phenomena from the museum’s Gilliland Observatory, on the roof of the parking garage. Free. For more info visit the Boston University website

#11 Orlando Science Center, Orlando, Florida

4.5 on TripAdvisor (60% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Atop Orlando Science Center sits a domed observatory that can provide views of the four moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and deep sky objects such as galaxies, nebulas and binary star systems. Peer into the cosmos at Star-Studded Evenings with the Crosby Observatory's 10-inch Byers refracting telescope for an out-of-this world experience. Wintertime brings cooler weather, early sunset and recognizable constellations such as Orion, Taurus and Cassiopeia. Friday and Saturday nights, 5-9pm. Costs $10. For more info visit the Orlando Science Center website.

Orlando, Florida by night

#12 Chabot Space and Science Center Telescope Viewing, Oakland, California

4.5 on TripAdvisor (52% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

Chabot’s three large historic telescopes offer a unique way to experience the awe and wonder of the universe. The observatory deck offers breathtaking views 457 metres above the Bay. Experience spectacular night sky viewing on Friday and Saturday evenings,   7.30-10.30pm (during the summer months, telescopes open once the skies are dark). Free.  For more info visit the Chabot Space Website

#13 The Ralph Buice Jr. Observatory, Atlanta, Georgia

4 on TripAdvisor (46% Excellent Reviews), Certificate of Excellence

The Dr. Ralph L. Buice Jr. Observatory at Fernbank Science Center houses a 0.9 meter Cassegrain reflector beneath a 10 metre dome. This is the largest telescope in the south-eastern United States and one of the largest instruments ever dedicated to education and public viewing. Free public observations are offered every Thursday and Friday evening from 9pm (or dark) until 10.30pm, weather permitting. An astronomer will be available to position the telescope and answer questions, all for free.  For more info visit the Atlanta Planit Website.

#14 Gunnison Valley Observatory, Gunnison, Colorado

5 on TripAdvisor (86% Excellent Reviews)

The observatory is open for public viewings on Friday and Saturday evenings from mid-June to mid-September. When it is dark, 15 visitors at a time will ascend the spiral staircase into the dome. You will experience the rotation of the computer-driven dome above your head and will each take turns viewing a night sky object. This could be a nebula, double star, globular cluster, planet, the moon or many other wonders. If the classroom is full, a second programme will take place after the first. While you wait for the classroom programme, or if you don’t want to sit through it all, head outside the facility where smaller telescopes will be set up and staffed to expand your viewing opportunities. A donation of $5 is recommended. Visit the Gunnison Valley Observatory website for more details.

#15 Goldendale Observatory, Goldendale, Washington

4.5 on TripAdvisor (80% Excellent Reviews)

The Goldendale Observatory underwent its first major refurbishment in 46 years and now includes an advanced learning centre to complement the iconic observatory dome. A limited schedule of public nights and request visits will be running through the soft launch of the newly refurbed observatory (until the end of 2019). Admission is free, but a park pass is $10 for the day. More info here.

Goldendale Observatory

#16 Golden Pond Observatory, Golden Pond, Kentucky  

4.5 on TripAdvisor (75% Excellent Reviews)

Open daily 10am-5pm. Check the website for special events throughout the year. Entry $6. More info here.

#17 Bruneau Dunes Observatory, Bruneau, Idaho

4.5 on TripAdvisor (74% Excellent Reviews)

Friday and Saturday evenings, mid-March-October. Entry $6. More info here.

#18 Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory, Tupper Lake, New York

4.5 on TripAdvisor (72% Excellent Reviews)

Every clear Friday evening from Memorial Day through Labor Day; after Labor Day it is open for public viewing on the first and  third Friday of each month. Free. More info here.

Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory

 

#19 Mount Wilson Observatory, Pasadena, California

4.5 on TripAdvisor (71% Excellent Reviews)

Weekend Public Guided Tours, 11.30am-1pm. Cost is $15. More info here.

#20 Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

4.5 on TripAdvisor (70% Excellent Reviews)

Friday and Saturday,  8.30-10pm, and Sunday 1-4pm. Free with admission. More info here.

#21 Centennial Observatory Open House, Twin Falls, Idaho

4.5 on TripAdvisor (68% Excellent Reviews)

2nd Saturday of the month, year around, one hour after sunset to midnight. Free. More info here.

#22 DuPont Planetarium, Aiken, South Carolina

4.5 on TripAdvisor (66% Excellent Reviews)

RPSEC Observatory open post-Planetarium shows, on Saturday evenings. Free. More info here.

#23 Lick Observatory, San Jose, California

4.5 on TripAdvisor (65% Excellent Reviews)

Summer series of concert, lecture and viewing packages. Prices between $35 and $150. More info here.

#24 Observatory Park, Denver, Colorado

4.5 on TripAdvisor (63% Excellent Reviews)

Once a month on Saturdays, 7-10pm. Cost $1 per person. More info here.

#25 Frosty Drew Nature Center and Obcservatory, Charlestown, Rhode Island

4.5 on TripAdvisor (62% Excellent Reviews)

Every Friday night from 7pm, weather permitting. $5 donation recommended. More info here.

#26 Fort Worth Noble Planetarium, Fort Worth, Texas

4.5 on TripAdvisor (61% Excellent Reviews)

One Saturday a month in the South Parking Lot, dusk-10.30pm. Free. More info here.

Milky Way over Texas

#27 Astronaut Memorial Planetarium & Observatory, Cocoa, Florida

4.5 on TripAdvisor (59% Excellent Reviews)

Closed due to storm damage. More info here.

#28 Eagle Eye Observatory, Burnet, Texas

4.5 on TripAdvisor (57% Excellent Reviews)

Monthly star parties on a Saturday - check website for dates. Free but park fees are applicable. More info here.

#29 Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Brevard, North Carolina

4 on TripAdvisor (54% Excellent Reviews)

Ad hoc public nights. Check website for events schedule. Cost is $10. More info here.

#30 Von Braun Astronomical Society, Huntsville, Alabama

4 on TripAdvisor (49% Excellent Reviews)

Every Saturday at 7.30pm. Free. More info here.

#31 Flaundrau's Observatory Telescope Viewing, Tucson, Arizona

4.5 on TripAdvisor (48% Excellent Reviews)

 Thursday-Saturday, 7-10pm, excluding holidays. Free. More info here.

Arizona by night

#32 University of Nevada, Reno Maclean Observatory, Reno, Nevada

4 on TripAdvisor (47% Excellent Reviews)

Telescope viewings twice a month - see website. Cost is $9. More info here.

#33 Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan

4.5 on TripAdvisor (45% Excellent Reviews)

 Ad hoc public observing nights - see website. Free. More info here.

#34 George Observatory, Needville, Texas

4.5 on TripAdvisor (44% Excellent Reviews)

Under renovations, interim sessions at the Nature Center every Saturday evening. Park fee is $7 More info here.

#35 Coca-Cola Space Science Centre, Columbus, Georgia

4 on TripAdvisor (42% Excellent Reviews)

Ad hoc Astronomy Nights - check website for next one. Free. More info here.

#36 Buehler Planetarium & Observatory, Davie, Florida

4 on TripAdvisor (39% Excellent Reviews)

Wednesday 7-10pm. Free. More info here.

#37 McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, Concord, New Hampshire

4 on TripAdvisor (28% Excellent Reviews)

Super Stella Fridays pending clear skies. $11.50. More info here.

Special Mentions

These locations are highly rated but with a limited number of reviews (less than 10): 

#38 Western Nevada College Jack C Davis Observatory, Carson City, Nevada

5 on TripAdvisor (100% Excellent Reviews)

The Jack C. Davis Observatory is open every Saturday night (weather permitting), with lectures on the cosmos, open telescopes, and tours of the facilities. There is no fee to participate in these events. Starts at 6.30pm in winter and 7.30pm April – September. Free. More info here.

Elephant Rock, Nevada

#39 University of New Hampshire Observatory, Durham, New Hampshire

5 on TripAdvisor (100% Excellent Reviews)

Free public sessions on the first and third Saturday of every month:  8-10pm from late September through March and 9-11pm from April to August. Free.

More info here.

#40 University of Colorado Sommers-Bausch Observatory, Boulder, Colorado

5 on TripAdvisor (100% Excellent Reviews)

Sessions typically last  1-3 hours, using tripod-mounted binoculars and the world's largest starwheel to identify bright stars and constellations. Depending on the group, some may have the chance to visit the 24-inch telescope as well additional smaller telescopes to observe the moon and other bright celestial objects. Friday evenings starting 8/9pm. Free. More info here.

#41 Detroit Observatory, Ann Arbor, Michigan

5 on TripAdvisor (100% Excellent Reviews)

Closed for refurbishment. More info on reopening times here.

#42 Kopernik Observatory, Vestal, New York

5 on TripAdvisor (100% Excellent Reviews)

The observatory is open every Friday night, March through Mid-December, regardless of sky conditions in addition to special events as they occur. During the winter season, public programmes are on selected dates. Cost is $5.  More info here.

#43 Washburn Observatory, Madison, Wisconsin

4.5 on TripAdvisor (78% Excellent Reviews)

The UW-Madison Astronomy Department offers free public observing at Washburn Observatory on the first and third Wednesday of each month, and every Wednesday through the summer months, weather permitting. The Open House sessions are hosted by UW astronomy graduate students. First and third Wednesday of each month. Free. More info here.

#44 Perkins Observatory, Delaware, Ohio

4 on TripAdvisor (75% Excellent Reviews)

The Perkins Observatory offer public nights for all ages, groups and individuals on Friday nights. Places are limited so pre-booking is strongly encouraged. Weather permitting there will be telescope viewings from the observatory and also from the lawn. Cost is $12 ($10 if booked in advanced). More info here

Starry night in Ohio

#45 Palisades-Dows Observatory, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

4.5 on TripAdvisor (67% Excellent Reviews)

The CAA hosts at least 12 Saturday Public Observing events featuring a guest speaker that is followed—weather permitting—by celestial viewings through telescopes at the facility. During viewing hours, society members will be available to answer questions and provide everyone with an opportunity to look through the Society's telescopes. Open one Saturday a month from 7.30pm. Free. More info here.

#46 Scobee Planetarium Telescope, San Antonio, Texas

4.5 on TripAdvisor (51% Excellent Reviews)

The Scobee planetarium is open to the public at 6pm on Friday evenings with a rotating programme of shows. Telescope viewings after the final planetarium showing on Fridays from 9.30pm. Costs $5. More info here.

#47 Powell Observatory, Louisburg, Kansas

4.5 on TripAdvisor (50% Excellent Reviews)

The observatory is open to the public Saturday nights from May to October and for special astronomical events.  Public programmes include an educational presentation on an interesting astronomy topic, a tour of the night sky and viewing through the telescopes (weather permitting). Saturday evenings, May–Oct. Requested donation of $8. More info here.

#48 Little Thompson Observatory, Berthoud, Colorado

4.5 on TripAdvisor (50% Excellent Reviews)

The Little Thompson Observatory (LTO) offers no-charge public access to the wonders of the night sky, with either regularly scheduled public nights, or available as a private group hire.Weather permitting,  each session includes a guided tour of the sky using our large 18-inch telescope. Free. More info here.

#49 Van Vleck Observatory, Middletown, Connecticut

4.5 on TripAdvisor (50% Excellent Reviews)

Hosted by volunteers from the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford and sponsored by the Astronomy Department of Wesleyan University, the sessions at Van Vleck allow visitors to take a look through the historic 20-inch refractor and other telescopes to view prominent objects in the night sky such as the moon, globular clusters, planets, nebulas, or galaxies. First Saturday of the month, weather permitting. Free. More info here.

#50 St. Petersburg College Telescope Viewing, St. Petersburg, Florida

4.5 on TripAdvisor (50% Excellent Reviews)

The planetarium offers two free public shows on Friday nights at  7pm and 8.15pm  when the college is in session. Shows are hosted by resident astronomer Dr. Craig Joseph and feature live narration with images displayed by computer-controlled projectors. The observatory and portable telescopes are available to the public after planetarium shows, weather permitting. Because of the extended daylight hours during the summer, telescope viewing is possible only after the  8.15pm show. Free. More info here.

 

Methodology


This ranking list of telescope locations across the USA that offer public viewings was created by finding the top 50 locations with the best average review score on Trip Advisor. These locations were then re-ordered by highest volume of 'Excellent' reviews and cross-referenced with whether they have been awarded a Certificate of Excellence. Locations with 10 or more reviews (of which there are 37) are ranked above locations with less than 10 reviews. Locations which still scored very high with 10 or less reviews are listed as Special Mentions.

Request a brochure

Canada & USA 2019/20