Arches at night

The Best Stargazing In Utah’s Dark Sky Parks

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The International Dark Sky Association has dark sky parks all over the world, but today were looking at all of the ones in Utah, which there are a lot of.  One of the best things to do on a Utah road trip is stargazing and Utah has some of the best opportunities for it all over the state.

This guide includes national and state parks that offer great stargazing in Utah and are official dark sky parks, but even if you can’t make it to any of these, you can admire the stars from pretty much anywhere here outside of a city.

After living in Bullfrog for four summers, it still absolutely blows my mind how dark it gets out here.  You can clearly see the Milky Way, even standing under a light.  I love it and will never stop saying “I can’t believe how dark it is!”  And now you’ll be able to do the same thing!

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General tips for Stargazing in Utah:

  • Dowload an app like Star Chart before you go so you can see what constellations are where.  This will be best to use right when you start or even just during the day to get an idea of where things are/will be.  If you use it in the dark, it will be really hard to see the stars unless you let your eyes adjust everytime which would be annoying.
  • Depending on where you are it can get cold at night, so make sure you dress appropriately and bring enough layers.
  • If other people are stargazing with you, be respectful of them and don’t use flashlights all over.
  • And don’t point flashlights at the sky.  It’s annoying and won’t help anyone see anything.
  • Flash photography also won’t help you and will just be annoying.
  • You can go stargazing in Utah whether you’re camping or staying in hotels and almost no matter where you’re visiting/staying, you’ll be able to see some phenomenal skies.
  • The best time to go stargazing in Utah will be during a new moon or a small moon phase (so there is no moon) too keep light levels low.  But don’t worry.  If you’ll be there during a full moon, you’ll still be able to see a lot.
  • If you bring anything with you, bring it out, too.  Pack it in, pack it out, you know?

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What to bring stargazing in Utah

Binoculars – These aren’t 100% necessary but may be good if you’re a beginner and want to see the stars a little closer, but you’re not quite ready for the investment of a good telescope.  Check them out here.

Red light flashlight – This is the key to keeping your eyes used to the dark without having to readjust because of your phone or a flashlight.  Buy one here.

Star chart – These usually come as glow-in-the-dark but they can help you figured out where what stars are without the harsh light from your phone.  This way you can keep your eyes used to the dark.  Buy it here!

Camp blanket – If you’re camping and have a camp quilt, this would work perfectly, but any blanket should be good.  Mostly you just don’t want to sit on the ground and a chair can be good but you don’t want to be looking up like that all the time.

Camp chairs – If you plan on doing a lot of camping outside of this trip, and backpacking especially, the REI Flexlite chairs are great choices.  If not, any camp chairs are good.  Check out the camp chairs here.

Snacks – I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese.  There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.  But you could always get fun snacks since it’s stargazing and not hiking.

Water bottle – A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day (and night) long so you’ll always be hydrated.

Arches National Park

Stargazing in Arches National Park is fantastic.  It is in all of these parks, but Arches is great because it’s a pretty open park so most places you go are going to have great starviewing opportunities.  So don’t worry, if I didn’t list a specific place, it’s probably still going to be good.

Arches at night
Photo by NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Best spots for stargazing in Arches National Park

Park Avenue – This is one of the best views during the day, but also proves to be one of the best at night (as you can see in the picture above Delicate Arch.). You can set up at the trailhead or down on the trail a bit depending on what you want for a view.

Double Arch – This is one of the most unique arches in the park (I think) and would make for a great stargazing spot in Arches.  It would also be great for unique astrophotography shots if that’s your thing.

Delicate Arch– While Double Arch is one of the most unique arches in the park, Delicate Arch is another and it’s definitely the most iconic, recognizable arch in the park.  This is a must for anyone looking for a more out of the way stargazing spot in Arches.  Just make sure you have a headlamp for the hike in and out.

Balanced Rock – This may not be an arch but it’s another one of the most iconic photo spots in the park.  It’s right along the main scenic road, so it’s perfect for anyone not wanting to hike in the dark.

Stargazing events in Arches National Park

Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point take turns hosting stargazing events during the spring and fall.  It’s usually a ranger program followed by stargazing and telescope viewing.  This is great for people that want to use a telescope to see the stars but don’t have one.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is my favorite park in Utah and can really get you away from people for some awesome stargazing in Utah.  Like, really far away from people.

Temple Of The Sun
Photo by Imma Barrera

Best spots for stargazing in Capitol Reef National Park

Cathedral Valley – This is the tops of my stargazing in Capitol Reef wishlist, if such a thing existed.  The best way to see Cathedral Valley is an overnight camping trip.  Seeing the stars anywhere out here will be phenomenal, but especially at the Temple of the Moon and Sun.  This is the northernmost part of the park and does require high clearance 4WD.

Waterpocket Fold– This is the opposite of Cathedral Valley, being the southernmost part of the park, the backcountry.  This whole area along Notom Road/Burr Trail is prime star viewing in Capitol Reef since there is nothing and no one here.  This is a dirt road but most cars should be fine on it.

Sunset Point – This is a nice open area and just requires a short walk to get to.  I would recommend hiking this during the day to get a feel for the not always easy to follow trail (plus, it’s just a great view) before heading out in the dark.

Hickman BridgeIf you want an iconic formation in thee foreground of you stargazing in Capitol Reef, Hickman Bridge is for you!  This is one of the most popular hikes in the park and for good reason.

Chimney Rock Trailhead – You could probably do this hike and stargazee from the top, but for a nice, easy place to set up, the Chimney Rock Trailhead is great.  It’s open to one side but you have the impressive canyon walls on the other so you get the best of both worlds with no hiking.

Stargazing events in Capitol Reef National Park

Star Talk – These are 30 minute ranger talks done outside the Gifford Store (another great place to stargaze in Capitol Reef) with varying dates that can be found at the visitor center.

Full Moon Walk – These are 1.5 hour ranger-led walks usually held on the days leading up to a full moon.  Dates, times, and locations can be found at the visitor center.

Annual Heritage Starfest – This is an annual festival held over a weekend, usually around a new moon in September.  It has guest speakers, stargazing, and telescope viewing.

Canyonlands National Park

For this I’ll pretty much only be including Island in the Sky since that’s what most people visit.  It also has tons of awesome viewpoints that would be perfect for stargazing.

Canyonlands Mesa Arch at night
Photo by Chao Yen Flickr 

Best spots for stargazing in Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch – Like Delicate Arch in Arches, Mesa Arch is the iconic view in Canyonlands.  Most people will pile in here to watch the sunrise, but you’re likely to have it to yourself for a little stargazing in Canyonlands.  And hey, you could just hike out here super early then stay for sunrise.  Two birds, one stone and all that.

Whale Rock – Most people don’t know or really care about Whale Rock, but it’s an easy hike up a rock that looks like a whale and will give you great, open star viewing opportunities.

Green River Overlook – This is one of the iconic overlooks in the park and will offer great stargazing opportunities over the Green River and iconic rock formations below the canyon rim and above the river itself.  This is great for anyone that doesn’t want to hike in the dark.

The Needles Overlook – This is the only stop not in Island in the Sky, it’s actually outside of Moab a little bit, but you’re pretty likely to have it to yourself.  You’ll be overlooking the popular for backpacking section of Canyonlands: The Needles.

Stargazing events in Canyonlands National Park

Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point take turns hosting stargazing events during the spring and fall.  It’s usually a ranger program followed by stargazing and telescope viewing.  This is great for people that want to use a telescope to see the stars but don’t have one.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Want the formations of Bryce Canyon with fewer people?  Head to Cedar Breaks!  I still haven’t been here yet, but it looks amazing and is high on my list for the next time I’m in the area.

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Photo by NPS

Best spots for stargazing in Cedar Breaks National Monument

Point Supreme Overlook, Sunset Overlook, Chessman Ridge Overlook all offer pretty similar views of the hoodoo formations and pine trees, so you can always scout out which spot you like best during the day.  No matter which you pick, it’ll be worth it.

Stargazing events in Cedar Breaks National Monument

Southwest Astronomy Festival – The festival occurs annually in early September and offers tons of activities like star parties, sun viewing (through a specialized telescope), night hikes, and other activities.

Star PartiesStar parties are held weekly on Saturdays usually from Memorial Day to Labor Day (depending on snow) and last 2-3 hours.  They start around sunset so you can see a variety of celestial wonders as the sun goes down and the stars come out.  There are a few larger telescopes so you can look at the moon, Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, galaxies, nebulae, and more.

Cedar Breaks Master Astronomer Program – This is a 40-hour workshop for regular citizens to learn more about stargazing, light pollution, how to use telescopes, how to protect southern Utah’s skies, and more.  Want to know what it’s like being a master astronomer?  Go to a reegular star party to find out!  Registration is through SUU.

Dead Horse Point State Park

 

Dead horse point at night
Photo by Bettina Woolbright Flickr 

Best spots for stargazing in Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point Overlook is really the only overlook in the park, so if you want to do some stargazing in Dead Horse Point with a canyon view, too, this is the spot for you.  If you’re staying in one of the yurts or at the campground, those are great spots for it, too, just make sure you have your lights off.

Stargazing events in Dead Horse Point State Park

Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point take turns hosting stargazing events during the spring and fall.  It’s usually a ranger program followed by stargazing and telescope viewing.  This is great for people that want to use a telescope to see the stars but don’t have one.  They also do full moon walks occasionally.

Dinosaur National Monument

I haven’t been here yet either but I’m so excited to visit once I eventually make it up to this area.  It’s one of those places I’ve been saying I’ll go for years, so, we’ll see when that actually happens.

Dinosaur national monument at night
Photo by NPS Nature Resources Flickr 

Best spots for stargazing in Dinosaur National Monument

Split Mountain, Fossil Discovery Trail, and Deerlodge Park are all great places to do some stargazing in Dinosaur National Monument but there are plenty of other overlooks and trailheads to choose from, too.  You’ll be able to admire them over the Green River here, just like Canyonlands.

Stargazing events in Dinosaur National Monument

They offer night sky programs at the Split Mountain Campground, but don’t have a schedule online so you’ll have to check in at the visitor center.

Goblin Valley State Park

I love Goblin Valley so much!  It’s definitely my favorite state park in Utah so far.  It’s also super remote, even though it’s right off of the highway (not Interstate) which makes for ideal dark skies.

Goblin Valley at night
Photo by Devin Stein Flickr 

Best spots for stargazing in Goblin Valley State Park

Everywhere!  This is just a big open area full of goblin-shaped formations.  Find a spot on the valley floor to do some stargazing or climb up a bit to be a little higher up.  No matter where you choose, you’ll have the view of a lifetime.  If you’re camping here (or in the area) or staying in the yurts, right outside your door will be great, too.

Stargazing events in Goblin Valley State Park

I haven’t found any events, but check in at the ranger station/visitor center when you get there or call ahead.

Hovenweep National Monument

I went here when it was like 2,000 degrees out and it was just way too hot.  This would be a great stargazing stop for history buffs and anyone doing a Trail of the Ancients road trip.

Hovenweep at night
Photo by Canyon Country Discovery Center Flickr 

Best spots for stargazing in Hovenweep National Monument

The visitor centeer parking lot and campground are the only places allowed for stargazing in the park so unfortunately you won’t be able to see any ruins while your watching the stars.  This is incredibly remote (probably the most remote on the list) though, so you’re going to have an even darker sky.

Stargazing events in Hovenweep National Monument

Occasional stargazing programs are offered at the visitor center, where you can also find out when they will be held.

Natural Bridges National Monument

I’ve only been here once during the day and liked it but know for a fact that there is some fantastic star viewing opportunities here.  If it’s anything like the nearby Bears Ears, you’ll be very impressed.

Natural bridges at night
Photo by NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Best spots for stargazing in Natural Bridges National Monument

Anywhere!  If you want some unobstructeed stargazing, then the campground or anywhere above the canyon rim will be best. If you want something a little more spicy, head down into the canyon and do some stargazing under one of the three bridges: Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo.  If you hike in at night, be extra careful and don’t forget that headlamp!

Stargazing events in Natural Bridges National Monument

Occasional stargazing programs are offered at the visitor center, where you can also find out when they will be held.

Have you done any stargazing in Utah?  Where?  How was it?  What is your favorite place to stargaze?

One thought on “The Best Stargazing In Utah’s Dark Sky Parks

  1. The only one of these that I’ve been to is Dinosaur National Monument which is absolutely AMAZING! There are so many INCREDIBLE places to star gaze in the western US!

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