Travel

14 must-visit spots for stellar views of the cosmos!

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Stargazing has been an awe-inspiring activity for centuries, guiding explorers and leading to profound scientific revelations. Across the globe, one can travel great distances in search of the darkest skies, where the Milky Way unfurls in all its glory, or where the occasional shooting star traces a fleeting path across the night. Light pollution and urbanization, however, have reduced the visibility of these celestial wonders in many parts of the world. I use websites like Dark Sky Finder to locate the optimum stargazing spots near me.

But, historically speaking civilizations have charted their growth, culture, and even survival around the positioning of the stars. This connection to the cosmos is still very much alive today, with mountain summits and remote islands offering some of the most pristine conditions for looking up at the sky. Astronomy is indeed a humbling and character building experience, as Carl Sagan famously quipped in 'Pale Blue Dot' - to peer into the depths of the cosmos is to navigate the very history of time itself.

Here’s the ultimate list of national parks and mountains that provide the best stargazing experiences on Earth. Find the nearest one to you and let’s headout!

1. Top of Mauna Kea

? Hawaiʻi, USA

Mauna Kea hosts the world's largest astronomical observatory and offers crystal-clear views due to its high elevation and the surrounding ocean's stabilizing effect on the atmosphere. It’s also a dormant Volcano site and stargazing from the top of the mountain is one of the most wild and soul-stirring experiences. Be sure to check access conditions as the summit can be reached only by a 4WD vehicle and is sometimes closed due to extreme weather.

Mauna Kea stargazing

2. The Atacama Desert

? Chile

This has to be the best spot in the world for stargazing due to its high altitude, nearly non-existent cloud cover, no humidity and virtually no light pollution. The desert skies are so clear that it's possible to see the Magellanic Clouds with the naked eye. The views of the Milky Way are insane from here and it’s so bright that it casts a shadow on the ground.

atacama desert chile stargazing

3. Grand Canyon After Dark

? Arizona, USA

The Grand Canyon offers a magnificent backdrop for stargazing. Its dry climate and high elevation provide incredibly clear skies, especially on the North Rim. You can stay in the Grand Canyon Village or Flagstaff which is popularly known as the International Dark Sky City. Buffalo Park frequently hosts night sky parties where amateur astronomers bring along their telescopes and red headlamps so that they don’t lose their night vision.

Grand Canyon arizona stargazing

4. Glacier Point

? California, USA

Glacier Point provides a panoramic vista of Yosemite National Park and its night sky. You can see the Milky Way and satellites hovering above without any visual aid. May or June is the best time to visit, right before the summer crowds hit. Rangers often lead night sky programs that can enhance your stargazing experience. Taft Point is another slightly less known spot in the park that offers some of the best sunset views and starlit skies. Sentinel Dome is worth checking out for its 360-degree dome and the hiking route.

Yosemite National Park - Night sky stars

5. University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory

? Tekapo, New Zealand

This is one of the best observatories in the southern hemisphere and perfect for capturing that ‘Ocean of Stars’ picture. Its location in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve guarantees minimal light pollution. The observatory operates tours that allow visitors to use telescopes and learn from experienced astronomers. The turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo nearby also offer reflective night sky views and the Astro Cafe is quite popular over here. Just drive a few kilometers out of town and you'll be star-struck by some of the best views of the Cosmos!

University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory - night stars

6. Cajón del Maipo

? Chile

This mountain reserve is the reason why Chile is the best place on Earth for stargazing. Cajón del Maipo is a canyon located in the Andean Southeastern portion of the Santiago Metropolitan region. The dramatic landscapes and elevation provide an escape from the light pollution of Santiago city. It’s also one of the darkest spots on Earth and the region is known for its rugged terrain, hot springs and panoramic views. The sky views are so gigantic and vast that you’ll feel like you are so tiny and insignificant in front of it!

Cajón del Maipo - stargazing

7. Pic du Midi Observatory

? Pyrénées, France

Nestled at 2,877 meters above sea level, Pic du Midi is renowned for its breathtaking views of the night sky. The observatory has been a location for astronomical research since the 19th century and now welcomes the public for guided tours and overnight stays. Whether you're an avid amateur astronomer or simply looking for a magical night among the stars, Pic du Midi is a destination that should not be missed.

Pic du Midi Observatory - Stargazing

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8. Dark Sky Park Lauwersoog

? Groningen, Netherlands

The Netherlands may not be the first place you think of for stargazing, but Dark Sky Park Lauwersoog offers an unspoiled view of the heavens. Located in the province of Groningen, the park is one of the few places in the country where the Milky Way is still visible to the naked eye. Nighttime activities include guided walks, night photography sessions, and the opportunity to just lay back and gaze up at the constellations.

Dark Sky Park Lauwersmeer - Stargazing

9. Hanle Dark Sky Reserve

? Ladakh, India

Hanle in Ladakh, India, is one of the world's highest astronomical observatories and is a premier location for astronomical studies. The low ambient temperatures and atmospheric water vapor allows for more precise astronomical observations. Located almost 14,000 feet above sea level, the Hanle observatory is perfect for capturing pictures of deep space. The Indian Astronomical Observatory located here hosts some of the most advanced telescopes, and the stark desert landscape of Ladakh adds to the beautiful experience of observing the universe. You’ll have to take a surreal journey across the Changthang plateau to reach this secluded spot.

Hanle India Ladakh - Stargazing

10. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

? Namibia

This reserve is one of only a handful of Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserves in the world, recognized for its exceptionally starry nights. Stargazing here is like nowhere else on earth with its vivid celestial displays and constellations that seem almost within reach. NamibRand Nature Reserve is particularly isolated and allows for overnight stays with minimal interruptions from the outside world. Red sands, dunes, savannahs are characteristic of Namibia and provide a stunning nocturnal backdrop against the vast cosmos.

Namibia Natural reserve stargazing

11. The Warrumbungles National Park

? NSW, Australia

Warrumbungle National Park is Australia's first Dark Sky Park, offering exceptional quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment. Siding Spring Observatory, located within the park, has several telescopes open to the public for night viewing sessions. The Breadknife and Grand High Tops trail, a famous hike in the park, also offers breathtaking views of the stars against a silhouette of rugged mountain spires.

warrumbungle national park - Austraia, NSW - Stargazing

12. Great Basin National Park

? Nevada, USA

Great Basin National Park boasts one of the darkest night skies in the United States. The park's Annual Astronomy Festival around September is worth visiting, with telescopes set up for public use and knowledgeable astronomers sharing their insights. Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive offers a high-altitude vantage point for photographers and astronomers alike. The ancient bristlecone pine trees provide a unique foreground for astrophotography, and the Lehman Caves add another layer of adventure during the day.

Great Basin National Park - Nevada USA - Stargazing

13. Jasper National Park

? Alberta, Canada

Jasper National Park is an official Dark Sky Preserve, offering some of the best stargazing in Canada. The annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival celebrates this with speakers and events that attract astronomers and enthusiasts. The park offers a variety of locations for stargazing, including the easily accessible Pyramid Lake and the more secluded Tonquin Valley. The crisp mountain air and peaceful surroundings make for an unforgettable experience under the stars. If you visit between August and March you might also get to see the spectacular Northern lights from here.

Jasper National Park - Northern lights

14. La Palma

? Canary Islands, Spain

La Palma is home to the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, one of the world's leading astronomical research institutions. The observatory sits at an altitude of 2,396 meters, where the clear skies and stable atmospheric conditions allow for exceptional observations. It’s so massive and so serene that the island itself has been declared a Starlight Reserve. It offers breathtaking locations such as the Caldera de Taburiente National Park for remarkable night-sky photography.

La Palma - Spain - Stargazing
Best places in the world for stargazing