Best National Parks for Stargazing

Stargazing in Death Valley National Park | California

If your kids can get past the ominous name of this gorgeous expanse of Mohave Desert, they’ll be ready to gaze upon one of the darkest skies in the country. Spanning 3.4 million acres of California near the Nevada border, this park is the largest national park outside Alaska. It is also known to be the hottest, driest, and lowest point in North America—but don’t let that stop you from visiting; with its glittering sand dunes, otherworldly salt flat floors, and golden peaks everywhere you turn, it’s a gorgeous park to visit, even with littles in tow. 

Fun fact: Death Valley was given its name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1849-1850.

By Day: From sand-surfing the dunes to watching saltwater fish popping in and out of the valley’s creek, Death Valley has more life to it than its name would suggest.  Don’t miss Artist’s Drive, a nine-mile, one-way road where the wide expanse of sedimentary and volcanic rocks look like they’ve been spray-painted with unexpected hues of yellows, pinks, and greens (Psst: It’s all natural!). You’ll also want to take the hike to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, where the salt flats stretch out like hard snow floors. And, kids will love trotting down the boardwalk at the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, where they can see the native pupfish plopping in and out of the water. 

By Night: Pull off the empty roads and find a spot to look up. With its remote location and lack of many nearby cities, Death Valley’s skies are famous for its glittering sea of stars. In fact, The International Dark Sky Association has said that stargazing here offers “views close to what could have been seen before the rise of cities.” Even at the nearby Stovepipe Wells Hotel, one of the most renowned lodges in the area, nighttime lighting is “sky friendly” (it uses red, rather than white, light) to preserve the sky’s starscape for viewing. 

Best Time of Year to Go: September through March (Don’t go in the summer, when it can get up to 130 degrees on a hot day!)

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Stargazing at Arches National Park | Utah

arches national park stargazing dark sky

NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank

Known for its more than 2,000 delicate sandstone arches that tower toward the sky like magical red rock doorways, this park offers a plethora of easy to moderate hikes that visitors can explore by day—and a glorious sea of stars to gaze upon by night. 

By Day: Kids will love scrambling across the rocky and sandy terrain, so make sure they’ve got sturdy sneakers or hiking boots. Many of the best hikes are relatively easy, according to this travel blogger (who hiked the park with three kids under three!), and the best trails for little hikers include the Balanced Rock Hike (.3 miles round trip), Sand Dune Arch Hike (.3 miles round trip), and the Double Arch Hike (1.2 miles round trip). 

Insider Tip: Be sure to pick up a Junior Ranger Program from the park’s Visitor Center (or download it here), which gives kids fun activities to complete for the chance to win a ranger’s badge. The visitor center also sells “Explorer Packs” that contain binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook, and activities to inspire exploration. 

By Night: Since it has minimal artificial lighting (there’s light at one administrative area by the highway and “sky-friendly lighting” for safety at a few spots around the park), Arches offers some of the darkest skies in the contiguous 48 United States. According to the NPS, a pair of simple binoculars on a moonless night here may be enough to see even the rings around Saturn! Arches occasionally offers ranger-led stargazing events, so keep an eye on the website to find out when one might be planned. Otherwise, the best spots to see the stars include*: 

*All of these spots offer parking areas, so you don’t have to be camping to enjoy the views. Just pull up, turn off your lights, and look up. (You can stay by your car or walk a short distance into the park to get a more isolated view.)

Best Time of Year to Go: Spring or fall. Note: You’ll see the most stars during the new moon or when the moon is below the horizon, so plan your visit accordingly. Check sunrise and sunset times and moon phases at

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Related: Your Guide to Mastering Astronomy with Kids

Stargazing in Bryce Canyon National Park | Utah

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