top of page

Where to Find the Darkest Skies in the USA | The Top 9 Sites for Stargazing

29.2498° N, 103.2502° W

Lone tree in a moonlit canyon in Utah.



Have you ever wanted to escape the bright city lights and head out into the middle of nowhere, just to know what it would actually be like to see our solar system's thousands of stars? Don't worry you are not alone.

We in fact, have had that urge dozens of times, especially when we found ourselves living in the San Francisco Bay Area - an urban metropolis that very easily blocks out any view of the starry night sky. And that urge to seek out really dark skies became even more pronounced after listening to the audiobook The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light” by Paul Bogard.

Seriously, if you want a book that will alter your view on cities, modernization, wilderness and darkness, then read "The End of Night." We promise it will totally change your life.

That book, plus the city's suffocating brightness, actually led us to make an agreement with each other that we would head out to Death Valley National Park to go stargazing on the first new moon that landed on a weekend. And that is exactly what we did (actually we didn’t get all the way to Death Valley, but instead we stopped off in Mammoth Lakes). And let us tell you, the stars were absolutely incredible.

It turns out that we were not alone in our slight feeling of melancholy due to a lack of visible stars. Research has actually shown that there is a correlation between excessive artificial light and mental health (including mood swings and anxiety). And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Light pollution can actually lead to numerous other problems, including ones dealing with human health and the environment.

Starry sky over a striped desert landscape.


Light pollution is any negative effect caused by the excessive or inappropriate use of outdoor artificial light (unnatural light). The most common negative effects due to light pollution are on overall human health, wildlife behavior, and of course, the ability to observe stars and other celestial objects at night.

While it might be something most people can relate to on a very personal level, light pollution is in fact a global issue. You can actually see this for yourself in this World Atlas of Night Sky Brightness map, which is a computer-generated map based on thousands of satellite photos that was published in 2016. The map shows how and where our globe is lit up at night - and spoiler alert, it's almost everywhere. In fact, for the most part, vast areas of North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia glow a bright yellow at night and it is only the most remote regions on Earth - including Siberia, the Sahara, and the Amazon - that are in total darkness (and even this is slowly changing).

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: some of the most light-polluted countries in the world are Singapore, Qatar, and Kuwait. While the least light polluted countries are Chad, the Central African Republic, and Madagascar. Similarly, the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, which is located in the Canary Islands, was officially named the darkest place on Earth in 2016.

➳ You can explore the World Atlas of Night Sky Brightness Map here.

While light pollution is an important thing to know about, it is also important to understand that just because you might not live in a major city like New York City, LA, London or Tokyo, you are still likely affected by bad lighting practices. This is known as sky glow - or the brightening of the night sky due to the electric lights of cars, street lamps, offices, factories, outdoor advertising, and buildings. It is very likely that if you have spent any time outside after dark you have noticed sky glow (even when out in nature). While it sounds pretty, sky glow caused by anthropogenic activities (i.e. modern industrial practices) is one of the most pervasive forms of light pollution.

And scientific studies have shown that light pollution is not just impacting humans and their health, but also animal behaviors such as migration patterns, wake and sleep habits, and even habitat formation. One very clear example of this is that due to light pollution, sea turtles and birds - who were once guided by moonlight during their migration - now get confused and sometimes lose their way due to too much human-created light. This confusion leads many to eventually die.


1/3 of people cannot see the Milky Way

80% of the entire planet is affected by light pollution

99% of people are affected by sky glow in the USA and Europe

Light pollution is a global problem and one that needs to be addressed soon, otherwise it might be too late. Below are a few key ways each of us can individually take action and make a positive impact on keeping our dark skies dark.


It seems many people don’t stop and take the time to think about all the negative impacts artificial light has. If they did we, probably wouldn’t have metropolises like Las Vegas. And while light pollution and the loss of our dark skies might seem like one huge unsolvable problem, in truth, everyone can do their own part to help keep the world's skies dark.

A few simple ways to make a positive impact are to turn off your outdoor (and indoor) lights when you are not using them, especially at night; switch to dark sky friendly lighting at your house and place of business (find the right lighting here); spread the word about protecting and preserving the dark skies to your friends and family and online; advocate for better lighting practices in your town; support IDA through volunteering or donations and finally, visit your local Dark Sky Parks.

If you want to learn more about protecting and preserving the world's dark skies, then make sure to check out the International Dark Sky website and also consider reading The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light”. We promise it is totally worth it!

While it is true that almost all of the USA is affected by sky glow and light pollution, luckily, there are still pockets where you can find some truly dark skies.

In fact, the United States is home to 60 International Dark Sky Association-designated places. This list includes communities, national parks and reserves. Each of these 60 places, as well as the other 135 IDS-designated places around the world, had to go through a rigorous application process, which actually requires applicants to demonstrate robust community support for dark sky protection and document programs created specifically to promote dark skies.

While there are 60 Dark Sky Places in the USA to choose from, we believe these 9 spots below are some of the best for finding dark skies, stargazing and of course, overall adventure.


1 | Big Bend National Park, Texas

Per the national park's website: “There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone.” If there was ever a way to describe Big Bend National Park that would be it.

Due to its incredibly remote location in the far southwest corner of the large state of Texas, Big Bend National Park has some of the darkest skies in the whole USA. In fact, it has the lowest levels of light pollution of any other national park unit in the lower 48 states (there are over 400 of them). If you are planning to visit the national park - which you definitely should, not only for its stargazing possibilities, but also for its beautiful desert landscape (the park makes up the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert topography in the whole USA) then make sure to put aside a couple of nights to specifically spend stargazing - we promise it will be a sight to behold.


Visit the natural hot spring. Located down a rough and narrow dirt road, is one of the park's best attractions: a natural hot spring next to the Rio Grande. The spring is actually part of a historic district that once included a legitimate bathhouse (where the present hot spring pool sits) and a post office (as well as a couple of ancient pieces of rock art). We recommend soaking in the pool - which is always at a steamy 105° F / 40.5° C - during sunset, where you can get a gorgeous view of the dusk colors against a backdrop of the Rio Grande and the nearby rock cliffs.

Take a boat over to Mexico. You will find that it is very easy to hop the border and simply take a small rowboat over to the nearby town of Boquillas, Mexico, where you can then have a delicious authentic Mexican meal (including margaritas), purchase some souvenirs or even head out to another natural hot spring. While you do need to go through a border checkpoint afterward (on the USA side), when we did it, it took all of ten minutes to complete. Also, when you do cross the river and head over to Boquillas, we recommend walking to town instead of catching a ride on the local donkeys (much more pleasant and animal-friendly).

Explore the Chisos Mountains. During the summer months (May - August) the lower elevations of Big Bend National Park can become absolutely unbearable to hike in due to the heat. Luckily, the park is home to the large Chisos Mountains which stay a bit cooler even during the heat of the day. We recommend going on at least one hike in this area, especially during the early morning when you are more likely to spot wildlife like fox, deer, birds and, if you are lucky, even a bear or a mountain lion.

💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are planning to explore Big Bend National Park also consider taking a trip to its next door neighbor Big Bend Ranch State Park. Not only is this park another Dark Sky Park, but it is also home to many more adventures - including miles upon miles of mountain biking trails. We also (highly) recommend driving Highway 170 between the state park and the nearby town of Presidio

➳ You can learn more about Big Bend National Park