It’s officially International Dark Sky Week, and officially the week of the new moon, which means there’s no better time to look up and seek out shimmering constellations, planets, meteors.
International Dark Sky Week was launched in 2003 by, fittingly enough, the International Dark Sky Association—an Arizona-based non-profit that works to “to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting.”
Best known for giving hard-won ‘Dark Sky’ designations to public lands and even urban areas around the globe, check out this interactive map from the IDA to see where there’s a dark sky site near you.
If you’re near one of these major U.S. cities? Head out to one of these nearby International Dark Sky Parks or Sanctuaries. The former have been designated as such because they possess “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” In other words, they’re truly special places.
Los Angeles, California – Joshua Tree National Park
Just over 100 miles from L.A, Joshua Tree National Park has officially been a Dark Sky Park since 2017. In fact, according to the National Park Service it boats some of the darkest skies in Southern California.
Head to the park and look up to see, with any luck, the Milky Way glittering overhead. Also, make the most of the otherworldly landscape around you—by perhaps taking nighttime images of fantastical arboreal silhouettes juxtaposed against sparkling stars.
San Antonio, Texas – Devils River State Natural Area
Named the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in Texas in 2019, there may be no better spot in the Lone State for solitude and clear night skies.
At Devils River, there are drive-up and hike-in primitive sites, so if you’re looking for a quiet place to camp out at—this might just be your place.
Washington, D.C. – Natural Bridge State Park
A few hours southwest of the capital, Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia is known for its eponymous limestone arch spanning Cedar Creek, its picturesque hiking trails running through the James River valley, and it’s really, really dark night skies. This spot is officially an International Dark Sky Park as of this week.
If that 3-hour drive from Washington, D.C. feels like a little much? There’s always Sky Meadows State Park. It’s only about an hour’s drive from the city, and it’s just been designated an International Dark Sky Park too.
Orlando, Florida – Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
Recognized as Florida’s first International Dark Sky Park in 2016, camp out here to experience some of the darkest skies in the Sunshine State.
How about reserving one of the park’s astronomy camping pads? Sleep at one of these sites and there are some dark-sky rules you’ll have to follow: such as, all lights must be red spectrum and no campfires are allowed. We’ve no doubt it’ll be worth it.
Phoenix, Arizona – Tonto National Monument
Outside of its cities—Arizona is rightly known for its amazing dark skies.
Less than two hours’ drive from Phoenix, you might want to check out Tonto National Monument.
A designated International Dark Sky Park since 2019, the National Park Service says: “With over 10,000 years of documented human history in our park, people have enjoyed the unspoiled night landscapes at Tonto for thousands of years… In addition to clean air and a magnificent soundscape, the night skies at Tonto preserve a setting and feeling rarely found near a large metropolitan city.”
It all sounds incredible, but wherever you are—even if it’s in the middle of a big city—there’s beauty worth experiencing when you look up. Enjoy it.