Best Stargazing Destinations in the World
Joshua Tree National Park, California
You find yourself imitating the Joshua Trees around you when you stargaze in this California National Park—your arms, like their branches, stretched up to the skies.
A dry desert landscape under an ocean of stars, this International Dark Sky Park shows us a side of California that the Chemehuevi and Mojave Indians appreciated, long before the bright city lights of LA and Phoenix appeared.
By day: Pull away the covers early—just once. It’s for a seriously spectacular reason: to float through desert skies in a hot air balloon. We’ll take you to the launching point, where you’ll watch your FAA-certified pilot and ground crew inflate your balloon to seven stories high. Then, lift off—you’ll float in the morning breeze over as the rising sun douses the Coachella Valley a kaleidoscope of red, purple and gold.
Zion National Park, Utah
As night falls, inky blue spills over Utah’s skies, and a galaxy rises above Zion’s jagged red rocks like a puff of glittering steam. That’s how many of us glimpse the Milky Way for the first time, and it sets the stargazing bar soaring high—especially when you’re in the company of a local expert guide, who’s explaining how the dark skies are protected, and how early Native Americans believed this a sacred place, inhabited by the Gods.
By day: Head to the Temple of Sinawava with your guide, where you’ll walk the shaded, flowery footpath along the Virgin River. Experience the famous Zion Canyon Narrows—a slot gorge with towering canyon walls—before sitting down for a delicious picnic lunch, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the southwest.
With star-peppered skies and aurora borealis appearances, Alaska offers Americans some of the most spine-tingling stargazing of anywhere on earth.
You realize you didn’t know the meaning of pitch darkness when you step into the subarctic wilderness here. Or the depth of time when you consider that the same stars you’re looking at shone down on dinosaurs, when they roamed the same land you’re standing on. Or the majesty of nature, when the Northern Lights streak across the sky.
And that’s all before your Alaskan guide wows you with the magnificent mix of myth and legend this state has for its night skies: Some Inuits say the stars live and breathe, others saw steps linking earth and heavens, while Alaska natives might tell you the aurora borealis is spirits playing ball with the skull of a walrus, or hunted animals.
By day: Meet some of the world’s most impressively accomplished—and irresistibly adorable— athletes. Huskies. Spend the day with pro mushers and their four-legged teammates, from roly-poly puppies you’ll want to take home with you, to championship veterans with impressive accomplishments. Then, take to a trail, sat snug in your sled as a musher takes the reigns and your new furry friends show you their favorite pastime.
Hawaii Big Island, USA
Mapping constellations like Maui’s Fishhook (AKA Scorpius) was how Polynesians discovered Hawaii, and there’s no better place to see them than Big Island’s Mauna Kea.
Stargazing from a dormant volcano, as your islander guide explains how Hawaiians have several names for each constellation, is amazing enough. But it gets better.
This happens to be the highest island mountain in the world, and its altitude, together with the gentle nature of its slopes (which smooth air flow) and ocean surroundings (nothing but Pacific for thousands of miles) allow for more clear, starry nights than almost anywhere else on Earth. From here, you can see galaxies unseen anywhere else. It’s no surprise several research facilities are set up here, which produce more astronomy findings than the Hubble Space Telescope.
By day: Explore Volcanoes National Park – a fascinating blend of active volcanism, biological diversity and Hawaiian culture. You get a remarkable feel here for the rumble and hiss that signals the growth of two of the most active volcanoes on earth. On our walk from the Kilauea Visitor Center, we’ll learn about the processes that gave birth to the islands – and how the still-growing Mauna Loa came to soar 56,000 feet from the sea floor (to be more than five miles taller than Mt. Everest). We’ll take a trail where steam billows from vents in the ground too hot for trees to grow.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The fact that you’re in the oldest national park shrinks to insignificance when you have a 640,000 year-old volcano rumbling beneath you, and stars, planets and nebulae formed billions of years ago, radiant overhead.
Joining the galactic glory are Yellowstone’s steaming geysers, pools and waterfalls, where on certain times of the year, you might see a moonbow.
By day: Make your way to Pleasant Valley just like the first pioneers did, crossing the sagebrush flats by horseback or covered wagon. Hosted by our friends and real working cowboys, you’ll enjoy Wyoming food, fascinating folklore and country ballads.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Astrophotographers adore Acadia. A supernova of shots can be captured, like shooting stars reflected in glassy lakes and tide pools…The Milky Way rising above Atlantic waves, dense forest, craggy cliffs, and cute lighthouses…Long exposure shots of stars circling the sky. And as much as we could spend hours lost in professional photographs, there’s nothing like being there yourself, hearing the ocean crash against the cliffs. Feeling the cold night air. And watching the twinkling before your very eyes.
By day: Enjoy lunch in the colorful fishing village of Bass Harbor, before paddling onto Frenchman Bay on sea kayaks. Jellyfish, seals, porpoises and humpback whales can be seen in these waters and with the help of your guide’s welltrained eye, you’ll have some fantastic marine life sightings. You may even see a swimming deer, making its way to Bar Island. That’s your destination too, for fine views back over Mount Desert Island. And if you’d prefer not to paddle, you can reach Bar Island on foot at low tide, when the ocean reveals a sand bar.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Streetlights look different in Grand Canyon National Park. They’ve been painstakingly positioned to minimize the area’s artificial light as one of the changes made to darken the dark skies further in 2016. The result: stargazing even more phenomenal than it was before (and it was awesome before), which gained Grand Canyon the title of the world’s largest Dark Sky Park
But enough about that, because the real awe comes from sitting in the silence, pondering this: canyons plunge beneath you, their layers of rock marking the passage of time over millions of years, meanwhile in the skies stretching endlessly above, starlight reaches you from thousands of lightyears ago. Could it be more mind-bogglingly beautiful?
By day: Join your guide for a sunrise walk along the rim of the Grand Canyon—as vibrant colors bounce off the canyon walls, you’ll see the park in a totally new light. After a hearty breakfast with fellow guests, take a guided walk along the Transept Trail, which follows the rim of a side canyon through quaking aspens and ponderosa pines.
It would be a crime if the Big Sky state didn’t have serious stargazing credentials, and thankfully Montana doesn’t let us down. The sight of the swirling Milky Way—set against silhouetted peaks, and reflected in glacial lakes is something you won’t forget in a hurry, but for the truly unforgettable, come in the winter, wrap up warm, stay up late, and look north. Scandinavia may steal the spotlight, but the Northern Lights often make their magnificent appearance over Montana, too.
By day: Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of America’s greatest scenic (and engineering) treasures. If you were driving yourself, it would be strictly eyes-on-the road, but our experienced local driver frees you up to soak in the amazing views. From Sun Point, embark along a footpath with spectacular vistas of the glacial lake, three magnificent waterfalls and lovely wooded areas. Tuck into a delicious picnic of fresh local produce at Virginia Falls before continuing back to the lakeside.
There’s nowhere more otherworldly than Cappadocia at night. You’re in a lunar landscape, where volcanic ‘fairy chimneys’ seem to defy gravity as they reach skywards, to gazillions of stars twinkling, uninterrupted.
Come in October, when the Draconids meteor shower shoots hundreds of sparks across the sky, and tell us you didn’t pinch yourself to check you’re not in outer space.
Astronomy goes way back in Turkey: the ancient site of Gobekli Tepe, considered the world’s first temple, is believed to be aligned with the night’s sky, and the classical astronomer Hipparchus, who mapped the stars and calculated the equinoxes, was born here.
By day: See Cappadocia in the morning light, when hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky. Join your guide for a beautiful hike through one of the valleys, then visit a small traditional village, where a village family invites you into their home for a private lunch
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Experience the Wild West, not in a different light, but in no light: Thick forest gives way to the great openness of the Grand Teton valley, revealing star spangled skies. Not a city light in sight and total, utter silence, broken only when your local guide points out planets and satellites.
By day: Soak up western Wyoming’s wondrous landscape from the water, on a cinematic raft float down the winding Snake River. As you learn about the surroundings from your guide, look out for adorable beavers playing on the riversides and bald eagles soaring overhead. Later, your guides beach the rafts for a scenic and quintessentially American West meal, eating along the banks of the river the meat and fish that come from the area.
Nova Scotia, Canada
Kejimkujik National Park holds the official title of Dark Sky Preserve, but don’t stop there: the whole province has prime stargazing conditions and every April, the Lyrid Meteor Shower rains down so many shooting stars it’s a wonder there can be any left afterwards. With the help of a telescope and local expert, see the rings of Saturn and hear the legends of the Mi’kmaq peoples – like how the seven bird hunters that make up what we call the Plough, chase the bear across the sky. One night, find a lake, and watch fireflies flash around you like stars fallen to Earth. And another, head to Peggy’s cove where the Milky Way, streaking through the sky seems to mimic one of Canada’s most famous lighthouses.
By day: Take a scenic walk atop Nova Scotia‘s famous dikes to Grand Pré National Historic Site, a significant center of Acadian activity. While your guide recounts the tragedy and triumphant survival of the Acadian’s pioneer life, you explore the memorial church, visit the 19th-century blacksmith and walk through the 14 acres of landscaped grounds with beautiful flower beds, ponds and old French willows
Some of the crispest, cleanest air anywhere hovers over Iceland, and when night falls on the lava-formed landscape, outer space seems to enter the atmosphere. Boots pulled on, puffer coat zipped up, hood pulled over your head—you feel like an astronaut.
The astral awesomeness here, which brings people from all over the world, once defined hours for Vikings, who described the changing day by “sun time” and “star time”. In the company of your local guide (who’s directly descended from those Vikings,) hear how fascinating folklore describes one star as the toe of Aurvandil, thrown into the sky by Thor when escaping the land of giants. And how others were the eyes of one of those giants, Thiazi.
Then forget everything for a moment. As neon northern lights steal the show in their dazzling dance across the skies.
Near the tiny town of Vik, North Atlantic waves roll up onto a black – yes, black – beach. The sand is ground down basalt from volcanic eruptions. But the stars of this stretch of coastline are the Reynisdrangar, three sharp black pillars that emerge from the water offshore. Legend has it that they’re really three trolls who stayed out too late and got turned to stone by the morning sun. It’s one of those places where the geology is at least as interesting as the mythology. Just a little further along the coast, mythology gives way to Viking history as we make our way up and onto an island where your guide knows where to find the ruins of the grave of a Viking explore
Easter Island, Chile
It’s thanks to their knowledge of the night skies that to Polynesian voyagers’ found Easter Island in the first place.
And even if you don’t get here by paddling the Pacific, guided by starlight, you’ll appreciate stars more than ever before.
On one of the world’s most isolated and protected islands, Rapa Nui’s night sky is astounding. It somehow makes the Moai statues miniscule and megalithic at the same time, and as your local guide recounts the island’s mythology and wisdom surrounding astronomy, the experience gets all the more mesmerizing.
By day: With your driver at the wheel, drive past the Poike Volcano to Ahu Te Pito Kura, the tallest Moai ever transported, at a teetering 32.8 feet. You’ll see the “Navel of the World,” a perfectly round rock, brought by the first settlers which is believed to emit spiritual power.
End your day with the white coral sand and crystal waters of Anakena Beach, eating the local tuna empanada specialty.
But the real show begins in the winter months, when Orion takes center stage, and Mother Nature paints the skies with the magical Northern Lights. Though never guaranteed, Norway puts Aurora-Borealis-spotting odds highly in your favor with its lack of light pollution and northerly location. With a local guide to pick the best location for the weather and time of year, your chances are even better.
By day: Board a boat at the tip of Nærøyfjord. One of the narrowest fjords in Europe, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you cruise its pristine waters, enjoy views of traditional farms, grazing goats scattered among the green valleys, and seals sunning on rocks. Continue across the Sognefjord, the largest in Norway.
Over 400 years ago, a Tuscan pointed his homemade telescope into Italy’s night skies. He noticed that the Milky Way was not a strip of misty light, but instead gazillions of stars. He saw mountains on the moon. His name was Galileo, and he changed the way we viewed the universe forever more.
Enjoy another wonder of the Tuscany hills—chianti wine—with your local guide, as you gaze up at the same skies as Galileo. You’ll appreciate them in depths he could only have dreamed of, thanks to all of the scientific developments that stemmed from his.
By day: First stop: the impossibly scenic medieval village of Volpaia, then to the home of one of Chianti’s great wineries. We’re welcomed for a private tour of the cellars and tasting of the acclaimed wines. Afterward, we’ll take a walk through the region’s vineyards and silvery olive groves. And that villa on the hillside ahead? It’s not just a great photo op. It’s also our hotel, constructed as a palatial family home in the 16th century. You’ll have time to stroll the manicured estate with our hosts—the count and countess—before dinner on the terrace
You’re in the biggest desert on the planet, and you’re lost in wonder about whether there are more grains of sand around you than stars in the sky. Bringing you out from the incomprehension, your Moroccan hosts. A nomadic Berber tribe, whose forefathers used these constellations to navigate their camel caravans across the Sahara, and whose culture—influenced by the thoughts of ancient Greeks and Egyptians has fascinating mythology of the ithran that dot the desert sky.
By day: Explore the 17th-century walled medieval city of Risani, pausing to chat with locals, a stop late morning is in the home of a Blue Man family. After, lunch precedes a one-hour drive by Land Rover to explore the soaring red sand dunes of Merzouga. In time to see the sunset over the dramatic landscape, climb aboard camels for a memorable ride to the dunes.