15 Best Stargazing Destinations in the World

On clear nights under these starry skies, you can often see much of the Milky Way with the naked eye.

Bryce Canyon shown at night

Bryce Canyon is one of more than a dozen certified Dark Sky Places in Utah, among them Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park.

Photo by Shutterstock

The closest most city dwellers get to stargazing is scoping the latest celebrity gossip in the grocery store check-out line, thanks to city lights and air pollution. But there’s nothing quite like looking up into an expansive night sky dotted with shooting stars, planets, and constellations. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), founded in 1988, recognizes more than 200 places—urban settings, national parks, nature reserves—that preserve the planet’s darkest, most star-filled skies. UNESCO also recognizes a number of certified Starlight Reserves on its list of Astronomical Heritage sites. These spectacular stargazing spots offer visitors opportunities to learn more about the universe and reconnect with the incredible planet we all call home. From Utah to Namibia, here are some of the world’s best places for stargazing.

1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

One of many national parks located in the southwestern United States, Bryce Canyon is particularly noteworthy for its surreal-looking hoodoo rock formations and its especially starry night skies. The more than 35,000-acre national park in Utah is less-visited than the nearby Grand Canyon (which is also an International Dark Sky Park)—and thus, it’s better for more remote stargazing and astronomy programming. On nightly excursions led by the park’s highly trained Astronomy Rangers, visitors can check out up to 7,500 stars, see a horizon-to-horizon view of the Milky Way, and catch glimpses of both Venus and Jupiter.

The Milky Way above range of mountains in Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve’s dark-sky heritage is associated with the indigenous Māori people, who have long practiced celestial navigation and integrated astronomy into their traditions.

Photo by Shutterstock

2. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand

New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve was established in 2012 to recognize the incredible stargazing opportunities in the Mackenzie Basin on the South Island. At this one of just 16 Dark Sky Reserves in the world, visitors flock toward the reserve’s planetarium, telescope areas, and observatories, where guided tours are offered at both the Lake Tekapo Earth and Sky and Aoraki/Mount Cook visitor centers. On clear nights in the reserve, which comprises Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, it’s often possible to see the Aurora Australis, the Southern Cross, and the Southern Star—all with the park’s namesake peak (reaching more than 12,000 feet) in the backdrop.

There are many great places for stargazing in Namibia, including NamibRand and an area north of the reserve called Spitzkoppe (where this photo was taken).

There are many great places for stargazing in Namibia, including NamibRand and an area north of the reserve called Spitzkoppe (where this photo was taken).

ArCaLu / Shutterstock

3. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

The NamibRand Nature Reserve lies in what the IDA calls “one of the naturally darkest (yet accessible) places on Earth,” due to the fact that the closest inhabited communities are located at least 60 miles from its location. The nearly 500,000-acre stretch of land in southwestern Namibia is protected by the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Center, which runs educational environmental programs in the area (mostly for local students). Visitors seeking the NamibRand Nature Reserve stargazing experience should check out the Wolwedans camps and lodges, where travelers can book a sustainably focused overnight stay in the starry-skied desert.

A starry sky above the Canary Islands

Photo by Shutterstock

4. La Palma and Tenerife, Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are home to three UNESCO-recognized “Starlight Reserves” designated by the nonprofit Starlight Foundation. The starry night sky can be viewed clearly from across the Atlantic Ocean archipelago, but both professional and amateur astronomers are typically directed to La Palma and Tenerife for the booming astro-tourism industry. These two islands are home to three observatory areas set up by the Tenerife-based Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. Some of the best places to stargaze on these islands include the Garajonay Summit and San Bartolo Mountain (La Palma) and El Palmar viewpoint and Guajara Mountain (Tenerife).

The base of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea begins 19,704 feet below the water’s surface.

The base of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea begins 19,704 feet below the water’s surface.

Biederbick&Rumpf/age fotostock

5. Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i

Located on the Big Island, dormant volcano Mauna Kea offers both the highest peak in Hawaii as well as the best stargazing opportunities in the region. About halfway up Mauna Kea, which reaches nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station offers nightly stargazing programs and specialty tours with telescopes for visitors. From there, visitors can continue to the volcano’s summit with their own four-wheel drive vehicle or as part of a guided excursion. (Still, it’s advised that travelers pause at the midway point to acclimatize to the dramatic change in elevation.)

A small circular white building, temple, and red brick house in Nepal's remote Sagarmatha National Park at night

Situated in Nepal’s northeastern Himalayas, the extremely remote Sagarmatha National Park offers world-class stargazing.

Photo by Raisa Suprun/Shutterstock

6. Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

This UNESCO World Heritage site is widely known by avid travelers for a reason other than its stargazing; Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal is also home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. Still, visitors don’t need to be ready to trek the slopes of this not-so-gentle giant to get a memorable experience in the area. The national park includes a series of hiking trails on slightly more approachable mountain peaks as well as a lower-altitude forested zone, where adventurers can view the towering Mount Everest surrounded by a broad night sky and smattering of bright stars.

 Time-lapse night photo showing circular movement of stars at Ireland’s Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve

Ireland’s Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve is one of four Gold Tier Dark-Sky Reserves designated by IDA in the world.

Photo by Stephen Power/Shutterstock

7. Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, Ireland

The Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve occupies the southwest area of Ireland on the Iveragh Peninsula and along the Wild Atlantic Way. At night, this land between the Kerry Mountains and Atlantic Ocean offers a breathtaking dark and starry sky undisturbed by the nine inhabited villages within its parameters. Guests to this remote part of Ireland can stay at a number of locally owned properties (or campgrounds!) within the reserve and can even enlist an experienced astronomer as a Stargazing Guide.

Northern lights over a cabin

The aurora borealis over Denali National Park.


8. Denali National Park Reserve, Alaska

This 6-million-acre preserve of land in Alaska is home to a slew of native wildlife, such as grizzly bears and caribou, as well as Denali mountain peak, the highest summit in North America. Far removed from light and noise pollution, the unspoiled landscape within Denali National Park isn’t reserved for sightseeing the land—visitors are also encouraged to turn their heads toward the sky, where stars, planets, and even the aurora borealis (northern lights) are visible in the dark night sky throughout most of the year. Those looking for optimum stargazing opportunities should visit the national park during fall, winter, or spring, when the area experiences longer periods of darkness for extended hours of world-class stargazing.

The Milky Way appears to rise from a volcano in northern Chile’s Atacama-Elqui region

Low rainfall, high altitude, and little light pollution make northern Chile’s greater Atacama-Elqui region an optimal spot for stargazing.

Photo by Shutterstock

9. Atacama Desert and Elqui Valley, Chile

Low rainfall, high altitude, and scant light pollution in Chile’s greater Atacama-Elqui region make it the “North Star” of astro-tourism—at least here on Earth. The 90,000-acre Elqui Valley, which is also known for its wine production, became the first-ever International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015. (It’s named the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary in honor of the 20th-century Nobel prize–winning poet Gabriela Mistral, who spent her childhood in the Chilean region.) About five hours north of the Elqui Valley, the tourist-friendly town of San Pedro de Atacama offers a mix of budget hostels and luxury accommodations in the Atacama Desert, such as the sustainable Atacama Lodge, which provides guided stargazing experiences in the area.

Milky Way over Uluru

Milky Way over Uluru


10. Uluru, Australia

The Sounds of Silence tour ($234 per adult for a four-hour tour, including dinner and drinks) at Ayers Rock Resort begins at sunset, when the iconic rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta glow fiery red. After a short walk through the dunes to a panoramic viewpoint, participants settle at their tables to dine outdoors on Aussie fare. When night falls, one of the resort’s resident star talkers directs diners to sights in the southern sky and explains the stars’ significance in the culture of Uluru’s traditional landowners, the Aboriginal Anangu people. The resort also offers a family-friendly Astro Tour ($54 per adult), which takes groups out for a one-hour stargazing excursion.

The Milky Way over Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The Milky Way over Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Courtesy of Great Sand Dunes National Park

11. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Sculpted by the winds of time, the golden-hued slopes found at this lesser-known national park in southern Colorado are some of the tallest sand dunes in North America. This quiet corner of the state sees little light pollution and mostly cloudless nights, making spotting the Milky Way from any part of the park easy. In the coming years, Great Sand Dunes National Park could be part of the proposed Sangre de Cristo International Dark Sky Reserve—the largest in the world at 4,200 square miles (roughly nine times the size of Los Angeles). If you come in the summer, check out what Free Ranger Programs are being offered—many of the events celebrate and educate on the stars above.

Joshua trees under the stars during a starry night

The park’s Joshua trees add to the unique landscape of this stargazing destination.

Photo by NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

12. Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Any place that throws an annual dark sky festival in collaboration with NASA is bound to be celestially superior. Here, 282 feet below sea level—the lowest elevation on Earth—is a vast desert landscape that makes for an extraordinary place for night exploration.

Throughout the summer, rangers lead talks and presentations on preserving and appreciating the night sky. They also make recommendations (places such as Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, or Harmony Borax Works) for astrophotographers to capture the night sky. And for those who are keen on extending their trip, they suggest checking out the Park to Park in the Dark route, which connects Death Valley and Great Basin National Park.

Nevada’s Summer Stargazing Train Offers Views That Are out of This World

It’s possible to see the Milky Way on a clear night in Great Basin National Park, Nevada.

Photo by Asif Islam/Shutterstock

13. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Situated between two mammoth mountain ranges (the Sierra Nevada in California and the Wasatch Mountains of Utah), Great Basin National Park is shielded from the light pollution of most cities. Its high elevation and low humidity make it one of the darkest places in the United States; the International Dark Sky Association awarded it the designation of Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, the highest level the organization awards.

It’s also one of the most remote national parks in the Lower 48, making it challenging to get to. However, each summer, the Nevada Northern Railway company in Ely, Nevada, offers a weekly Star Train, where travelers can board the train with rangers from the park to chug into the reserve to learn about the heavens.

Northern lights over a lake

From Boundary Waters travelers can sometimes see the Northern Lights.


14. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota

Spanning more than 1 million acres across northeastern Minnesota, this wilderness area was likely best known for paddling and fishing in glacial lakes and streams and hiking in forests and rocky cliffs—all daytime activities—until 2020, when it was named a Dark Sky Sanctuary. Here sky gazers can see the Milky Way; planets like Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (all without the help of a telescope); various constellations; and, in the winter, the northern lights.

Constellation and galaxy at Balanced Rock, Big Bend National park, Texas USA.

Thanks to its remote location, Big Bend National Park offers some of the darkest skies in the lower 48.

Photo by Wisanu Boonrawd/Shutterstock

15. Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve, Texas and Mexico

Currently the largest land area on Earth protected for dark skies, roughly 9 million acres of protected nighttime darkness straddle the border in southwestern Texas and northern Mexico. While the reserve’s name only refers to Big Bend National Park, it also includes Big Bend Ranch State Park and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Texas, as well as three protected areas in Mexico—Maderas del Carmen, Ocampo, and Cañón de Santa Elena. It is the world’s first binational International Dark Sky Reserve. Here, the Milky Way casts a dazzling, dappled glow across the inky canvas, and visitors can join guided night sky programs led by park rangers to understand better the cosmos and the importance of preserving natural darkness. It’s also possible to visit the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, for a deeper dive into the galaxy.

This article originally appeared online in 2017; it was most recently updated on August 18, 2023 to include current information.

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