Where to See the Milky Way This Year

Numerous options await stargazers seeking to view the Milky Way of Utah’s pristine and beautiful dark skies

With so much of the world in perpetual twilight, many of us never see a naturally dark night sky and thus we yearn to stargaze, losing ourselves in a Milky Way trance.

Utah, part of The Great Western Starry Way of the Intermountain West, is lucky to boast the highest concentration of stellar dark parks and communities in the world thanks to our numerous remote geographies, high elevation and arid climate, plus the steadfast efforts of those dedicated to protecting the sky from light pollution. These are the perfect ingredients for exceptional and transparent dark sky viewing.

But where to begin? Whether you’re looking for easy entry into the world of astrotourism, want to discover a new or different spot, or you’re ready to go off the beaten path, Utah offers the most options for your stargazing adventure.The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), with a mission to protect naturally dark places for present and future generations, has officially certified state and national parks, and communities across Utah. But you don’t have to stop there - many more Beehive destinations are among the best places to see the sky free from light pollution. Let your dark sky journey begin!

Planner’s Tip: The “Visit” links for each park below will help you plan your trip. For camping and RV travel (and the best access to stargazing), Utah State Parks accepts reservations at Reserve America while campgrounds on federal lands can often be reserved at Recreation.gov.

Ease of Accessibility

The stars in the sky, behind the natural bridge, seem to form a circular pattern in the sky.

Night sky at Owachomo Bridge. Photo: National Park Service

Natural Bridges National Monument

In 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument became the first International Dark-Sky Park certified by the IDA and boasts some of the darkest skies in the world. Trails are open day and night and stargazing is allowed nearly anywhere in the park. Rangers present stargazing programs in the spring and summer that teach the basics of astronomy. Telescopes are often provided for a closer look at the stars and constellations.

Pro Tip: It doesn’t get much better than stargazing with the backdrop of “natural” sandstone bridges. Of the three "bridges," Owachomo, is the easiest to hike to and provides the best frame for photos of the Milky Way.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes

Visit:
Plan your trip to Natural Bridges National Park
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA


Antelope Island State Park

View the beautiful dark skies from the west side of Antelope Island (opposite the urban-core lights) and it’s easy to forget you’re just an hour-and-a-half drive from Salt Lake City. Overlooking the Great Salt Lake at night with countless stars above makes for near-seamless stargazing. The park often presents dark sky programs and events to learn more about the Milky Way and beyond.

Pro Tip: Antelope Island offers fantastic sunset viewing from Buffalo Point and Frary Peak. Make a weekend camping trip out of your stargazing visit with bison viewing, sunset hikes and Great Salt Lake exploring.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes

Visit:
Plan your trip to Antelope Island State Park
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA


Red Fleet State Park

Dinosaur enthusiasts and water lovers looking to add a stellar dark sky experience to their adventure should consider Red Fleet State Park. Known as Utah’s Little Lake Powell, Red Fleet is easily accessible at just a few miles north of Vernal with a campground surrounded by sculpted sandstone waves and overlooking the clear, emerald green water. Utah dark sky experts point to Red Fleet as a lesser-known, yet perfect venue for staying up late to view the Milky Way with unaided eyes.

Pro Tip: Red Fleet is home to numerous dinosaur tracks that are almost 200 million years old. A must-discover experience is the Red Fleet Dinosaur Trackway. And, just an hour south of Red Fleet is the IDA-certified Dinosaur National Monument, which holds night sky programs near the Split Mountain Campground.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Not yetlooking into designation

Visit:
Plan your trip to Red Fleet State Park
Plan your Dinosaur National Monument stargazing


A star-gazing photographer walks along the top of a sand dune with gear in tow.  Their light casts a subtle glow onto the sand.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Photo: Austen Diamond

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

The entire park is open for hiking and playing in the sand, plus 90 percent of the dunes are open for off-highway vehicle riding, which makes Coral Pink Sand Dunes southeast of Zion National Park an explorer’s paradise. Its unobstructed night sky views with mountains and hills of red sand conjure familiar scenes from Hollywood’s Star Wars movies. Camping options and a visitor center help you navigate the best viewing locations in the park.

Pro Tip: The state park is especially popular with photographers looking to capture night desert images. 

Certified International Dark Sky Park? No, but still awesome for dark skies

Visit:
Plan your trip to Coral Pink Sand Dunes


North Fork Park of Ogden Valley

An International Dark Sky Park, this sprawling county park tucked into a canyon near Ogden (Read: Ogden’s Star is Rising) is one of the few places you can still see the Milky Way near an urban center — in part because the mountains block light pollution from the Wasatch Front and Cache Valley and because of successful local efforts to limit light pollution in the park.

Pro Tip: Ogden is home to the Ott Planetarium at Weber State University, which holds occasional free stargazing events.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes

Visit:  
Plan your trip to North Fork Park
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA


A hoodoo reflects a soft, warm light, while a blanket of stars shine above.

Goblin Valley State Park. Photo: Angie Payne

Torrey, Utah

This small and quaint tourist town known best as the gateway community to Capitol Reef National Park (an IDA International Dark Sky Park) came together to protect its night skies by adopting quality outdoor lighting ordinances and launching efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies. The efforts paid off as Torrey was Utah’s first IDA International Dark Sky Community. That means you can pretty much stay anywhere in town and get a beautiful night sky view without having to trek deep into a rural area.

Pro Tip: The Utah towns of Helper, Ivins and Moab are currently seeking IDA approval to soon be named International Dark Sky Communities.

Certified International Dark Sky Community? Yes

Visit:
Plan your trip to Capitol Reef National Park
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA

NEW OR NOTEWORTHY

Arches National Park

One of the most iconic geographical landscapes in the U.S., Arches National Park received its International Dark Sky Park designation in the summer of 2019. The more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches provide the perfect framing for nighttime photography — or the backdrop to an evening under the stars.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes

Visit:
Plan your trip to Arches National Park
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA


Steinaker State Park

Located just north of Vernal and between Ashley National Forest and Dinosaur National Monument, Steinaker is a remote destination with welcoming accessibility for dark sky viewing. Many people, even Utahans, don’t know much about the park, which is named for ranching pioneer John Steinaker. The park offers nighttime programming right in the parking lot for visitors ready to soak in the vibrant Milky Way.

Pro Tip: Steinaker offers great boating, swimming and fishing opportunities at the reservoir as well as camping.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes

Visit:
Plan your trip to Steinaker State Park
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA


The vast, starry sky above looks almost like a subtly-glowing organism one would see beneath a microscope. A red rock scenery frames the landscape below.

Kodachrome Basin State Park. Photo: Austen Diamond

Kodachrome Basin State Park

This picturesque state park hasn’t undergone the IDA designation process yet, but it’s one of the best places in Utah to photograph and experience night skies, thanks to very little light pollution. (Watch: Capturing the Milky Way)  The basin is surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument on three sides and is a perfect basecamp for exploring the area.

Pro Tip: Kodachrome is considered an ideal location to photograph the Milky Way because of a lack of crowds and the opportunity to take unique shots.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? No 

Visit:
Plan your trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park


Cedar Breaks National Monument

Located in one of the largest regions of remaining natural darkness in the lower 48 states, Cedar Breaks has developed into a top destination for stargazers. Cedar Breaks sits at 10,000 feet overlooking a natural amphitheater full of orange-, red- and rust-colored rock formations. You can attend year-round star party programs at the national monument or with the Southern Utah Space Foundation.

Pro Tip: The Cedar City Library allows patrons to check out a telescope for high-quality viewing of the Milky Way.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes 

Visit:
Plan your trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument
Weather & Clear Sky Chart through IDA

Fremont Indian State Park

At Fremont Indian State Park, lose yourself in the history of Native American rock art and still-visible structures while watching the Milky Way reveal itself in the dark sky - just as it did to the Fremont people more than 1,000 years ago. The canyons and valleys near Sevier, Utah, were once home to the largest community of Fremont Indians ever discovered. 

Pro Tip: The museum, hiking and on-site camping at the state park provides all the ingredients for a perfect family-friendly trip with exploring during the day and stargazing at night.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Not yet looking into designation

Visit:
Plan your trip to Fremont Indian State Park

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Goblin Valley State Park

Fun and goofy by day, slightly spooky at night, Goblin Valley sits on a remote corner of the Colorado Plateau and inside the San Rafael Swell, which means its location attracts a lot less crowds. But, don’t be fooled, it’s one of the most spectacular — and ghoulish — places in the world to view the Milky Way.

Pro Tip: Reserve a camping spot at the park for optimal viewing and playing. Park rangers hold regular dark sky events such as moonlit hikes and telescope tours.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? Yes 

Visit:
Plan your trip to Goblin Valley State Park
• Weather and Clear Sky Chart through IDA


A person stands in front of their camera and tripod with a red, eerie glow framing their portrait. Stars shine above.

Goblin Valley State Park. Photo: Austen Diamond

Goosenecks State Park

If you’re looking for a little isolation to ponder the stars above, consider Goosenecks State Park. While it’s easy to access being just north of Mexican Hat, it’s less crowded than nearby Monument Valley and offers panoramic views overlooking the meandering river 1,000 feet below that cuts deep into the land.

Pro Tip: Plan your trip for the spring or fall as temperatures in the summer months can be intensely hot and there is no shade.

Certified International Dark Sky Park? No, but still awesome for dark skies

Visit:
Plan your trip to Goosenecks State Park


Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Dark sky enthusiasts seeking solitude and a transformative experience should consider visiting Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which preserves one of the tallest and longest natural bridges in the world. It is the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the National Park Service. To access the monument itself, you must go by boat on Lake Powell or backpack in from Navajo Mountain.

Pro Tip: If you can’t make it to the national monument, don’t worry. The entirety of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a dark sky mecca. You can’t go wrong viewing the Milky Way nearly anywhere with the area.

Certified International Dark Sky Sanctuary? Yes

Visit:
Plan your trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Weather and Clear Sky Chart through IDA

With your list of stargazing locations in tow, learn what to pack and how to view dark skies.

The vast, starry sky above looks almost like a subtly-glowing organism one would see beneath a microscope. A red rock scenery frames the landscape below.

Kodachrome Basin State Park. Photo: Angie Payne


More dark sky destinations

•  Bryce Canyon National Park: One of Utah’s oldest dark sky and stargazing programs with ranger-led astronomy tours and moonlit hikes, Bryce Canyon became an accredited dark-sky park in 2019.
The Natural History Museum: See a permanent Dark Sky exhibit at the museum, which earned the IDA Lighting Award in 2017, making it Utah’s first dark sky-designated public building.
•  Dead Horse Point State Park: First Utah State Park to achieve IDA certification, offering multiple evening events each month except during the winter.
Canyonlands National Park: IDA-certified park with deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires.
•  Wasatch Front Canyons: Simply drive up one of the canyons near Salt Lake City to ski areas such as Alta or Brighton and break out your binoculars for an easy-to-experience night sky.
•  Gunlock State Park: For solitude and off the beaten path, northwest of St. George, the park is primitive with a small campground, boat ramp and beach.
•  River trip stargazing: Outfitters in and around Canyonlands National Park offer one-day to multi-day stargazing trips.

 

  

Whitney Childers

Whitney Childers spent 13 years as a writer and editor in newspapers and magazines, which led to her work as Media Director for Women’s Ski Jumping USA, the team that famously pushed for gender equality in the Olympic Games. Childers teamed up with colleagues in 2012 to launch a crowdfunding platform, RallyMe.com, which was acquired in 2016 by NBC Sports. She now runs Glee Media, a communications studio, while trying to steal as much time as possible with her family in Utah's outdoors.