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A Photo Essay

Utah After Dark

When the sun goes down in Utah, a celestial show is about to begin.

Written By Kim Heys

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. And here in Utah, you can definitely see the stars. In fact, the state boasts the most International Dark-Sky Association-certified parks and places on Earth. Thanks to wide open lands and dark sky preservation efforts by parks and surrounding communities, the state is one of the best places in the world to stargaze.

Take a look up in any one of Utah's certified dark sky parks and places and you’re likely to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. And there's nothing like a Milky Way view set against spectacular arches and canyons, or reflecting upon the Great Salt Lake. So when the sun sets in Utah, remember that it’s not time to pack it up just yet. Grab your telescope and your camera (Read: Tips for Astrophotography) — when the lights go down, the celestial show is about to begin.


Help Keep Utah's Dark Skies Forever Mighty: Light pollution disrupts wildlife and threatens human health, in addition to wasting money and energy. Do your part to reduce light pollution by only lighting what you need and when you need it. Use energy efficient warm white light bulbs and shield bulbs to direct the light downwards. (Read: Reclaiming the Stars)

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Kodachrome-Basin_Dark-Sky_Milky-Way_Diamond-Austen_2019

Due to its geographical remoteness, superb air quality, high elevation, low humidity and distance from urban areas, Utah's Kodachrome Basin State Park boasts one of the darkest skies remaining in the continental United States.

Photo: Austen Diamond

Goosenecks-State-Park_Utah-State-Parks

Goosenecks State Park is an easy-to-get-to area with a million-dollar view. Look down upon the San Juan River below and see the results of 300 million years of erosion.

Photo: Utah State Parks

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Look up, and Goosenecks’ night skies rival its sensational geological formations.

Photo: Matt Muirhead

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Considered sacred in Navajo culture, Rainbow Bridge is a symbol of deities responsible for creating rain, the essence of life in the desert.

Photo: Ratandeep Saha

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Under cover of the Milky Way, the bridge cuts a dramatic figure across pristine night skies.

Photo: Courtesy of Dawn & Brent Davis/brentdavisphotography.com

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A camera set to a long, slow exposure is essential for capturing the Milky Way. And be sure to check the rules and regulations of any dark sky park you plan to photograph — artificial lighting is prohibited in some parks.

Photo: Austen Diamond

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By day, red rock sandstone formations at Goblin Valley State Park contrast starkly against bright blue skies.

Photo: Angie Payne

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After dark, the outlines of the 'goblins' create a foreground to the nightly star show.

Photo: Ryan Andreasen

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A great way to ensure unlimited stargazing is to pitch a tent for the night.

Photo: Austen Diamond

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The closest certified park to Salt Lake City, Antelope Island offers fantastic sunset viewing from Buffalo Point and Frary Peak.

Photo: Dave Sansom

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And at night, Antelope Island beckons you to stargaze from the salty remnants of an ancient lake.

Photo: Bettymaya Foott

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Although East Canyon State Park is just 35 miles from Salt Lake City, the mountains provide a blockade for light pollution.

Photo: Ryan Andreasen

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Many of Utah’s state and national parks host stargazing events, including star parties, astronomy programs and ranger-led full moon hikes.

Photo: NPS

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Mesa Arch is one of Canyonlands National Park's most iconic vistas.

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And under cover of starlight, the view moves skyward.

Photo: Ryan Andreasen

Where to Stargaze

A quick drive from Salt Lake City to Antelope Island to a multi-day excursion deep in Monument Valley, numerous options await stargazers seeking to view the Milky Way of Utah’s pristine and beautiful dark skies.

Find a certified dark sky viewing location in Utah

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