4 Days   •   459 Miles

Red Rock & Dark Skies: Stargazing the National Parks

National parks keep getting better after dark.

Serene sanctuaries of natural darkness dominate this Utah corridor after the sun goes down. Hit the road for a celestial feast of awesome sights, sounds and skies. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or have experienced red rock before, pay attention to how it comes alive under a dark night sky. This road trip through southwest Utah takes you to four of Utah’s best places to see the Milky Way — Capitol Reef National ParkKodachrome Basin State ParkBryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument. (Please see note below for spring travel).

Each of the four dark sky locations are certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Take advantage of star parties for optimal viewing and ranger-led interpretations to guide you through the night sky. You'll also pass through Utah's first International Dark Sky Community, Torrey, at the gateway to Capitol Reef.

The highlight of this four-day trip is the nighttime, and each night will have you staring at the heavens and filled with awe. While this itinerary has some of the most popular daytime experiences, it's also like nothing you've ever done before. Do everything you'd normally do — hike, climb, hang out — but when the stars come out, you won't be going to bed.

If you’re planning this trip in the summer, the Milky Way will be as spectacular as ever. During New Moons, the sky will be at its darkest and the stars will really shine, in Utah, one of the best places to see the Milky Way.

Embrace the spirit of Astro Tourism as you escape from the city lights and commotion. There’s a big, beautiful dark sky out here for the viewing and the dark sky locations to treasure this astral adventure are suggested below. Discover more about stargazing in Utah and find tips on what to pack or when and where to stargaze.


Note: If visiting in the spring, the road to Cedar Breaks National Monument, at 10,000 feet above sea level, may still be closed for the winter. To extend this trip, consider adding a day in the beginning for a stop at the IDA-accredited International Dark Sky Park Goblin Valley State Park.

Day 1

Salt Lake City to Capitol Reef

224 Miles

Linger for breakfast or brunch in vibrant downtown Salt Lake City or get right on your way to your first Mighty 5® destination. When you get close, enjoy your cruise on the Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway, or if you're not tired of time on the road, continue your scenic drive on a recommended route. If you're ready to stretch your legs, park the car and take off on a day hike, ideally through one of Capitol Reef National Park's slot canyons. Meander your way back in time for dinner (or a pie at nearby Gifford Homestead) and set your sights on the stars. They're worth the wait and a little less sleep. It's time to experience the Milky Way served up Capitol Reef style. Camp in the national park or overnight in Torrey.

Day 2

Capitol Reef to Kodachrome

115 Miles

Whether you take the morning slow or fast, find your way to Zagat-rated Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, which happens to be a convenient midway destination between today's stopping points. If you want, stop in at the Anasazi State Park Museum. The best news of the day? The entire day's drive is along the famous All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12. This overlook-full drive is one of the most fascinating stretches of road in the country. If you have a hike in you, make it Lower Calf Creek falls. Wear yourself out, but not so much that you can't stay up for another outstanding night of stargazing in Kodachrome Basin (an astrophotography favorite). Stay at one of Kodachrome Basin's campgrounds or in nearby Cannonville where cabins and villa rentals are available. 

Day 3

Kodachrome to Bryce Canyon

22 Miles

Take a quick drive from Kodachrome Basin to Bryce Canyon National Park, your second Mighty 5® destination of the trip. Explore Bryce Canyon on a scenic drive or take a memorable hike on the Navajo Loop trail. This trail is a beautiful loop any time of day or year, but Sunset Point is a great place to be as the sun descends below the horizon — with only the rocky hoodoos to keep you company. Check in to Bryce Canyon Lodge and enjoy rustic accommodations and tasty food in a beautiful setting. In the evening, catch a  ranger-led astronomy program or experience the dark sky splendor in your own way. As the second certified International Dark Sky Park of the trip, during moonless and clear nights at Bryce, 7,500 stars will welcome you to their domain. Additional lodging options include in-park campgrounds or in Bryce Canyon City when planning an evening of stargazing in Utah.

Day 4

Bryce Canyon to Cedar Breaks

98 Miles

If it suits your fancy, take a break from the outstanding performances of the natural world and experience culture at the Tony award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. After catching a performance or two and a bite to eat, switch from the theater to a natural red rock amphitheater at Cedar Breaks National Monument. The final certified International Dark Sky Park of the trip, Cedar Breaks is a perfect place to reflect on the famous Shakespeare line "All the world's a stage," as you lay on your back, look up and enjoy a final star show. Too tired to drive home? There’s great high-elevation camping at Cedar Breaks' Point Supreme Campground or terrific resort lodging at nearby Brian Head Resort. (Road closed in winter.)

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