Antelope Island State Park   |  Dan Ransom

6 Days   •   382 Miles

Stars by the City

Seven Dark Sky Places to visit within two hours of Salt Lake City

It's estimated that 74 percent of people around the world cannot see the Milky Way — especially those in urban centers. But here in Utah, land managers and community members have committed to protecting our dark skies from light pollution (Read: "Reclaiming the Stars"). Within just two hours of Salt Lake City, you'll find seven official Dark Sky Places, all certified by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). (Read: "Seeking Starry Skies Near Salt Lake City")

Fill your days with adventure and your nights with stargazing by following this six-day itinerary from Salt Lake City through the International Dark Sky Places in Northern Utah, including:

Day 1

Antelope Island State Park

42 Miles

Head north of Salt Lake City for a day exploring the Great Salt Lake’s largest island and International Dark Sky Park. Stop for fresh local fare along the way at Hug-Hes Cafe in Syracuse, just a short drive from Antelope Island’s entrance. Continue west to enjoy an afternoon of hiking, exploring and spotting wildlife on Antelope Island, as it’s home to free-ranging bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep, antelope and more desert animals. Millions of birds also flock to the shores, making it a popular birding destination (Read: Great Salt Lake Needs Your Visit). Watch the sun set on Buffalo Bay as it reflects on the inland sea. Then head over to White Rock Bay where the island’s mountains block light from neighboring cities, opening up a dark sky full of stars. Plan to attend an Ogden Astronomical Society star party or just lay out a blanket for stargazing on your own. You may even be serenaded by the hoot of an owl or howl of a coyote.

Where to Stay: Layton

Day 2

North Fork Park

60 Miles

Just north of Antelope Island State Park, you’ll find the charming city of Ogden. Here you can spend your morning eating and shopping along Historic 25th Street. Next head into Ogden Valley via the Ogden River Scenic Byway, to find wide open spaces. You can hike the mountain trails or relax on Pineview Reservoir’s beach to fill your afternoon (review how to visit responsibly). Consider enjoying burgers and beer at the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi, Shooting Star Saloon (established in 1879). After sunset head to North Fork Park, an International Dark Sky Park nestled on the eastern side of the Wasatch Mountain Range. To look deep into space, visit nearby Compass Rose Lodge for their Huntsville Astronomic and Lunar Observatory, and consider staying there for the night.

Where to Stay: Ogden

Day 3

East Canyon State Park

45 Miles

The road continues on the backside of the Wasatch Mountains. Explore more stunning mountain scenery at Snowbasin Resort. You could ride up the gondola, hike their gorgeous trails, play disc or mini golf, but most of all, enjoy the views. Relax with fine food and drinks inside the Cinnabar at Snowbasin before heading over to East Canyon State Park for a starry evening. You may want to book one of East Canyon’s yurts or cabins to extend your dark sky enjoyment.

Where to Stay: East Canyon State Park

Day 4

Dark Skies of Heber Valley

65 Miles

Head south to neighboring Heber Valley next. You may want to spend two nights at this basecamp, where Rockport, Jordanelle and Wasatch Mountain state parks are all within 25 miles of each other. Rockport and Jordanelle, both International Dark Sky Parks, are for the water-lovers. There you can rent fishing boats, jet skis, kayaks, paddle boards, or simply enjoy the serene lake views and stargaze on the beach at night. Wasatch Mountain State Park is working toward their dark sky park accreditation, but they regularly host dark sky events. Before you leave Heber, enjoy dinner and drinks at Afterword, where local ingredients become globally-inspired dishes in a historic home on Main Street. 

Where to Stay: Heber Valley

Day 5

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

105 Miles

Take your journey through the mountains to Alpine Loop Scenic Byway where you will find Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Helictites, stalactites, stalagmites, calcite crusts, draperies and frostwork are just a few of the many dazzling geological formations found in the chambers of the cave. At night there’s enough darkness (even outside the cavern) for the park to be designated an Urban Night Sky Place. In partnership with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and local astronomy groups, the park regularly offers summer night sky programs in the canyon. Consider staying two nights in Utah Valley, to give yourself enough time to explore the west side at Camp Floyd State Park, where the Utah Valley Astronomy Club can be found hosting star parties.

Where to Stay: Provo

Day 6

Helper City

65 Miles

Less than two hours southeast of Utah Valley, you'll find a historic mining town that has transformed itself into a center for the arts and outdoors. Art especially thrives in Helper during its annual Helper Arts Festival, but you may also leisurely stroll through its many art galleries on Main Street (Read: "Meet the Women Fostering the Arts in Central Utah"). After the sun sets on Helper, be sure to look up at the night sky because it is an International Dark Sky Community. For a fully historic Helper experience, stay in a refurbished building like the Historic Conoco.

Where to Stay: Helper

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