Dark Sky Parks

Perched near the edge of a sandstone abyss in Southern Utah, watch as the setting sun casts shadows that stretch for miles across vast landscapes or create sharp contrast between deep canyons and towering pinnacles as one slips into darkness and the other reaches for the few remaining rays of light shattered by the jagged horizon. Meanwhile, in Northern Utah, the Basin and Range staggers multiple horizons from west to east; there is almost no bad place to observe the sunset from the Wasatch Range.

Long after the last drop of twilight fades to black, the next phase of the the earth's rotation begins to shine. It is a part of the 24-hour cycle that many developed places have lost to the constant shine of the cityscape — most Americans live in an area where they cannot see the Milky Way due to lighting from cities. But no matter where you are in Utah, there's a certified International Dark Sky Park nearby — along with several additional sanctuaries of natural darkness — places that reconnect you with our ancestral knowledge and finely tuned instincts. It's a whole other level of tourism called Astronomical Tourism (Astro Tourism), and one that presents a welcome challenge: do we go to bed early to ensure ample energy for tomorrow's adventures, or stay up late for a chance to peer into light tens of thousands of years old, yet part of the same Universal sea of energy?

Here are Utah's Dark Sky Parks by region, followed by other sanctuaries of natural darkness around the state. With clear weather, you’ll have no problem catching incredible views of the moon, constellations and planets from these spots!

 

  • DARK SKIES OF DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT

    The Milky Way fills the night sky over Mitten Park along the Green River. Photo by Dan Duriscoe, National Park Service.

  • DARKNESS FALLS OVER NATURAL BRIDGES

    Austen Diamond Photography

  • NATURAL BRIDGES NATIONAL MONUMENT TELESCOPE

    Austen Diamond Photography

  • NATURAL BRIDGES NATIONAL MONUMENT TELESCOPE

    Austen Diamond Photography

  • BRYCE CANYON AT NIGHT

    Utah's "Last Grand Sanctuary of Natural Darkness" offers astronomy programs when the stars are shining bright and ranger-led hikes when the full moon lights up the canyon.

 

Certified International Dark Sky Parks in Utah

Southeastern Utah

Moab is one of the best adventure towns in America, if not the world. Mountain bikers and OHVs cruise the main drag on the way to some of the best trails anywhere. South of Moab you'll find outposts of outdoor recreation like Monticello, Blanding and Bluff near remote and astonishing places that fill your days with the sights, sounds and adventures of a far-off, yet very accessible, place. But when the sun sets over southeastern Utah, some say the show really gets started.
 
Canyonlands National Park
 
Canyonlands National Park is a Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park, certified in the summer of 2015. Wave after wave of deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires stretch across 527 square miles. The currents and tributaries of Utah's Green and Colorado rivers formed Canyonlands National Park. The park is home to many different types of travel experiences, from sublime solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to moderate hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West's most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch. Take your time and let the nature of the Canyonlands sneak up on you and take root in your heart. It’s quite likely you’ll become so attached to the place that you’ll have to return again and again and again.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. Dead Horse Point is the first Utah State Park to achieve Dark Sky Park certification. Except in winter, Dead Horse Point State Park will be offering multiple evening events each month. Night hikes will reveal incredible scenic vistas colored in the pale silver light of the full moon. On moonless nights, telescope programs and constellation tours will allow park visitors to gaze upon distant celestial objects: planets, nebula, double stars, and even galaxies! Even in poor weather conditions, multimedia astronomy talks can be held inside the visitor center. The staff of Dead Horse Point will also periodically join rangers from nearby national parks in hosting large star party events with multiple telescopes.
 
Natural Bridges National Monument
 
In 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument was named the first "Dark Sky Park" due to its remoteness and dedication to zero light pollution. The park's visitor center, exhibits, and campground are open year-round. The amazing force of water cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon, including the world's second largest. You can enjoy the park from an overlook but for hiking families, take the moderate to strenuous trails down into the monument to stand beneath these monumental forms. Natural Bridges is a great stop on itineraries featuring Monument Valley or the Bullfrog Marina side of Lake Powell.

Hovenweep National Monument

This Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park is off the beaten path but worth the journey. Hovenweep, the Ute Indian word meaning ‘deserted valley,' stands as a sentinel of Ancestral Puebloan ruins in a landscape of sage and juniper. Abandoned around the late 1200s, most of the ancient buildings are situated on the edges of shallow cliffs, balanced over boulder heaps, or guarding seeps.

Southern Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

Utah's hidden gem of a national park, Capitol Reef, is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky. Capitol Reef National Park is an evocative world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a mammoth buckling of the earth’s surface and central feature of some pristine backcountry, which like Capitol Reef's Cathedral Valley, is best accessed with a high-clearance vehicle, extra supplies and plenty of preparation. Once you're there, stay up for night skies in a land like no other.

Goblin Valley State Park

Located along the San Rafael Reef, south of Interstate-70, Goblin Valley State Park is unlike any other place in the world — and a place that captures and stretches the imagination, challenging you with its geologic whimsy. Open daily until 10:00 p.m. and home to 24 campsites and two yurts for overnight guests, Goblin Valley State Park has gained popularity in recent years as a destination for stargazers. The park achieved certification in 2016 and was the second in Utah's state parks to do so. Those partaking in this activity understand what professional measurements have now proven: free of any significant sources of light pollution, Goblin Valley is home to one of the clearest, darkest night skies in the world. It is not uncommon to hear someone excitedly proclaim that this is the first time they have ever seen the Milky Way.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

The modern campground located on the edge of an alpine meadow is part of one of only a handful of dark sky parks in the world, making it one of the best locations for astral viewing. Far from any metro light pollution and high in altitude makes sleeping under the stars in the monument first class. Cedar Breaks National Monument holds stargazing programs with a ranger/naturalist throughout the summer months as part of its commitment to pristine night skies.

Northern Utah

North Fork Park of Ogden Valley

The vibrant city of Ogden is a major hub toward the north end of the populous Wasatch Front, Utah's urban corridor. It's hard to believe, but just over the ridge line in the peaceful Ogden Valley lies a sprawling county park so ideally tucked away in a canyon the International Dark Sky Association added the park to its list of bronze-tier International Dark Sky Parks. Ogden is also home to another great planetarium in Utah–the Ott Planetarium at Weber University. Many know Ogden Valley for Pineview Reservoir and three winter resorts — Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley — many more will soon know it for North Fork's stellar nights.

Sanctuaries of Natural Darkness

These aren’t certified Dark Sky Parks but are still great places to explore the night sky. In addition, the University of Utah’s Willard L. Eccles Observatory is sometimes open to the public, and its telescope offers views of celestial sights not visible with the naked eye. Check it out!

Bryce Canyon National Park (Southwestern Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park is equally perfect for auto tourists looking for short walks to viewpoints and for backcountry hikers seeking solitude. Return at different times of day and night and discover the park’s ever-changing personality. Bryce Canyon is the ultimate place to learn about and enjoy the splendor of the night sky. Far from the light pollution of civilization, and protected by a special force of park rangers and volunteer Utah astronomy enthusiasts, Bryce Canyon is known as the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness and has one of the nation's oldest astronomy programs. For families visiting from the city, staying up for the star show is quite a reward. During moonless and clear nights, 7,500 stars will welcome you to their domain. Bryce Canyon also has an annual Astronomy Festival.
 
Dinosaur National Monument (Eastern Utah on Colorado border)
 
It is out here, away from the crowds and the built environment, where the imagination is free to run wild and you can find yourself living at the nethermost cusp of an ancient timeline. At the Dinosaur Quarry near Jensen, Utah, interact with the 149-million-year-old fossils that give Dinosaur National Monument its name. Beyond the Quarry, explore a full array of rich history, scenic splendor and starry skies, all connected by trails and rivers in the monument’s extensive backcountry. For camping families, the monument has a designated spot where they hold night sky programs near the Split Mountain Campground. Check the park schedule for ranger-led programs.
 
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (Southern Utah on Arizona border)
 
Any visit to southeastern Utah must include a visit to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park — but be warned: this remote, inspiring place demands a closer look. Visitors may explore the 17-mile scenic drive in private vehicles or book a half-day or full-day jeep tour to explore the area's back roads and sacred lands with the help of a local guide. The valley is host to towering sandstone rock formations that have been sculpted over time and soar 400 to 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Combined with the surrounding mesas, buttes, and desert environment, it truly is one of the natural wonders of the world. Stay the night and step out after dark to appreciate the timelessness and wonder of the Milky Way. Stopping to appreciate the rhythms of this ancient, sacred land has the ability to change your perspective if you take the time to let it.


The International Dark-Sky Association works to protect the night skies for present and future generations and recognizes successful efforts to limit light pollution and create spaces that enable explorations in astronomy. Astro Tourism is also a brand of sustainable tourism since it involves preserving the natural integrity of environments.

 

The World's First Dark Sky Park

by RootsRated | Sep 2, 2015

On March 6, 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument became the first International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. More than 100,000 people visit Natural Bridges each year to check out the stunning bridges and hike in cool canyons, but only a handful of them stay through the night to see the area’s most amazing and unique feature: dark skies and glistening, bright stars.

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