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 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 the light pollution of the cities. That is not an issue when stargazing 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
Dixie National Forest
Photo: Scott Markewitz
The Milky Way over Cedar Breaks National Monument
Certified International Dark Sky Parks in Utah
Dead Horse Point State Park
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.
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.
Antelope Island State Park
Utah's newest dark sky park, Antelope Island beckons you to stargaze from the salty remnants of an ancient lake. The closest certified park to Salt Lake City, Antelope Island offers fantastic sunset viewing from Buffalo Point and Frary Peak. Plan a quick escape from the city for a weekend camping trip that combines bison sightings, sunset hikes and incredible dark skies for astrophotography or getting lost in.
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, which is “generally closed to the public” but open for special free events and by reservation. 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.
Steinaker State Park
The International Dark Sky Association awarded Steinaker State Park International Dark Sky Park status on January 22, 2018. This is the fourth Utah state park to receive dark sky designation. In the northeast corner of the state, Steinaker State Park is the ideal place for remote adventure. A reservoir nestled between Ashley National Forest and Dinosaur National Monument, there is no shortage of four-season beauty and exploration. Pair your stay with a day trip to the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum. Vernal or the heated cabin and campgrounds at Steinaker make a great base camp.
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)
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.