Explore by Night at these Dark Sky Parks

Sep 2020

Enjoy the Night Sky During a Hiking and Camping Trip

Just because the sun goes down, doesn’t mean you have to stop exploring. Exploring outside beneath the stars, especially in a designated dark sky park, is one of the most incredible experiences you can have on a camping trip. An International Dark Sky Park is land designated by the International Dark-Sky Association that possesses an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner(s) consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation.”

The International Dark Sky Association has designated over 50 Dark Sky Parks, including some that REI guides in. Here are a few of our favorites.

  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Death Valley National Park


Tips for Stargazing:

  1. Download a Stargazing app like Skyview or Sky Guide, our guides swear by it! There are incredible stories to learn about the constellations, especially from the Native American Culture, that will also connect you to the land you’re exploring.
  2. See if a National Park near you has stargazing programs, like Grand Canyon National Park’s Annual Star Party or Bryce Canyon’s Annual Astronomy Festival.
  3. Escape the city lights to a park near you!

If you want to see the best stars, stay up late and allow your eyes to adjust to the dark for 10-45 minutes. This means turn off all headlamps, phones or flashlights. Then look up and be mesmerized.

  • Trust your night vision
  • Walk slowly and you’ll get more comfortable
  • Invest in an astronomical laser pointer
  • Stay up late if you want to take the best photos
  • You’ve got to earn the stars.Brannon Glenn

aoa guide brannon in death valley national park

Night exploration is best done spontaneously, with a big moon and good energy. Exploring under a full moon is like being in a black and white movie. You can see shadows, definition and the whole landscape in its simplest form.

  • Take an easy hike to a view point
  • Hit a rock scramble under the moonlight
  • Rely on the moon, not streetlights or headlamps
  • Spend intimate time with friends and family
  • The Full Moon is where it’s at!Brian Jump

navajo bridge in Arizona near Grand Canyon aoa guide brian jump

"The Defender of Dark Skies"

In partnership with Visit Arizona, Outside Online shares award-winning photographer Harun Mehmedinovic’s story about what makes the night skies special to him.

Watch the Video