We all seek that moment of awe when we look up at the night sky, don’t we?
In Idaho, the stars seem to come down just a bit closer, making it a fantastic place to visit as astrotourists. Our family is always on the hunt for that perfect RV spot where the Milky Way is painted across the night sky, and Idaho fits our needs perfectly when on our astrotourism adventures.
Understanding Light Pollution in Idaho
The glow from city lights can obscure the celestial wonders, and this is where understanding light pollution becomes key for anyone aiming to capture the cosmos.
Let’s get you up to speed with a quick primer on the Bortle scale—it’s the yardstick we use to measure the night sky’s darkness. Basically, level 1 is the best for stargazing, and level 1 is the worst.
You can find more about it here.
Idaho’s night sky ranges from the glimmering lights of its towns to the darkness of its vast wilderness. We’ve included an Idaho light pollution map to help you navigate between the bright and dark spaces. If you need more detail, try our campground stargazing map right here.
Whether you’re looking for planets, more stars, satellites, or anything else in the night skies, Idaho has something for everyone with plenty of clear areas to stargaze.
If you are looking for a detailed light pollution map of Idaho and the rest of the world, try using our global light pollution map.
Idaho Light Pollution Map
Dark Sky Areas: Low on Bortle Scale
Here are some awesome spots to stargaze in Idaho you should check out.
In the northern reaches of Idaho, Priest Lake State Park is an awesome park for stargazers with its clear, dark skies. Just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, it offers a serene setting to observe the night’s darkness. Not too far away, the area around Sandpoint is another stargazer’s retreat where the Milky Way often makes a grand appearance, unaffected by artificial light.
If you head to southern Idaho, the City of Rocks National Reserve becomes a stargazer’s playground with ancient rock formations standing guard under a starry sky.
While Craters of the Moon National Monument is one of our favorites with its lunar-like landscape by day that transforms into a starry haven after sunset. This place is a landscape astro photographer’s dream.
To the east, Harriman State Park offers a pristine night sky experience you should try if you love the stars.
Near the Montana border, the western entrance to Yellowstone is close enough for Idahoans to claim as a prime spot for celestial events. It’s also one of the more isolated places around to enjoy peace and solitude at night.
West Idaho offers its own spectacular nights at Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, where the depth of the canyon walls add another dimension to stargazing.
Not far off, the Bruneau Dunes State Park is a great stopping point for stargazing in the region. Don’t forget to check out its observatory too.
Home to one of the crown jewels of dark skies in Oregon is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Here, the stars seem to outnumber grains of sand, offering a dazzling display of the night sky. The small town of Stanley sits cradled in a dark sky basin, where the absence of light pollution makes it an ideal spot for those who chase the stars with cameras and telescopes in tow.
Each of these places offers a unique window to the universe, waiting for you to explore and capture the night in its purest form.
The Brightest Nights: Light Pollution Hotspots
These are the areas you might want to avoid for the best stargazing experience in Idaho.
To the east, the lights of Idaho Falls and Pocatello shine brightly, their glow serving as a barrier between the stargazers and the incredible night scenes overhead. The light pollution here makes it challenging to find dark skies without traveling.
Light pollution is most noticeable in Coeur d’Alene, where the urban lights mask the twinkles of the night sky. The surrounding areas also feel the impact, with the glow reaching out into the darker expanses.
In the southern part of the state, Boise stands out with the city’s bright lights creating a dome of illumination that reduces the visibility of the Milky Way and other celestial bodies. This glow extends to neighboring towns, diluting the darkness essential for prime stargazing.
The western cities of Nampa and Caldwell contribute to the light pollution with their own glows. Their expanding urban lights create a stark contrast with the darker regions nearby, requiring you to drive away from these centers to find a clear night sky.
Even in the central heartland which is known for its dark skies, there are islands of light around towns like Hailey and Ketchum. While not as overpowering as in larger cities, their glow is a reminder of civilization’s reach, even into the more remote and wild parts of Idaho.
For the astrotourist, these areas highlight the need for careful planning to escape the reach of light pollution. They remind us that while human-made lights can obscure our view of the cosmos, the dark sky preserves scattered throughout Idaho offer a chance to reconnect with the stars.
Geographical Influence on Stargazing in Idaho
Idaho’s diverse topography plays an important role in shaping our stargazing experiences, significantly affecting light pollution and visibility across the state. We’ve divided the state’s landscape into different geographic regions, each offering unique conditions for night sky observers.
Northern Rockies and Panhandle
With its rugged mountains and dense forests, the part of the state offers some of the darkest skies in Idaho. The natural barriers of this area help shield it from light pollution, making locations like the Priest Lake State Park ideal for capturing the Milky Way in all its glory.
Central Mountains and High Wilderness
Including the Sawtooth and Salmon River Mountains, you can find yours in Idaho’s most celebrated dark sky sanctuaries. The elevation and remote wilderness areas here minimize light pollution, providing pristine conditions for astrophotography and deep sky observation.
Southwestern Basins and Plateaus
The skies around the Snake River Plain, present a mixed bag. While agricultural fields and open lands offer unobstructed horizons for meteor showers and planetary sightings, proximity to urban areas like Boise introduces light pollution that can hamper visibility.
Including the Basin and Ridge Region, the high desert landscapes and isolated mountain ranges offer clear skies for stargazers. The low humidity and high elevation in areas like the Lemhi Range create optimal conditions for night sky clarity.
Western Border and River Valleys
The Columbia Plateau and Hells Canyon provide dramatic backdrops for night sky observations. The deep canyons and river valleys cut through light pollution, offering pockets of darkness where the stars shine brightly against the silhouette of the landscape.
Each of these regions shows the importance of understanding Idaho’s geography when planning a stargazing trip. From the towering peaks of the Rockies to the vast plains of the Snake River, Idaho’s topography enhances our viewing experiences.
Stargazing Tips and Gear
When you set out under the vast Idaho sky, a little preparation can turn a night of stargazing into an unforgettable adventure. Here’s how you can make the most of your astrotourism outings in this beautiful state.
Plan According to the Moon
A new moon night offers the darkest skies, making it ideal for stargazing. Keep an eye on the lunar calendar when planning your trip.
Acclimate Your Eyes
Give your eyes at least 20 minutes to adjust to the dark. This adaptation enhances your ability to see more stars and even catch some of the fainter celestial objects.
Use Red Lights
If you need light to read maps or adjust your equipment, use a red flashlight. Red light is less likely to affect your night vision compared to white or blue light.
Even in the warmer months, nights can get chilly, especially in the mountains. Dress in layers and bring extra blankets if you’re planning to stargaze for an extended period.
Telescope or Binoculars
While many stars and constellations are visible to the naked eye, a telescope or binoculars can bring distant celestial objects into view.
Star Maps or Apps
A detailed star map or a stargazing app can help you navigate the night sky. Many apps can even adjust to your location and the current sky above you.
Comfortable Chair or Blanket
A reclining chair or a blanket can make your stargazing experience more comfortable. Lying back helps you take in more of the sky at once.
A Camera with a Tripod
For those interested in astrophotography, a DSLR camera with a tripod can capture stunning images of the night sky. Don’t forget a wide-angle lens and a remote shutter release for the best shots.
Remember, stargazing in Idaho isn’t just about the gear; it’s about the experience. So, get out there, even for a little bit, regardless of what tools you have for enjoying the dark skies.
Conservation and Dark-Sky Advocacy
Advocates are working hard all over Idaho to help preserve the night sky. Here are just a few examples of what they have done so far.
Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve
Designated as the nation’s first Dark Sky Reserve is an area spanning over 1,400 square miles, including Ketchum/Sun Valley to Stanley. It highlights nearly two decades of work by local leaders and residents to manage and reduce light pollution, earning a “Gold Tier” status from Dark Sky (formerly the IDA) for its pristine night skies.
Ketchum and Sun Valley Lighting Regulations
Both cities have implemented strict lighting regulations to shield lights and protect the night sky. These efforts resulted in Ketchum receiving the “Dark Sky Community” designation. This shows the area’s commitment to preserving the natural darkness and reducing the effects of artificial light on the environment.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Recognized by the IDA for the quality of its dark skies, Creates of the Moon demonstrates the effectiveness of conservation efforts beyond community-led initiatives. The designation shows the importance of protecting natural night environments for stargazers and different species in national parks and preserves all over the US.
These efforts across Idaho are helping to preserve our night skies for both future generations and nocturnal wildlife.
Wrapping It Up
When you stargaze under Idaho’s dark skies please remember to do your part safeguarding this precious resource for all to enjoy. Idaho is an amazing place to spend on an astrotourism trip!
About the Authors
We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as Roadtrippin’ with Takacs. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog on RWT Adventures and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.