Utah’s night sky is a canvas of cosmic wonder, where every star seems to tell a story over stunning landscapes. At RWT Adventures, we get a thrill from prepping our RV and setting course for the dark skies of Utah many summers and even in the fall. Light pollution, though, is the one thing that might put a damper on our celestial trips.

Understanding Light Pollution in Utah

First off, let’s talk about the Bortle scale—it’s our go-to guide to understanding how bright our night sky is, on a scale from 1 (pitch black) to 9 (city bright). If you’re curious about Utah’s standing, take a look at our stargazing map. It can show you where to find those pristine Utah skies for your astrotourism adventures. Use the slider to see how dark each part of the state is.

Utah presents a vast array of night sky clarity. The bright lights of the cities might cloud the stars, but there are still plenty of spots where the Milky Way shines bright.

Alison and I would love to get you out there under the pristine night skies of Utah. It is an absolutely amazing state to RV or camp in, so definitely put this state on your list.

Keep reading to find your next stargazing spot under the Utah stars, or just look at our dark sky camping map.

Utah Light Pollution Map

Dark Sky Areas: Low on the Bortle Scale

Utah’s landscapes offer stargazing sanctuaries where the skies are still untouched by the reach of urban glow. Here’s where you can bask under the blanket of the cosmos with minimal light interference.

North Utah

Venture to the remote northern stretches around Bear Lake, where the darkness is as deep as the lake itself, revealing a sky full of stars. Not to be outdone, Antelope Island State Park, despite its proximity to Salt Lake City, serves as a dark oasis. It offers clear night views of the heavens above.

South Utah

The southern skies are a gateway to the stars at Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, where nightfall brings a symphony of starlight. These parks are renowned for their high Bortle scale ratings, boasting some of the darkest and most awe-inspiring views of the Milky Way.

East Utah

The eastern part of the state, particularly around Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, is where the sky truly comes alive at night, with countless stars visible to the naked eye. The natural darkness of this region is preserved by the vast wilderness that stretches out in every direction.

West Utah

Westward, the Great Salt Lake Desert, including the Bonneville Salt Flats, offers an unobstructed celestial canvas, perfect for astrophotography or simply star admiring. It’s a region where the sky’s natural luminance is only rivaled by its earthly mirror below on clear, still nights.

Central Utah

In Central Utah, the San Rafael Swell is a bastion for stargazers, with its absence of light pollution and its expansive horizons. It’s an area that seems designed by nature for night sky enthusiasts to marvel at the universe’s wonders.

The Brightest Nights: Light Pollution Hotspots

The urban centers of Utah tell a different night-time story, where artificial lights reign and obscure the once-visible starry tales.

North Utah

The Wasatch Front, illuminated by the vibrant cities of Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Provo, radiates light into the sky, limiting the stargazing potential within these metropolitan areas. However, even here, the mountains offer a reprieve, where a short drive can lead to significantly darker skies.

South Utah

St. George, with its growing communities and developing infrastructure, casts a light dome that competes with the stars. Drive a little out of town, and the skies and you’re in for a treat.

illuminated salt lake city astrotourism
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Pixel

East Utah

In the east, the oil and gas fields of the Uinta Basin contribute patches of brightness, overshadowing the natural dark skies. Small towns like Roosevelt and Vernal also add to the light, but wide-open spaces are still within reach for those seeking darker skies.

West Utah

To the west, lights from towns along the I-80 corridor, like Wendover, introduce pockets of brightness into the desert’s night sky. They are a reminder of civilization’s reach even in the most remote areas.

Central Utah

The central urban areas, particularly growing cities like Spanish Fork and Lehi, bring their own glow to the night. Beyond these city limits, one can still find dark sky retreats that offer a break from the light pollution.

West Utah

To the west, lights from towns along the I-80 corridor, like Wendover, introduce pockets of brightness into the desert’s night sky. They are a reminder of civilization’s reach even in the most remote areas.

Central Utah

The central urban areas, particularly growing cities like Spanish Fork and Lehi, bring their own glow to the night. Beyond these city limits, one can still find dark sky retreats that offer a break from the light pollution.

Geographical Influence on Stargazing in Utah

Utah’s diverse landscapes weave a complex tapestry that directly influences the clarity and visibility of its night skies, affecting where and how stargazers can enjoy the celestial views.

Wasatch Front

Nestled among the mountains, the Wasatch Front is a beacon of urban light, yet its proximity to the Wasatch Range means darker skies are within an arm’s reach. Ascend into the heights of the Cottonwood Canyons or the Uintas, and you’ll find the urban light rapidly diminishes, replaced by the dark, star-filled sky.

Colorado Plateau

This vast region is a high-altitude sanctuary where the atmosphere is thin, the air is clear, and the stars shine with an otherworldly brilliance. It’s home to some of the most renowned dark sky parks, where the natural darkness is fiercely protected.

mountain scenery
Photo by Jen Healy on Pixel

Great Salt Lake Desert

Beyond the lake itself, the Great Salt Lake Desert stretches out, offering flat, expansive terrain where the sky dominates the landscape. Here, the uninterrupted horizon line allows stargazers to take in the full dome of the sky, with celestial objects visible from zenith to the very edges of the horizon.

Southwestern Utah

This region is a study in contrasts, where the growing light from cities like St. George casts a glow that competes with the stars, while just beyond, the darkness deepens near protected areas, offering a silent, starry respite.

bonneville salt flats in utah
Photo by Kelly on Pixels

Central Utah

Amidst the central heartland, areas like the San Rafael Swell provide a rugged, natural barrier against light pollution, where the stars and the silence of the desert combine to create a profound stargazing experience. This central region is dotted with pockets of darkness, where small communities and remote landscapes preserve the night sky.

Uinta Basin

The Uinta Basin, with its energy development, does emit light, yet the basin’s wide spaces also offer regions where the night sky reigns supreme. The distant glow of small town lights only serves to accentuate the vast darkness found in the untouched areas, making the stars seem brighter and the night sky grander.

In each of these regions, the geography of Utah adds to the stargazing experience, providing a variety of backdrops to enjoy your outdoor experiences. From the high desert plateaus to the mountain valleys, each offers its own unique venue for starry observations.

Stargazing Tips and Gear

Embarking on a stargazing adventure in Utah requires some know-how and the right gear. We’ve got you covered with tips and suggestions to make your starry night unforgettable.

Time Your Adventure

The best stargazing aligns with new moon phases when the sky is darkest. Also, consider Utah’s seasons; summer offers warmer nights, while winter skies are often clearer and crisper.

Choose Your Spot

Each geographic region in Utah offers a unique stargazing experience. Consider elevation, light pollution, and accessibility when selecting your location. Use our light pollution map to guide your choice.

Eye Adjustment

Allow your eyes to adjust to the dark for about 20-30 minutes. This natural adaptation enhances your ability to see more stars and fainter objects in the night sky.

Essential Gear

A reliable telescope or binoculars will enrich your viewing experience. For astrophotography, a camera capable of long exposures, a tripod, and a wide-angle lens are key.

Star Navigation Tools

Equip yourself with a star map or a stargazing app to help identify constellations, planets, and celestial events. They can transform a casual glance at the sky into an informative experience.

Comfort is Key

Bring a comfortable chair, blankets, and warm clothing, especially in cooler months. Stargazing can be a patient waiting game, so comfort is crucial.

Preserve the Dark

Use red-light flashlights to maintain your night vision and minimize light pollution. This small step helps preserve the natural darkness for everyone’s enjoyment.

With these tips and the right gear, you’re all set to explore Utah’s night skies. Whether you’re lounging in the desert or nestled in the mountains, each starlit night in Utah is an opportunity to connect with the night sky.

Conservation and Dark-Sky Advocacy

Utah is really doing its part to help preserve the night sky. Here are just a few examples.

Community Efforts and Recognitions

Utah’s dedication to dark sky preservation is evident in its numerous International Dark Sky Places, including communities like Springdale. This small town, a gateway to Zion National Park, has worked tirelessly to minimize light pollution, implementing dark-sky-compliant lighting and hosting educational stargazing events.

The state is a leader in dark sky protection, boasting a significant number of International Dark Sky Parks, sanctuaries, and communities. These designations are a testament to the local and statewide commitment to preserving the natural night environment.

Local Advocacy and Dark Sky Parks

Local efforts, such as those in Ogden Valley and North Fork Park, demonstrate a commitment to maintaining dark skies. North Fork Park, an International Dark Sky Park, is a prime example of this effort, offering public stargazing events and educational programs.

Dark sky preservation is further supported by various parks, including iconic sites like Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, which are recognized for their natural dark skies and efforts to maintain them.

night view of arch and starry sky at arches national park moab utah
Photo by Ken Cheung on Pexels

Statewide Initiatives and Awareness

Utah celebrates Dark Sky Month annually, promoting awareness about the importance of preserving night skies and encouraging practices to reduce light pollution. This initiative demonstrates a broad-based commitment to protecting the night sky for its ecological, cultural, and aesthetic value.

The state’s recognition of Dark Sky Month, along with the advocacy by various organizations and individuals, highlights the importance of dark skies to Utah’s natural heritage and the efforts to preserve them for future generations.

Future Outlook and Involvement Opportunities

As Utah continues to grow, the preservation of dark skies remains a priority. This is reflected in ongoing efforts to enforce lighting ordinances and promote dark sky-friendly practices among communities and businesses. If you are interested in supporting these efforts, Utah offers numerous opportunities to get involved, from attending stargazing events to participating in advocacy and education programs.

Utah’s efforts in dark sky conservation not only enhance the stargazing experience but also contribute to the state’s environmental and cultural richness, ensuring that the night sky remains a source of wonder and inspiration.

Wrapping It Up

Utah’s diverse landscape, from its towering mountain ranges to its vast, open deserts, offers a celestial playground that’s just waiting to be explored. So, plan a trip to visit one of our top stargazing and hiking destinations where every star-lit night is an invitation to wonder and wander responsibly.

Takacs Family in front of Jayco RV
The Takacs Family

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.