If you are a stargazer and a camper, you probably know the thrill of finding a dark and secluded spot where you can enjoy the beauty of the night sky.
But where are the best places to go for astro tourism, and how can you make the most of your experience?
As long time night sky travelers, we’ll share some tips and tricks on how to plan an astro tourism trip, what to bring, and what to expect.
What is Astro Tourism?
Here’s a quick definition if you are new to this concept.
Astro tourism is a form of travel that involves visiting places that offer clear and dark skies for stargazing. Astro tourists seek out locations that have minimal light pollution and wide horizons. Sometimes they also look for places with high elevation and dry air (at least that’s what we try to do). These conditions allow them to see more stars, planets, constellations, meteors, and other celestial phenomena.
Astro tourism is not only a hobby, but also a way of preserving the natural heritage of the night sky since light pollution is a serious problem that affects the health of humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. By supporting astro tourism destinations, we can help raise awareness and protect the dark skies for future generations.
Where to Go for Astro Tourism?
There are many places in the country that offer great opportunities for astro tourism. Some of them are officially certified as Dark Sky Parks by the Dark Sky [formerly the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)], which means they meet strict standards for darkness, quality, and education. Other places may not be certified, but still offer amazing views of the stars. There are so many great astro tourism places you can visit, but these are some of the more popular spots you need to visit.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend is one of the most remote and rugged national parks in the country. It is located along the Rio Grande River, and has a diverse landscape of mountains, deserts, canyons, and forests. It is one of our favorite national parks because of its isolation and low light pollution. The park offers guided night hikes and star parties throughout the year.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
A claim to fame for Natural Bridges is that fact it is one of the first places to be designated as a dark sky park by Dark Sky [IDA]. It is located in a high desert area, and has natural bridges that create stunning silhouettes against the starry sky. The hiking is phenomenal here, so definitely tie that into your stargazing trip for a night hike adventure. The park offers ranger-led astronomy programs during the summer months.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Cherry Springs is one of the most popular and accessible dark sky parks in the country. It is located on a high plateau in the Allegheny Mountains, and has a 360-degree view of the sky. It is an east coast favorite. The park offers public and private stargazing programs throughout the year.
Death Valley National Park, California
As one of the largest and darkest national parks in the country, Death Valley is an amazing place to be an astro tourist. Its dry and clear atmosphere is perfect for stargazing. It’s also a fantastic place to enjoy an early spring wildflower bloom to combine with your astro adventure. The park hosts an annual Dark Sky Festival in February/March.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
This is one of the best places in the world for astronomical observation. It is located on a dormant volcano that rises above 13,000 feet from sea level. It has a stable and dry climate, and hosts some of the most advanced telescopes in the world. You can visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station at 9,200 feet or join a guided tour to reach the summit. The station offers free stargazing programs every night.
We highly recommend you do your research before deciding on a location that best suits your tastes since everyone has a preferred travel preference…but we all know RVing is the best, right?
How to Prepare for Astro Tourism
To make your astro tourism trip enjoyable and successful, here are just a few things we recommend you do before you go:
Check the Weather
You want to avoid cloudy or rainy nights that will obscure your view of the stars. You also want to avoid windy or cold nights that will make you uncomfortable. Check the weather forecast for your destination and plan accordingly.
Check the Moon Phase
You want to avoid nights when the moon is full or bright, as it will wash out the fainter stars. If you also plan to get some sleep, try to avoid nights when the moon rises or sets too late or too early, as it will interfere with your sleep schedule…or just take a nap in the middle of the day like we do. Make sure to check the moon phase calendar for your destination and plan accordingly.
Check the Celestial Events
You want to catch nights when there are special celestial events happening, such as meteor showers, eclipses, conjunctions, or transits. These events will add more excitement and variety to your stargazing experience.
Check the celestial events calendar for your destination and plan accordingly.
This is our personal one we use for trip planning.
Astro Tourism Gear
Your list of gear for astro tourism might be big or small depending on where you go and what you do. These are the most important items we recommend you bring on your trip no matter where you visit. These are always in our RV when we travel for astro trips.
Essential Astro Tourism Gear
|Binoculars||Binoculars are a great tool for both beginners and experts alike. They will help you see more details and colors of the stars, planets, and other objects. Also, they are easy to use and carry. You don’t need expensive or fancy binoculars, just make sure they have a large aperture (the diameter of the lens) and a low magnification (the number that indicates how much they enlarge the image).|
|Red Flashlight||This is a must-have item for astro tourists. It will help you see in the dark without ruining your night vision. Red light does not affect your eyes as much as white or blue light, which can take up to 20 minutes to recover from. You can buy a flashlight with a red filter, or make your own by covering your phone or flashlight with red paper or cellophane.|
|Star Map or App||This is a handy guide that will help you identify and locate the stars, planets, constellations, and other objects in the sky. You can use a printed star map or chart, or download an app on your phone or tablet that will show you the sky based on your location and time. Some of the main apps we use for stargazing are Sky Guide, Star Walk, and Stellarium.|
|Warm Clothes and Blankets||This is a common sense item that will make your stargazing more comfortable and enjoyable. Even if the weather is warm during the day, it can get chilly at night, especially at high altitudes or in open areas. You should dress in layers and bring extra clothes, blankets, hats, gloves, and socks to keep yourself warm and cozy.|
Pack Your Gear
You want to bring some essential gear that will enhance your stargazing experience. Here are some items you should pack:
Binoculars are a great tool for both beginners and experts alike. They will help you see more details and colors of the stars, planets, and other objects. Also, they are easy to use and carry. You don’t need expensive or fancy binoculars, just make sure they have a large aperture (the diameter of the lens) and a low magnification (the number that indicates how much they enlarge the image).
This is a must-have item for astro tourists. It will help you see in the dark without ruining your night vision. Red light does not affect your eyes as much as white or blue light, which can take up to 20 minutes to recover from. You can buy a flashlight with a red filter, or make your own by covering your phone or flashlight with red paper or cellophane.
Star Map or App
This is a handy guide that will help you identify and locate the stars, planets, constellations, and other objects in the sky. You can use a printed star map or chart, or download an app on your phone or tablet that will show you the sky based on your location and time. Some of the main apps we use for stargazing are Sky Guide, Star Walk, and Stellarium.
Warm Clothes and Blankets
This is a common sense item that will make your stargazing more comfortable and enjoyable. Even if the weather is warm during the day, it can get chilly at night, especially at high altitudes or in open areas. You should dress in layers and bring extra clothes, blankets, hats, gloves, and socks to keep yourself warm and cozy.
What to Expect from Astro Tourism?
Astro tourism is a rewarding and enriching experience that will connect you with nature and the universe. However, it is also important to have realistic expectations and respect the environment and the people around you. Here are some things you should expect:
Expect to be Amazed
When viewing the night sky, you will see thousands of stars twinkling in different colors and patterns as well as planets shining like jewels in the sky. Constellations will tell stories of ancient myths and legends while meteors streak across the sky like shooting stars. If you go somewhere dark enough, the Milky Way Galaxy will stretch across the horizon like a river of light. Basically, you will see things that you never imagined or noticed before.
Expect to be Patient
The night sky is not a movie that you can fast-forward or rewind. It is a dynamic and unpredictable show that changes every night and every hour. You may not see everything you want to see right away or at all. You may have to wait for the clouds to clear, the moon to set, or the stars to rise. This is a hobby of patience. You may also have to try again another night or another place if it doesn’t work out.
Expect to be Respectful
The night sky is a precious resource that needs our protection and appreciation. Remember to respect the environment by minimizing your impact and leaving no trace behind while turning off lights or dimming them. It is important to respect the rules and regulations of the places you visit by following their guidelines and paying their fees as well as the people you encounter by being courteous and considerate.
Wrapping It Up
Astro tourism is a fun and fulfilling way of traveling the country and enjoying the stars. It can enrich your knowledge, broaden your perspective, and spark your imagination. It can also help you appreciate the beauty of our planet and our cosmos.
If you are interested in this type of traveling, we hope this article has given you some useful information and tips on how to plan your trips, what to bring, and what to expect. We also hope it has inspired you to go out there and explore the wonders of the night sky!
Check out this article next if you want to learn how to correctly say the names of all the constellations you’ll see on your astro 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 and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.