Utah is internationally recognized as one of the best places for stargazing. Clean, dry air at high altitudes and lots of wide open spaces make Utah's national parks and state parks a great place to show your kids the wonders of the night sky.
Light pollution is a problem in most cities, which makes it hard to see the stars. Too much light can also impact our health, disrupt wildlife, contribute to climate change and waste money and energy.
The International Dark Sky Association educates communities and individuals about light pollution, and recognizes parks and communities that meet rigorous standards for preserving the night sky. Utah is currently home to 17% of the world's International Dark Sky Parks.
Some parks and local astronomical societies host star parties and nighttime ranger talks – especially in summer. These are good ways for families to learn more about the night sky and get a closer look through powerful telescopes.
Whether you attend a stargazing event or have your own star party, here are the best places to go stargazing in Utah.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument was the first International Dark Sky Park in the world. It is located in southeastern Utah, not too far from Arches, Canyonlands and Four Corners.
Learn more about stargazing at Natural Bridges at https://www.nps.gov/nabr/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm
The best place to stay is the small no-frills campground at Natural Bridges. The nearest hotels are in Blanding, about 45 minutes away. We like the Stone Lizard Lodge. Click the button below to see rates and availability for Blanding hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon has the most astronomy events of all the parks on this list, including an annual Astronomy Festival in June. Stargazing at the visitor center, full moon hikes and daytime solar viewing are among the 100 astronomy events held year-round. Full moon hikes are so popular that you must get tickets through a lottery, so plan ahead if this is on your wish list.
Learn more about Bryce Canyon's astronomy programs at https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/astronomyprograms.htm
You can stay at Bryce Canyon Lodge or camp inside the park. Ruby's Inn and its sister hotels and campground are located just outside the park entrance. This is where we always stay. Click the button below to check rates and availability for hotels near Bryce Canyon on TripAdvisor.com.
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Antelope Island State Park
Located in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, yet accessible by car, Antelope Island is one of the best places near Salt Lake City and Ogden to get away from the light pollution and really see the night sky. The Ogden Astronomical Society hosts star parties here in warm weather months.
Antelope Island has four primitive campgrounds. The nearest hotels – all familiar chains – are about 30 minutes away in Layton. Click the button below to see rates and availability for Layton hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Related: Can You Swim in the Great Salt Lake?
Arches National Park
Arches National Park also has excellent stargazing opportunities. Balanced Rock, Windows, Garden of Eden and Panorama Point are all good places to stargaze. Arches offers more tips and information about ranger-led stargazing events at https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm
Arches has one campground inside the park. The city of Moab is just six miles from the park entrance. We usually stay at Aarchway Inn, but there are lots of good hotels to choose from. Click the button below to check rates and availability for Moab hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is Utah's least visited national park, which means that you can have those panoramic views all to yourself. This park has three sections – two of which are fairly accessible, and about 45 minutes away from Arches.
Canyonlands, Arches and Dead Horse Point share a stargazing program that rotates between the three parks during summer months. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm
There are campgrounds in the park and at Dead Horse Point State Park near the Island in the Sky entrance. Moab is the closest city with hotels and it's about an hour away. Click the button below to check rates and availability for Moab hotels at TripAdvisor.com.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef is Utah's most diverse park. Unique geology, gorgeous scenery, human history and dark night skies will give your family plenty of fun things to do here.
Capitol Reef hosts ranger-led star talks and full moon walks during the summer. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/ranger-programs.htm
There is one developed campground inside Capitol Reef. Look for hotels in nearby Torrey. Click the button below to check rates and availability for Torrey hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument is located near Brian Head Resort, about halfway between Bryce Canyon and Cedar City. Star parties are held here every Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day, weather permitting.
Cedar Breaks is one of three parks that host the annual Southwest Astronomy Festival in September. Learn more about stargazing at Cedar Breaks at https://www.nps.gov/cebr/star-gazing.htm
Cedar Breaks has a campground. Brian Head has hotels and vacation rentals nearby. Cedar City has a larger selection of hotels about 45 minutes down the mountain. Click the button below to check rates and reviews for Brian Head and Cedar City on TripAdvisor.com.
Related: 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park has a funny name and one of the best scenic views in Utah. It also has wide unobstructed views of the night sky.
Dead Horse Point is located near Arches and Canyonlands' Island in the Sky. These three parks share a rotating stargazing program in warm weather months. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/stargazing-southeast-utah.htmhttps://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/stargazing-southeast-utah.htm.
There are campgrounds in the park and at Canyonlands' Island in the Sky nearby. Moab is the closest city with hotels and it's about 45 minutes away. Click the button below to check rates and availability for Moab hotels at TripAdvisor.com.
Dinosaur National Monument
There is more to see and do at Dinosaur National Monument than famous wall of bones. On a clear moonless night, you can see up to 4,500 stars without a telescope.
Dinosaur National Monument hosts ranger-led stargazing at Split Mountain Campground. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm.
There are six campgrounds inside the park. Find hotels in Vernal, about 30 minutes away. We stayed at SpringHill Suites in Vernal. Click the button below to check rates and availability for Vernal hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
- Tips for Visiting Dinosaur National Monument
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- Review of SpringHill Suites in Vernal
Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley State Park is a favorite destination for many families. If you thought it was fun to play hide and seek among the hoodoos by day, try it at night.
Park rangers host full moon hikes and telescope tours. Learn more at https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/goblin-valley/night-skies/
Goblin Valley has a campground and yurts. Make reservations early because space goes fast. The nearest hotel is in Hanksville, about 30 minutes away. You'll find more options in Green River, about an hour in the other direction. Click the button below to see Hanksville hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park is actually in Nevada, but it's just 10 miles over the Utah border. The park has a well developed list of ranger-led astronomy programs. These include stargazing with telescopes up to 3 times per week during warm weather months, full moon hikes, solar gazing and an Astronomy Festival in September.
Great Basin has several campgrounds. There are a couple of hotels just outside the park in Baker. There are more options about an hour away in Ely, Nevada.
Hovenweep National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument preserves six villages built by the ancestral Puebloans nearly 1,000 years ago. It is located within a few hours drive of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners Monument, Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park.
The night skies at Hovenweep look nearly as dark now as they did when people lived in these ancient villages. Stargazing is allowed only at the Hovenweep visitor center or campground. Ranger-led stargazing may be offered in the summer. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/hove/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm
There is a campground at Hovenweep. The nearest hotels are nearly an hour away in Bluff, Blanding or Cortez. Personally, I'd avoid driving that far late at night in this area because it's so dark and remote. Stick with the campground if you decide to stargaze at Hovenweep.
- What to Expect at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
- Tips for Visiting Four Corners Monument
- Tips for Visiting Mesa Verde National Park
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Rainbow Bridge National Monument is a “Night Sky Reserve” instead of a park because it has really dark skies, but it's so remote that light pollution is not expected to become a problem there. You can only reach Rainbow Bridge by boat or hiking trails.
Rainbow Bridge can be seen from Lake Powell in southeastern Utah. You can take a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge only during the day. You can rent a houseboat or camp on the beach to enjoy the dark skies near Rainbow Bridge. It's on my wish list!
Related: Tips for Touring Glen Canyon Dam
Steinaker State Park
Steinaker State Park is a reservoir located about 15 minutes from downtown Vernal. Camping, boating, swimming, OHV riding, hiking and fishing are popular activities here, in addition to stargazing. To my knowledge, there are no ranger-led stargazing events here. Learn more at https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/steinaker/
The campground is developed, and there is a cabin for rent at the park. The nearest hotels are a short drive from the park in Vernal. Click the button below to see rates and availability for Vernal hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Weber County North Fork Park
North Fork Park is located about 30 minutes from Ogden, near Liberty and Eden. This is one of only two Dark Sky Parks in Northern Utah (for now). It's not a national or state park, so you won't find a lot of park rangers or programs, but you probably won't run into many tourists either. Learn more at http://www.webercountyutah.gov/Parks/North_Fork_Park/
Camping is available at North Fork Park. The nearest hotels are in Ogden, though you may be able to find closer vacation rentals through HomeAway or AirBnB near Liberty or Eden since they are near the Ogden area ski resorts.
Anywhere you can get away from the city lights is a great place to go stargazing in Utah. The Salt Lake Astronomical Society regularly hosts star parties in different locations throughout the state. The Ogden Astronomical Society hosts events and welcomes new members.
I hope this information helps your family enjoy Utah's dark night skies.