National parks are helping visitors make the most of their dark skies by hosting stargazing festivals. The festivals include various night-time events in addition to stargazing.
These events are right around the corner so bust out your stargazing kit and get going!
Dark Sky National Parks
National parks are becoming night sky havens since they have less exposure to light pollution. Dozens of national parks are even designated Dark Sky Parks because of their “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights…”
Some national parks with the official Dark Sky Park classification are:
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Big Bend National Park, Texas
- Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
- Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico
- Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
- Death Valley National Park, California
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
- Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
- Zion National Park, Utah
You’ll notice Utah is a big hitter when it comes to stargazing. There are so many incredible places to not only see during the day but also to be mesmerized by at night!
That’s why it’s no surprise that my posts on Southern Utah are some of my most popular posts. Here’s a sampling:
- If the Outdoors is your Thing, Utah is your Place
- Why Winter Is the Best Time to Visit Southern Utah
- A Guide to Utah’s Public Lands
- A Winter’s Desert: Visiting Southern Utah in the Slow Months
I also have an article on the Best National Parks for Stargazing.
National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)
These annual events are held at similar times annually so if you’ve missed one you can start planning for next year.
National parks often host many stargazing activities and events throughout the year so check for those whenever you plan to visit.
Pro tip: If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, you can save a lot of money by getting an America the Beautiful Pass.
Alrighty, let’s take a look at the national parks stargazing festivals 2024.
Death Valley Dark Sky Festival, March 1-3
Death Valley is known for some of the best stargazing in America. It’s even designated a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, the highest rating of darkness.
During the Death Valley Dark Sky Festival visitors can enjoy the stunning night sky as well as special events like the Exploration Fair, auditorium talks, astrophotography meetups, and more.
Grand Canyon Star Party, June 1-8
Grand Canyon National Park is known for its breathtakingly beautiful rugged terrain. But did you know it also hosts some of the most beautiful night skies around?
You can take in those skies in early June at their annual Star Party. The event is free but you must still pay to enter the park. The park fee is good for the North and South rims for seven days.
The event starts at sunset and the best viewing time is after 9 pm. Most telescopes will be taken down at 11 pm although some folks still share theirs after that when the skies are crisp and clear.
Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 5-8
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah. This park has such excellent night sky viewing that it earned its dark-sky designation in 2019!
Come view the reddish-colored hoodoos during the day and then return for its spectacular nighttime views.
Their Annual Astronomy Festival includes lectures, star stories presentations, and guided stargazing sessions. Last year, they had a performance by an Arizona string quartet called Dry Sky Quartet and other family-friendly activities.
Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 5-7
South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. You can see things like sod tables and clastic dikes during the day then stay to take advantage of their dark night skies.
The Badlands Astronomy Festival partners with the NASA South Dakota Grant Consortium. Their festival typically includes guest speakers, telescopes, sky viewing, and a guided walk through a scaled solar system model!
Shenandoah Night Sky Festival, August 11-13
Shenandoah National Park is a gorgeous gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains in north-central Virginia. In fact, this almost 200,000-acre park is so breathtaking that I have done several posts about it:
- Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars
- Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park
- Shenandoah National Park is Hosting a Night Sky Festival This Weekend—and It’s Free
You can view its cascading waterfalls, wildflower fields, and quiet woods daily then stay for its spectacular nighttime views.
The other great thing about this park is its location. It is only a 75-mile drive from Washington, D.C. So, you’re close to many historical sites and museums as well.
Their annual stargazing event hosts public stargazing sessions.
The event includes ranger talks, other lectures and presentations, and family-friendly activities. The guest presentations include a span of topics, including space travel, space weather, and our future in space.
The event is free with park admission.
Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 5-7
The Great Basin National Park might be for you if you prefer to avoid crowds. It is one of the least crowded national parks!
The 77,000-acre park in eastern Nevada also has a research-grade observatory!
This fall, you can attend their 15th annual stargazing event. This year’s festival will have many of the same events as 2023 with new guest speakers, ranger programs, and art projects.
Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival, October (Dates TBA)
Joshua Tree National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Every year, the park and non-profit organizations Joshua Tree Educational Experience (JTREE) and Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center partner to bring this incredible stargazing event.
The Night Sky Festival is a ticketed event and has a limited capacity. They haven’t announced the 2024 dates yet, but it’s typically held around the second weekend of October. You can click that link to see if they’ve updated their website with dates and ticket information.
It is usually located just outside the park limits at the Sky’s The Limit Nature Observatory and Nature Center. Tickets go on sale in early summer.
I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.