Look to the Stars! National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)

Stargazing season is amazing! Enjoy the night skies at their brightest at National Parks stargazing festivals.

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!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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:

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:

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 National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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:

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 National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Brian Greene

Look to the Stars: How to Stargaze in National Parks This Summer

Stargazing season is here! Enjoy the night skies at their brightest at National Parks stargazing festivals.

When you look up at the night sky, what do you see? Innumerable stars, a planet or two, even a bright meteor? Depending on where you are, you may see greater or fewer celestial objects in the night sky because light pollution can drown out all but the brightest stars and satellites.

To really take in the beauty of our solar system, you’ll want to visit the darkest places in the U.S. for some truly unforgettable stargazing. Of course, you’ll want to plan to go on a clear night, so you have the best chance of seeing the stars.

National parks are helping visitors make the most of this time by hosting stargazing festivals. The festivals include various nightime events in addition to stargazing.

These events are happening now and in the weeks and months ahead so bust out your stargazing kit and get going!

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring night skies

Many of the last dark skies in the country lie over the national parks. As over-lit skies become the norm, the public is seeking out star-filled skies. Many park visitors have never experienced the unfettered views of a starry night sky and are surprised to witness such a beautiful sight. Others may come to parks specifically to enjoy stargazing through telescopes, walking among a natural nighttime scene, or camping beneath the stars. A park ranger can not only connect you to the plants, animals, and geology of a park but also guide you through the night sky.

Several national parks have regular stargazing programs or night appreciation events. Examples include the bat flight breakfast at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, star parties or moonlight hikes at Bryce Canyon, telescope viewing at Rocky Mountain National Park, and the observatory at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dark Sky National Parks

National parks are becoming night sky havens since they have less exposure to light pollution. Dozens of national parks are designated Dark Sky Parks because of their “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights.”

National parks with the official Dark Sky Park classification include:

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll notice Utah is a big hitter when it comes to stargazing. So many incredible places to not only see during the day but also to be mesmerized by at night!

That’s why I have articles on the Best National Parks for Stargazing and These National Parks Are Hosting Free Stargazing Festivals This Summer.

I’m a little late writing this article as the first two events have just passed. But these annual events are held at similar times annually so you can start planning those for next year. 

In the meantime, there are four amazing stargazing festivals at national parks in the near future. And, national parks often host many stargazing activities and events throughout the year so check for those whenever you plan to visit.

Let’s take a look at the national parks stargazing festivals 2023.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Star Party, June 10-17 (Check in a few months for 2024 dates)

Grand Canyon National Park is known for its breathtakingly beautiful rugged terrain. But it also hosts some of the most beautiful night skies around.

The event is free, but you must still pay to enter the park. The park fee is valid for the North and South rims for seven days. 

The event starts at sunset although the best viewing time is after 9 pm. Most telescopes are taken down at 11 pm although some folks still share theirs after that when the skies are crisp and clear.  

Check this out to learn more: The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festval, June 14-17 (Check in a few months for 2024 dates)

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 stargazing event includes lectures, star stories presentations, and guided stargazing sessions. They also have a performance by an Arizona string quartet called Dry Sky Quartet and other family-friendly activities. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 14-16

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. In partnership with NASA South Dakota Grant Consortium, the festival typically includes guest speakers, telescopes, sky viewing, and a guided The annual Astronomy Festival partners with walk through a scaled solar system model.

Badlands is an amazing National Park. That’s why I wrote these articles:

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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! 

The other great thing about this park is its location. It is only a 75-mile drive from Washington, D.C. So if you will be checking out the nation’s capitol, it’s an easy trip to make.

You can view its cascading waterfalls, wildflower fields, and quiet woods daily and then stay for its spectacular nighttime views.

Their annual stargazing event hosts public stargazing sessions, ranger talks and other lectures and presentations, and family-friendly activities. The guest presentations will include a span of topics including space travel, space weather, and our future in space. 

The event is free with park admission.

Check this out to learn more: Shenandoah National Park is Hosting a Night Sky Festival This Weekend—and It’s Free

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 14-16

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 stargazing event which usually includes constellation talks, guest speakers, and observatory tours. They also have a photography workshop for all you photo bugs out there.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival, October 13-14

Joshua Tree National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). That means it is the perfect spot to stargaze all year!

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. 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. 

Daytime can be pretty incredible, too, in Joshua Tree.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More Night!

National Park Observatories

Chaco Culture National Historical Park Observatory

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park Observatory gives the public exceptional views of the night sky from its New Mexico location. Astronomy is an integral part of the park’s interpretive programming that connects park resources to the celestial knowledge of the ancient Anasazi people who settled the area. Park lighting is retrofitted to keep skies dark and reduce light pollution, and star programs are anticipated attractions.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Basin Observatory

Did you know that NPS has its own astronomical research observatory? Inaugurated in 2016, the Great Basin Observatory is the first NPS research-grade observatory to be based in a national park. Located in one of the darkest areas of the country at the border of Utah and Nevada, the observatory offers near pristine, unpolluted views of the night sky. The NPS observatory works with astronomy researchers across the country to advance our understanding of cosmic phenomena. Its telescopes can be remotely programmed to focus on any cosmic body or event from little known debris clouds and planets to the Milky Way and solar eclipse.

Rock Creek Park Planetarium

The NPS Rock Creek Park Planetarium in Washington, DC is another park venue that educates people about night sky phenomena and light pollution issues. Located within the Nature Center, it uses high-tech Spitz software to project the image of the night sky onto a large, dome-shaped ceiling. Rangers lead visitors on a journey of exploration into the solar system, galaxy, and beyond. Monthly, evening stargazing programs are also offered and give information about the seasonal night sky.

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Brian Greene

These National Parks Are Hosting Free Stargazing Festivals This Summer

Here’s what you need to know about visiting the parks after dark

As magnificent as the United States’ 63 national parks are during daylight hours, after the sun sinks beyond the horizon these beautiful expanses (often far from city lights and carefully managed as dark-sky preserves) take on a stellar new look. In celebration of the constellations, various national parks hold festivals and evening events to teach visitors about the night sky.

Here’s what you need to know about four of the biggest astronomy parties in the United States national parks.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Star Party

Each summer, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona invites visitors to watch “an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies” dance above some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth during its Star Party which will take place from June 10 through June 17 in 2023.

Events begin on both the North and South Rims at 8 p.m. but according to the National Park Service (NPS) the best viewing is after 9 p.m.

“Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night. It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party,” the NPS said on its website.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each night of the event, park rangers on the South Rim will lead tours of the constellations at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m. and will host a night sky photography workshop at 9:30 p.m. Throughout the week, various speakers are slated to hold nightly presentations at 8 p.m. starting with park ranger Ravis Henry who will discuss how the stars are seen through the Navajo culture lens. Other speakers include NASA scientist Julie McEnery who will speak about the next NASA flagship telescope, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope which is scheduled to launch in May 2027 and Dr. Vishnu Reedy, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona will lecture about how astronomers mitigate the threats of meteor impacts.

On the North Rim, the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, Arizona will set up telescopes on the porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge and guide visitors in identifying constellations.

The 2023 Star Party is a free and open to the general public. The park entrance fee is good on both South and North rims for 7 days. No additional tickets or sign-up is required.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The event begins at sunset although the best viewing is after 9 pm and many telescopes come down after 11 pm; however, on nights with clear, calm skies, some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes into the night.

Dress warmly. Temperatures drop quickly after sunset—even during summer months.

Related article: The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival

Taking place from June 14 through June 17 this year, Bryce Canyon’s Astronomy Festival in southern Utah happens to fall during the new moon when stars, planets, and meteorites are most visible.

Each night, volunteers from the Salt Lake Astronomical Society will bring their telescopes to share during the nightly stargazing sessions which will start at 10 p.m. across the road from the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center.

According to the park, the festival will also “include nightly lectures from leading academics in astronomy as well as park staff and planetarium educators who will share their expertise and research delving into the origin of stars and the universe itself.” Some of those lecturers will include Planetarium Educator Dr. Amy Sayle who will teach about legends surrounding the stars, former Northern Arizona University professor Dr. David W. Koerner whose presentation will focus on cultural astronomy and the arts, and astronomer Dr. Tyler Nordgren who will explain the magic of eclipses.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All the sessions are free but some talks require reservations which can be made at the visitor center any time during the days preceding the festival. It’s worth signing up early as this year’s festival is happening in conjunction with Bryce Canyon’s centennial celebration, a time that is expected to be busier than usual in the park.

Each night of the festival, shuttle service will continue to limited locations between 8 p.m. and 12:15 a.m. Parking will be limited at Evening Program and Telescope locations so the park strongly recommend parking at the Shuttle Station in Bryce Canyon City (2 miles north of park entrance) and riding the Star Shuttle into the park. Shuttles arrive at each stop every 15 minutes. Use of the Star Shuttle is free with park admission.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As always, attending the festival is free with park admission.

Overnight temperatures are typically in the 40s Fahrenheit. A light jacket is a good idea if you plan to be outside for awhile after dark. While red light flashlights are okay, no white light flashlights be used due to their negative effect on night vision. After using a white light, it can take well over thirty minutes for your eyes to begin to readjust to the profound darkness of Bryce Canyon.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands Astronomy Festival

In 2023, the Badlands National Park’s annual Astronomy Festival which is held in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium will take place from July 14 through July 16 in the South Dakota park.

Per the National Park Service, “Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomers (and their telescopes) from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, and the University of Utah will be on hand throughout the festival to lead guests in for day and night observations.

Lectures will be held each night at 9 p.m. starting with a deep-dive on NASA’s space telescopes with NASA scientists Tom Durkin on the 29th, an explainer on Lakota Tribal beliefs around stars with Megan Ostrenga of The Journey Museum in Rapid City on the 30th, and a family-friendly show about the universe with Kevin Poe of Dark Ranger Telescope Tours on the 31st.

Additional events will be announced closer to the festival.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Night Sky Festival

Discover the Park after dark during the 2023 Night Sky Festival!

So far, only the dates for Shenandoah’s Night Sky Festival in Virginia have been announced: August 11 through August 13. But according to the National Park Service, the three-day event will include “stargazing, Ranger talks, kids’ activities, and guest presentations ranging from topics such as space weather, space travel, and our future in space.”

If you plan on attending one of the outdoor evening activities, be sure to be prepared for the weather and bring a flashlight with a red filter. All events are free with park admission.

Related article: Shenandoah National Park is Hosting a Night Sky Festival This Weekend—and It’s Free

Other Dark Sky Festivals

Great Basin National Park:

Great Basin Astronomy Festival will host its event September 14-16. Check back for more details closer to the event.

Glacier National Park:

Glacier National Park plans to offer Logan Pass Star Parties for the 2023 season. Check back for the exact dates and more details closer to the summer season. If you plan to attend it is important to come prepared. Wear warm clothing and be prepared for wind in St. Mary. Bring a headlamp or flashlight so you can safely move around in the dark. Seating is not provided at the Dusty Star Observatory so bring a chair for a more comfortable viewing experience.

How to attend the national park astronomy festivals?

Tickets to all the astronomy festival events are free though attendees still need to pay the park entrance fee. At Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, that’s $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per person entering by foot, bicycle, or park shuttle bus. And for Badlands and Shenandoah, it’s $30, $25, and $15, respectively. Entrance passes can be purchased online or at the park entrance.

Related articles:

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Brian Greene