1. Travel

Finding Dark Sky Astronomy Sites in Utah

Star Parties, National Parks and More


Dark Skies of Utah

Dark Sky Sites are Sought After in the Southwest

©Getty Images
Updated June 30, 2014
Dark-Sky Destinations in Utah

Utah offers three national protected places for the dark sky seekers. The astronomy programs at Bryce Canyon National Park are among the oldest and most extensive in our national park system. They have become “must attend” events for stargazers.

Natural Bridges National Monument

This amazing destination has the honor of being the first designated International Dark Sky Park. That designation was announced on March 6, 2007, by the International Dark-Sky Association, a year before the park celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The National Park Service says that Natural Bridges has 100,000 visitors a year but few see the beauty of the park’s dark skies. You can be among those few dark sky tourists when you plan an overnight visit to this jewel in southeast Utah. It seems camping would be the ideal way to fully take advantage of the viewing. However, camping inside the park is limited. Only 13 first-come first-served campsites are available, although there is camping available outside the park itself.

Things to consider: Natural Bridges National Monument is located at a high altitude of 6,500 feet, so be sure to drink plenty of water. Pack appropriate clothing since the average low temperatures from October through May are 40 degrees and below.

Location: The entrance to Natural Bridges is at the end of Highway 275, which is roughly 35 miles west of Blanding, Utah on Highway 95. Map

More Information:

Plan Your Visit to Natural Bridges National Park.

Find out about Natural Bridges’ designation as a dark-sky park.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

This southwestern Utah dark sky destination sits at 10,000 feet offers some of the darkest skies in the U.S. Your viewing season is limited to less than five months, from the end of May through mid October. Camping times are even more restricted, the campground is usually open only between June and September. So plan your trip accordingly.

Because of elevation, a trip to Cedar Breaks should always be based on close scrutiny of the weather forecast. But the beauty and the dark skies of this natural wonder are well worth a little extra planning.

At times the park hosts monthly star parties, check to see what the schedule is. These events feature talks by staff and volunteer astronomers and viewing through telescopes that are provided or you can bring your own.

Location: Cedar Breaks National Monument is located almost 20 miles east of Cedar City, Utah. Map.

More Information:

Learn About Visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument, including camping.

Find out about Cedar Breaks National Monument Star Parties

Bryce Canyon National Park

Also located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park offers visitors a place to view the clear night skies on their on or through its extensive organized viewing programs.

While visiting Bryce Canyon, you will have access to a wide range of astronomy programs, including solar viewing three times a week, Night Sky Programs and multimedia astronomy shows. These programs started in, and have continued since, 1969. According to the park website, “Each night anywhere from 100 to 300 visitors gather around the telescopes to look up at their own place in the universe. Here, the National Park Service is proud to present, along with geological, biological, and historical programs, an astronomy program complete with its “Dark Rangers” who protect and share the other side of the park, the park at night, which holds a view just as precious as any that can be seen during the day.”

Camping is a bit more available at Bryce Canyon, but you will want to reserve a campsite since they fill up early. The park also offers in-park lodging at Xanterra’s Bryce Canyon Lodge, with 114 rooms and a sit down dining room that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Location: Bryce Canyon is located about 80 miles east of Cedar City Utah. Maps and directions.

More Information:

Planning Your Visit to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Find out more about the Astronomy Programs and see the calendar of star-gazing events at Bryce Canyon National Park. Then, learn about its astrohistory.

More Dark Skies Information

For those seeking that perfect place to enjoy pure transparent dark skies of the Southwest we have gathered information by state Have a look at our Star Party 101 for important information to know before attending your first star party.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.