Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park Florida
The Kissimmee Prairie offers some of the darkest skies in the Sunshine State courtesy of its remote, rural setting along the headwaters of the Everglades north of Lake Okeechobee. The vastness of its dry prairie habitat provides a heck of a stage for taking in that unblemished firmamentand the opportunity to spot such awesome birdlife as crested caracaras and grasshopper sparrows while you wait for sundown. The more southerly location of this park also gives you a perch to see stars that dont break the horizonor at least dont spend much time above itfarther north, such as Canopus, the second-brightest star in the sky.
Use the Okeechobee KOA Resort as your H.Q. for an astronomical odyssey in the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve!
What To Bring Stargazing
If you plan on stargazing for a while, comfort is a must! Youre less likely to enjoy the experience if youre cold and uncomfortable. I like to bring a big quilt to spread out on the ground. Usually, it gets a bit damp from the dew, so I make sure to bring an old one that I dont mind getting dirty. You could also lay a small tarp on the ground first and then the blanket over that! I also bring a few other blankets to cozy up in and a pillow if Im really gettin g serious.
Hot chocolate + Snacks
Grab a thermos or two before you leave and fill it with a hot drink like coffee, hot chocolate, or tea. Not only will it help you stay awake, but it will also help keep you warm on those chilly nights! I also like to bring snacks to munch on too. I would avoid foods that make your fingers dirty since youll probably be touching your camera gear, phone, telescope, etc. Opt for no-mess snacks like dried fruit, granola bars, fruit snacks, or cereal.
Headlamp or flashlight
Cell phone flashlights are pretty decent nowadays but its always nice to have a backup just in case your phone dies. Headlamps are nice since they free up your hands but a good flashlight works too! These Husky flashlights are the ones we personally use for camping and stargazing. Theyre really heavy duty and theyre super bright!
Binoculars or Telescope
Schoodic Woods Campground Acadia National Park Maine
This coastal area of Maine enjoys beautiful coastal cliffs and some great mountain peaks that make exploring during the day a great experience, while the campground offers some good sites for those traveling with RVs. The remote location provides good low levels of light pollution, although the coastal location means that there are quite a few cloudy nights here.
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Sunset Campground Bryce Canyon National Park Utah
Those who have the patience have counted over 7,500 individual stars visible from Bryce Canyon on a moonless night, and there are regular nights hosted by the Astronomy Rangers of the park if you are looking to learn more about stargazing. There are no hook-ups for RVs available in the park, but there is potable water and a dump station.
What You Need To Know
The grounds, trails, shoreline viewing areas and restrooms at Headlands are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The facilities at Headlands are only open to the public during regularly scheduled programs or by private rental. Please note that private rental does not include the observatory. Plan accordingly and dress for temperatures 10 degrees below what you expect. The park is located on the shore of Lake Michigan and is always cooler than inland.
The road through the park is paved and mostly flat, with an incline near the entrance. At the fork in the road, the pavement continues right to the Waterfront Center and Observatory, while the road to the left winds down to the Guest House and wilderness shoreline along a gravel route. Guests are welcome to use bicycles and can utilize other wheeled carts, such as wagons, to carry supplies. There is handicap-accessible parking available at the Waterfront Event Center, available on a first-come, first-served basis. ALL GUESTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PARK WITH THEIR HEADLIGHTS AIMING AWAY FROM THE BUILDING AND SHORELINE VIEWING AREAS, so that, when returning to your car after dark, your headlights dont shine into the viewing areas. Your consideration is appreciated.
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Cedar Pass Campground Badlands National Park South Dakota
Offering electrical hook-ups and with showers and toilets available, the campground is a nice place to relax in a very rural area. Stargazing is great here, and there are even programs run by the park that will allow you to join a group and use their telescopes if you do not have your own available.
Clayton Lake State Park New Mexico
High in the hills of New Mexico, this state park benefits from dark skies and an observatory near the lake itself, and there are some lovely campsites for you to relax and enjoy the skies above. Another benefit of visiting the park is there are actually the tracks of dinosaurs that have been preserved in prehistoric mud that can also be seen here.
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Free Hiawatha National Forest Camping Near Munising
GPS Coordinates: 46.354616, -86.503669
This is another free primitive camping area about 20 minutes away from Michigans Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Its down a little two track road in the Hiawatha National Forest.
This is one of those sites that we pulled into late in the day and left early the next morning. We took the first cleared spot we saw because we actually had cell service for work.
The free camping spot we stayed in was small, overgrown, would have been too lumpy for tent camping or for a large RV to easily level, but did have a fire ring, although it was filled with garbage. So not the best, but still a free and legal place to sleep.
You may find better sites by exploring further down the road – based on satellite images the sites look to be larger, more level, and cleared.
To get there, turn off 94/28 and when the road immediately forks – go to the right. Youll start seeing cleared free camping spots soon.
Dark Sky Camping In Nevada
You wont drive past Great Basin National Park by accident youll need to seek it out. Were quite sure, though, that you wont regret the effort. During the day, you can explore the parks ancient bristlecone pines and hike in the South Snake Mountains, and at night you can sit by the campfire and gaze at the heavens.
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Parashant National Monument Arizona
Home to the newest Dark Sky Park in the United States, this site near the Grand Canyon offers some spectacular surroundings from which to enjoy fabulous stargazing, with over 150 clear nights every year. Camping here is primitive, but visitors can choose their own campsite, meaning true peace and quiet in the spots that you can find.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit A Dark Sky Park
The best part about Headlands Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City in Michigan? Its always free, and so are its events.
It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year it is a chance to experience nature in one of its purest forms. Check out their events calendar to pick one that fits your participatory pleasure.
Their website is a great source for frequently asked questions, further information, and photos as well.
Have you been to a Dark Sky Park? Tell us what you thought in the comments!
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What Is An International Dark Sky Place
International Dark Sky Places are spots across the globe that are recognized not only for their exceptionally clear skies, unfettered by artificial light pollution, but also as locations where community or park leaders are dedicated to excellent stewardship of the night sky.
Designated International Dark Sky Places include International Dark Sky Communities, Parks, Sanctuaries, and Reserves. Dont worry too much about the terminology, because heres the crux of the designation: in Dark Sky Places, youre going to see a lotand we mean a lotof stars.
Youre going to mean it when you say youre sleeping under the stars in a Dark Sky Place. The sky over these locations, on a clear night, will be like nothing youve seen before.
Chasing The Northern Lights In Michigan
Image from The Dyrt camper Chad F.
Though many visitors stop by Headlands Dark Sky Park for an evening of casual stargazing, there are also seasonal visitors who arrive with the specific intention of catching the northern lightsby far the most elusive of the parks nighttime sights. Camping in Michigan under the northern lights might be one of the biggest bucket-list items for many space buffs.
Aside from cloudy nights, The Headlands Dark Sky Park provides almost perfect viewing conditions year-round. But experts and park staff are quick to point out that catching the Auroras is not always as easy as showing up. Instead, the northern lights can often appear without notice, which means those eager to take in the iconic sight might have to exercise some patience.
For those looking for the best way to catch the elusive Auroras at Headlands Dark Sky Park, here are a few key tips that local experts:
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Free Hiawatha National Forest Site
GPS Coordinates: 46.018146, -84.719897
This is a single free camping spot in Michigans Upper Peninsula, found off I-75 in Saint Ignace, about 25 minutes north of the Mackinac Bridge.
This primitive camping spot in the U.P. offers a single fire ring as its sole amenity. Theres a steep trail leading from the campsite to the Carp River found below.
Although located pretty close to the interstate, the campsite is secluded and all we noticed was more of a constant hum from traffic.
Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground In The Hiawatha National Forest
GPS Coordinates: 46.291, -86.701
Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground is a free campsite in the Hiawatha National Forest of the Upper Peninsula and is operated and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Its about 30 minutes away from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Each of the five campsites are located on Hovey Lake and are spaced apart with trees in between for some privacy. Dont pack your swimsuit as Hovey Lake isnt good for swimming, but there is a non motorized boat launch if you want to do any fishing.
As far as amenities at this primitive campground, each site has a fire ring and picnic table. There are pit toilets and hand pump water is available, although it may not be potable. A few miles back up Buckhorn/USFS 2254 theres a lodge with free wifi if you need it.
This free campsite is located on the east side of Hovey Lake. The GPS coordinates are correct, but Google Maps will likely direct you to turn south down Blueberry Lane. Instead of doing that, turn south down Hovey Lake Road/USFS 2473 which is only ¼ mile east of Blueberry Lane. Drive for less than a mile before turning right onto USFS 2367 towards Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground.
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Heads Up At The Headlands
The Worlds ninth International Dark Sky Park located in Mackinaw City With deep dark skies overhead, the vast expanse of Lake Michigan to the west, bustling Mackinaw City to the east and 600 acres of pristine, old-growth forest, the Headlands park property is a gem. Making it shine even brighter is its International Dark Sky Park status, a prestigious designation reserved only for the worlds darkest places. In May 2011, the Headlands was named such a park by the International Dark-Sky Association in Tucson, Ariz., after a rigorous application process that involved taking specific measurements of light levels at the park.
Enjoy the New Waterfront Event Center and Observatory. The new facility will include an observatory with research grade telescope outdoor seating arena indoor program area for use by day and night and a living green roof! The new Event Center expected to open by
Great Basin National Park Nevada
There are five campgrounds within the park, all of which have simple sites but no hook-ups, with all of them offering good options for enjoying the night sky. There are regular astronomy events held in the park if you would prefer to share your stargazing, while the panoramic views of the sky are truly spectacular.
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Lake Hudson Recreation Area
The skinny: Near the Michigan-Ohio border, this park offers dark sky observation for those looking to stargaze toward the southern part of the state. “Skies are generally dark, but skyglow is frequently a problem toward the east, and sometimes in other diretions,” according to the Michigan DNR. “Local astronomical observers setting up at Lake Hudson usually use the Picnic or Beach parking areas, as there generally is less night activity there.” For more information, look here.
Why Should I Visit Headlands International Dark Sky Park
You might find yourself asking just what the big deal about the Dark Sky Park is. Surprisingly, when Emmet Countys Dark Sky Park opened in 2011, it was one of six such parks in the United States, and one of just nine in the world.
In Michigan, we are blessed to observe the night stars from many different cities that are not heavily polluted by artificial light. However, many individuals who live in large cities have literally only seen stars in books or on television.
People travel from far away to see the wonders that Dark Sky Park has to offer. We, as Michiganders, have the good fortune of traveling within our own state to see such a sight.
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Where Can I Find A Dark Sky Place
Dark Sky Places are land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, and youre unlikely to find them near big, bright cities. Most of these spots are a little bit off the beaten pathplaces where youll want to stock up, settle into your campsite, and spend a while.
Ready to get planning? Heres where youll find the best of Dark Sky Park camping in the United States:
Many Glacier Campground Glacier National Park Montana
Near the border with Canada, light pollution is almost eliminated, and even the nearest town has rules about light pollution to maintain the conditions here. The skies are amazing on a clear night, and reveal many constellations, while there are also 700 miles of hiking trails. Sites can deal with RVs up to 33 feet in length, and there is potable water and flushing toilets available.
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Chisos Basin Campground Big Bend National Park Texas
Located in a basin surrounded by high rocky cliffs at 5,400 feet above sea level, this campground is near some great hiking trails if you are here for the day and night, along with being great for stargazing. The park has one of the lowest rates of light pollution in the country, and the view of the Milky Way on a clear night makes this a stunning place to enjoy the night sky.
Furnace Creek Ranch Death Valley National Park
There are great views of the Milky Way to be enjoyed from the park, and there are stargazing programs offered by park rangers during the winter and spring when the sky is at its best from the park. The RV sites range from the basic ones to those with water and electrical hook-ups, while there is a package that you can take with the ranch’s resort for access to activities and facilities during the day too.
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International Dark Sky Parks
- The Milky Way rises over Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, USA. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.
- The Milky Way rises over Copper Breaks State Park, Texas. Photo by Koustav Sinha.
- Watching the Milky Way rise above Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo by Tyler Nordgren.
- The Milky Way arches over Capitol Reef National Parks iconic Chimney Rock. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.
- Hortobágy National Park, Hungary.
- Orion Rising above Clatteringshaws Loch in Galloway Forest Park, Scotland. Photo by James Hilder.
- The Milky Way over the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, California. Photo by Dan Duriscoe.
An IDA International Dark Sky Park is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. The land may be publicly owned, or privately owned provided that the landowner consent to the right of permanent, ongoing public access to specific areas included in the IDA designation.
Dark Sky Camping In Utah
It should come as no surprise that southern Utah has a wealth of Dark Sky camping. Its hard to imagine anything more beautiful than watching the Milky Way rise over Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or gazing at your favorite constellation from the remote Natural Bridges National Monument.
Utah has both state parks and national parks that have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks. Click on any location to see camping in and near the park:
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What Is A Dark Sky Park
Emmet County achieved designation for the Headlands as an International Dark Sky Park in May 2011. The designation is awarded by the International Dark Sky Association in Tucson, Arizona, the oldest organization dedicated to protecting and stewarding natural darkness in the world. When the Headlands achieved the designation, it was just the sixth such park in the United States and only the ninth in the world. As a result, the Headlands have enjoyed a great deal of success, and more importantly, the park has been part of a very dynamic, international movement to protect natural darkness worldwide. From this northwest corner of the Michigan mitt, the Headlands have been able to influence Michigan state legislation which now protects the dark skies over an additional 30,000 acres of state-owned land, and the staff at the Headlands work in partnership with the National Parks Service on the dark skies over their properties in the Great Lakes region.