The Ultimate Guide to Stargazing in Utah
By Carly Eisley
Exploring the Southwestern United States in an Escape Campervan will drive you to some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth; perhaps none more so than Utah. With its canyon walls, desert arches, and higher elevation forests there is something for everyone in every season. While the scenery is certainly stunning in the daylight, something special happens once the sun goes down and you can enjoy stargazing in Utah at its best.
Stargazers and Astronomers rejoice – Utah is home to over a dozen certified International Dark Sky places. An 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”. Head out from the camper van rental site in Salt Lake City to check out these must-see stops for some daytime adventuring and night-time stargazing in Utah.
Goblin Valley State Park
3 1/2 hours from the Salt Lake City depot, Goblin Valley is home to unique sandstone hoodoo-like formations known as goblins. During the day, Goblin Valley State Park offers hiking, mountain biking, and canyoneering for outdoor adventurers. At night, however, the skies are the star of the show for stargazing in Utah, so be sure to plan on spending the night in the 25 site campground here. Goblin Valley was designated an international dark sky park in 2016 and offers nighttime ranger-led programming every month.
3 Dark Sky Parks for stargazing in Moab, Utah
Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park are all officially certified international dark sky parks in the Moab area. There is camping available at all of the parks, and ranger-led stargazing programs rotate between the areas. During the day, hiking trails abound in all 3 areas, with mountain biking available in Dead Horse Point as well. At night all of the parks have campgrounds; park your van, settle in, and look up! The further from civilization (aka park buildings, etc) you go, the better your view of the night sky will be.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Head further south from the Moab area for some seclusion in Natural Bridges National Monument – the first national monument and the world’s first international dark sky park for stargazing in Utah. Ditch crowds (and cell phone service) and enjoy hiking among the large arch-like bridges. At night set up camp in the 13-space campground or hit the trails to enjoy the views of the stars above. Rangers hold interpretive astronomy discussions and educational sessions for those interested in an educated stargazing experience.
Capitol Reef National Park
Moving over to southwestern Utah, Capitol Reef National Park is another of Utah’s International Dark Sky Parks. During the day, enjoy hiking and take in sites such as ancient petroglyphs or head out canyoneering in the many slot canyons. At night enjoy crystal clear views of the night sky, and take in a ranger-led star talk or full moonwalk from June-October.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is home to the unmistakably unique landscape of hoodoos, with pointed rock spires rising up from the amphitheater and surrounded by alpine forest. In the daylight, explore the trails on foot, or via horseback. At night, join in on one of the numerous astronomy programs (there are around 100 programs a year) to learn more about the stars, planets, and constellations you are viewing. Really love the night skies? Visit Bryce Canyon in June for their annual astronomy festival! Enjoy 4 days of themed discussions and programs led by Bryce Canyon’s Astronomy Rangers and local Astronomical Societies.
Antelope Island State Park
A one hour drive north of Salt Lake City will bring you to Antelope Island State Park. In addition to hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping, the park is also host to Utah’s largest free-roaming bison herd. Camping is available year-round so you can easily enjoy daytime recreation and the nighttime dark sky. At night, the park offers astronomy programs and during the summer months partners with the Ogden Astronomical Society for “star parties”.
Dinosaur National Monument
About 3 1/2 hours east of Salt Lake City sits Dinosaur National Monument. Straddling the border of Utah and Colorado, this park is a science lover’s dream come true! There is camping, hiking, and river rafting to satisfy the adventure seekers out there. History buffs and budding paleontologists can seek out petroglyphs or explore fossils in the Quarry Exhibit Hall. At night put on your astronomer cap and take advantage of the lack of light pollution in this Dark Sky Park. Visitors will be treated to clear views of the Milky Way galaxy and thousands of other stars in the sky.
These are just a few of the many spectacular places to enjoy stargazing on some of our public lands. Interested in seeking out more starry nights in your Escape Campervan? Check out this map of the International Dark-Sky Places to find certified Dark Sky communities, parks, and places near some of the other Escape camper van rental locations – The sky’s the limit! Book your Escape Campervan now and head out on the trip of a lifetime… and don’t forget to pause and look up once the sun goes down and do some stargazing in Utah!