Every year, the number of stars we can see in the night sky from any particular point on the globe is shrinking by a significant margin.
According to The World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness: 1/5 of the world’s population have lost the ability to see the Milky Way without a telescope… as of 2001.
That same study suggested that 2/3 of Americans and over 50% of Europeans were particularly affected, and furthermore that 99% of the US and 66% of the world live in areas considered “polluted” Again, this was as of 2001.
And while the places to view an unadulterated blanket of stars are fewer and further between, thankfully there’s still a couple of prime spots where you can go to take in the raw majesty of the cosmos.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Chaco Culture National Historical Park joined the ranks of “protected Dark Sky Park” just last year.
Cerro Armazones, Chilean Andes
They don’t build the $1.35 billion dollar E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope… yes, that’s its real name) just anywhere.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Deep in the Utah desert, Bryce Canyon boasts “7500 [visible] stars on a moonless night.”
Clayton Lake Dark Sky Park, New Mexico
Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico joined the ranks of International Dark Sky Park in 2010, with a renowned observatory run almost exclusively by avid volunteers.
Northumberland Dark Sky Park, United Kingdom
All 370,658 spectacular acres of Northumberland Park are now protected as a “Dark Sky Park,” as of just last December.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Widely considered to be one of the nation’s best-kept stargazing secrets, Cherry Springs State Park is one of the premier locations for spotting constellations on the east coast.
A hot contestant for the next “Dark Sky Park,” the wild Arizona desert makes for an incredible backdrop to take in the night sky.
Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
Boasting some of the darkest skies in Europe, 7,000+ stars and planets visible without the aide of a telescope, and 185,329 acres of park to take it all in from, Galloway Forest Park is Scotland’s ultimate stargazing venue.
Mont-Mégantic National Park, Quebec, Canada
Inside the very first internationally recognized Dark Sky Reserve, Mont-Mégantic National Park (and the associated ASTROLab) is possibly the best place to look up at night in Quebec.
Zselic Starry Sky Park, Hungary
Deeply concerned with the issue of light pollution, the Hungarian government has been fixing to preserve as much of the night sky as possible (starting with the protection of, and promotion of ecotourism to, the Zselic Starry Sky Park).
NamibRand International Dark Sky Reserve, Namibia
They don’t call Africa the “dark continent” for nothing. Not only is NamibRand renowned for the brightness of its stars, but it is also one of the largest nature reserves in the whole of Africa.
Atacama Desert, Chile
You know those incredible fantasy shots of galaxies far away that look more like an artistic interpretation rather than actual space? Most of those are taken at La Silla in the barren Atacama Desert.
Observatory Park, Geauga Park District, Ohio
A relatively new park and fun for the whole family, Observatory Park in Geauga near Cleveland is Ohio’s window into the night sky.
Death Valley National Park, California
At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley National Park was crowned the world’s largest Dark Sky Park at the time of its coronation in February of last year.
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
A key draw for tourists to the region, the stars at Lake Tekapo inside Aoraki Mackenzie have earned it a spot as New Zealand’s finest Dark Sky Reserve.
Hortobágy National Park, Hungary
Deep in the farm country of Hungary, Hortobágy National Park is regularly overlooked as one of the world’s best places to look up at night, but the secret’s out now.
Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
The self-proclaimed “largest astronomy park in the world,” Jasper National Park is so large that all of the other Dark Sky Preserves could fit inside of it.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Unsurprisingly, deep inside a canyon in the middle of the desert, far outside civilization, happens to be a spectacular place to see the celestial bodies.
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada
By day, the gorgeous scenery of the Canadian Rockies. By night, a sea of stars, mirrored on the glasslike waters of Moraine Lake.
La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain
The Canary Island of La Palma (home of Caldera de Taburiente National Park) sits above a natural sea of clouds on a temperature inversion layer. This cloud-filter keeps the light pollution out of the night sky.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
From the National Park Service: “On a clear, moonless night in Great Basin National Park, thousands of stars, five of our solar system’s eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. The area boasts some of the darkest night skies left in the United States.”
Wiruna, New South Wales, Australia
The regular venue for the Astronomical Society of New South Wales’ Annual South Pacific Star Party, Wiruna is one of the greatest stargazing hot-spots in southeast Australia.
Pic du Midi Dark Sky Reserve, France
Pic du Midi Dark Sky Reserve is one of the five locations in the world where the stars are so visible at night, that researchers can use spectopolarimeters to measure the magnetic fields that surround them.
Denali National Park, Alaska
From August to April, Denali’s day wanes to a mere 5-6 hours of daylight, offering extensive opportunities for stargazing and even catching the elusive aurora.
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Few things provide such an amazing backdrop for the constellations like the eerie glow of the incredibly active Arenal volcano in Costa Rica.
Poloniny Dark Sky Park, Slovakia
The 20th Dark Sky Park in the world, Poloniny National Park is also part of the “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany.”
Exmoor National Park, United Kingdom
Boasting some of the darkest skies year-round, Exmoor National Park became the first Dark Sky Park in Europe, in 2011.
Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park, North Carolina
Officially the first Dark Sky Park in the southeastern United States, Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park is also the first of its kind to be operated by an institution of higher education (namely, Mayland Community College).
The Headlands Dark Sky Park, Michigan
One of the original International Dark Sky Parks, the Headlands in Emmet County sprawls across 600 acres of forest at the northern tip of Michigan.
Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, United Kingdom
A time-lapse photographer’s dream, Brecon Beacons National Park was one of the five founding International Dark Sky Reserves, a campaign that was personally backed by Prince Charles.
Big Pine Key, Florida
Sure, you may have to travel 100 miles outside of Miami, but Big Pine Key in Florida guarantees the trip is worth it by providing rare views of stars typically only visible to those on or below the Equator.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Every night, the 550,000 acres of raw Californian desert become one of the best spots in the country to witness the awe of the cosmos, a not-so-secret that draws over 400,000 people to the park every year.
As the highest peak in the Balkans, it seems fitting that the name of Mount Musala translates roughly to “near God,” (since from the top you’re as close as you can get to the heavenly bodies above while in Bulgaria).
Natural Bridges International Dark Sky Park, Utah
Natural Bridges International Dark Sky Park was the world’s first International Dark Sky Park. ‘Nuff said.
So far north that it’s actually inside the Arctic Circle, Kiruna’s spectacular night sky and regular auroras draw thousands of tourists to the otherwise incredibly remote small town.
White Mountains, California
The view from the top of the White Mountains in Inyo National Forest might be a bit drab during the day, but it transforms completely by night (often revealing the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies to the naked eye).
Big Bend International Dark Sky Park, Texas
The Big Bend National Park is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, and is considered to have the darkest skies in the contiguous United States.
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
One of the aurora (and polar bear) capitals of the world, Churchill goes the summer months without much of a night sky (but when the daylight all-but-disappears in winter, the night sky returns in force).
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Equally as beautiful during the day as it is at night, Rocky Mountain National Park has one of the most famously photographed night skies in the world.
Westhavelland Dark Sky Reserve – Germany
The darkest skies in Germany, Westhavelland Dark Sky Reserve was given its silver-tier sky park status in February of this year.
McDonald Observatory, Texas
Nestled in Jeff Davis County, University of Texas’s McDonald Observatory is also the home of StarDate, a daily radio program for all things celestial.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Let’s be honest, the only thing more incredible than being on the big island of Hawaii is discovering that it’s also one of the world’s greatest spots to stargaze.
Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, Ireland
The sister-reserve of New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie, Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve proudly stands as “the only gold-teir reserve in the Northern Hemisphere,” and encompasses Valentia Island.
The observatory at Paranal is situated below one of the darkest skies (and is therefore one of the most popular night-photography spots for star-seekers) south of the equator.
Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada
Just when you thought Canada was at maximum capacity for Dark Sky Preserves, Kejimkujik Dark Sky Preserve ups the ante with a substantial population of fireflies, which ensures that you have something twinkling to gaze at regardless of the weather.
Hotel Elqui Domos, Chile
Designed with the stargazing enthusiast in mind, the Hotel Elqui Domos in Chile literally provides a window to the night sky, from the comfort of your bedroom.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Home of the annual “Night Sky Festival,” Acadia National Park represents the single most star-dense sky on the east coast.