ost visitors to America's national parks see them by day. And when the sun goes down, they assume it's time to go home. But what if we told you that many of the country's most beloved national parks become even more beautiful after dark? That's right: there are plenty of ways to experience our nation’s most treasured natural areas at night, and we've got 8 ideas for you here.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada.
Great Basin National Park is located in east-central Nevada, about three hours northeast of Las Vegas. It’s a dark sky park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site—that means that the park has been deemed to have “outstanding universal value” and is worthy of conservation efforts. The Great Basin National Park website describes the area as having “the brightest night skies on Earth,” thanks to its low levels of light pollution and lack of artificial light sources like street lamps and billboards. If you want to experience America’s deepest darkness after dark, this is one place you should definitely visit!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.
During the day, you can explore this park’s volcanoes and lava flows with hiking trails that traverse across several miles. At night, you can witness otherworldly sights such as starry skies while listening to stories from park rangers. If you have your own telescope or binoculars—or if it's clear enough to see the heavens without them—there are also stargazing programs where you can learn about constellations, planets, galaxies and more. For an unobstructed view of the heavens above this island paradise, hike down into a crater at Kilauea Volcano National Park for views that are truly out of this world!
Olympic National Park, Washington.
In the mid-1800s, explorers and scientists began to study the night sky in earnest. They noticed that stars were not just points of light but individual pinpricks of light with their own unique qualities. This led them to discover that stars can have color, size, luminosity and temperature—and they became fascinated by this new frontier.
They found planets in our solar system like Jupiter and Saturn; discovered how far away from us are galaxies (and later even more distant objects); studied how big space is; figured out that light travels at a finite speed; invented telescopes to help them see further into space; built observatories on mountaintops so they could watch for asteroids or comets that might be heading toward Earth.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina.
May to July is the prime firefly season in the Smoky Mountains. These beetles are attracted to light, so if you want to see them in the wild it's best to go after dark and bring along some flashlights or glow sticks, or even better: a candle lantern.
Fireflies aren't like lightning bugs (which are NOT actually beetles). They're also not like fireflies (who are also not actual flies). Fireflies, lightning bugs and fireflies all have their own unique features and characteristics!
Death Valley National Park, California.
Death Valley is one of the hottest places on Earth, but it's also home to some of America's darkest skies.
Death Valley National Park is one of the largest national parks in the lower 48 states, and it has some of America's most beautiful night skies.
It's also home to some of the most extreme temperatures on Earth. During summer months, daytime highs can hover around 120°F (48°C), while nighttime lows drop well below freezing. Death Valley has recorded a temperature as high as 134°F (56°C). But don't worry: there are plenty of ways to stay cool even when temperatures soar!
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park is a great place to stargaze, with its clear night skies and lack of light pollution. The park offers many places to stay, including the Skyland Resort and Skyland Lodge. You can also opt for one of their cabins if you want a more rustic experience.
The Shenandoah National Park Visitor Center has exhibits on local wildlife and history as well as information about its trails and programs during the day time hours.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is a great place to stargaze. It's known for its hoodoos—the pinkish rock formations that rise like giant stone mushrooms from the floor of the canyon. The park also has a reputation for being one of the darkest places in America, making it an ideal spot for stargazing. Bryce Canyon is also known as "dark sky country," which means there are no bright lights nearby to interfere with your view of the night's sky. In fact, you can see more stars here than in any other national park!
The most popular time for people to visit Bryce Canyon is during moonrise at about 9 p.m., when bright sunlight reflects off those red rocks and turns them orangey-pink hues that are absolutely breathtaking from below (though not so much from above). And if you're lucky enough to be there during full moons—which occur every 29 days or so—you'll get an even better view!
Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Joshua Tree National Park, California (Joshua Tree)
The second-largest national park in the lower 48 states, Joshua Tree is a great place to experience a variety of night sky phenomena. In addition to its famous joshua trees and desert wildlife (including the endangered desert tortoise), this park has been designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary and is home to some of America's darkest skies.
In 2017, Joshua Tree was named one of the best places in America for stargazing by National Geographic Magazine. It's no wonder that visitors come from around the world for an astro-tourist experience here!
Our national parks are truly special at night.
Our national parks are truly special at night. The darkness of the sky reveals thousands of stars, and the quiet solitude is perfect for stargazing. Our parks also offer some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in North America. You can walk through forests, listen to sounds and watch animals go about their lives as you learn more about them in your guidebook or on one of our interpretive tours.
Hiking is another great way to enjoy America’s national parks after dark! Most trails have sections that are difficult to see during daylight hours but are illuminated by your headlamp or flashlight at night—making it easier than ever before to spend time exploring new destinations without worrying about getting lost while hiking alone at night.
Camping under the stars can be an unforgettable experience when visiting any national park overnight campground—but it becomes even better when combined with other activities such as photography or geology hikes! This combination gives you a chance not only get away from city lights but also explore some amazing landscapes filled with unique geological formations created by volcanoes millions of years ago!
National parks are a true wonder of America, and a trip to one is sure to be memorable. From the east coast to west, California’s Joshua Tree National Park has some of the darkest skies in the country. The truth is that whether you’re visiting Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, your sky will never look as good as it does in nature.