THE NIGHT SKY CAN BE THE PERFECT CANVAS FOR ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY. BUT TO EXPLORE DARK SKIES, YOU NEED TO LEAVE THE GLOW OF THE CITY BEHIND.
GALAXIES, GLOBULAR CLUSTERS, the Milky Way, Perseid meteor showers. The night sky is a celestial frontier ripe for exploration—or for simply craning your neck skyward and staring into the cosmos. With light pollution and dense population in urban centers, increasingly starry skies are impossible to see in any detail. And all that light pollution can wreak havoc on nocturnal ecology, from turtle hatchlings to migrating birds.
To see the sky in all its star-studded glory, you need to travel to destinations with low population and little artificial light sources—ideally in places with high elevation and low humidity. Colorado is home to 10 International Dark Sky Association (IDA) parks and five IDA communities. With Colorado Stargazing: Experience the Night (colorado.com/coloradostargazing), you can journey on a self-guided tour of darksky destinations and find star parties and stargazing festivals. Meanwhile, the state of Utah leads the world in dark sky preservation with 24 IDA-designated Dark Sky Places. In destinations like Capitol Reef, Moab and Bryce Canyon, Venus and Jupiter shine bright enough to cast your shadow on the Earth.
A ziggurat in Crestone, Colorado. PHOTO BY PETER ISMERT/ COURTESY OF COLORADO STARGAZING
Located in the San Luis Valley, not far from Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Crestone is filled with ashrams, temples, stupas and even a ziggurat (shown here). It’s a spiritual center for various religions, and some say it’s one of the highest energy centers in the U.S. Crestone, with a population of 144, earned IDA certification as a Dark Sky Community in 2021.
Cuchara, Colorado. PHOTO BY SCOT MANGOLD/COURTESY OF COLORADO STARGAZING
Cuchara Mountain Park is one of the best places to stargaze near this mountain town on the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristos. Every June, the Rocky Mountain Star Stare (rmss.org), an annual star party 30 years running, is staged in a meadow an hour north of here.
Great Sand Dunes National Park. PHOTO BY MICHAEL VER SPRILL/ISTOCK
Certified as an IDA park in 2019, Great Sand Dunes National Park (nps.gov/grsa) is Colorado’s most whimsical place to stargaze. Hike into the shifting dunes and watch the sky come alive against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos, which shelter the park from the glow of Colorado’s Front Range cities.
Bryce Canyon National Park. PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT UTAH
Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park (nps.gov/brca), celebrating its 100-year anniversary, hosts a star party every June with telescope viewing, astronomers talks and even an after-dark string quartet. Framed by red rock hoodoos, some 7,500 stars can be seen on a moonless night in the park. To sleep under the stars, glamp in a safari-style tent at Under Canvas Bryce Canyon (undercanvas.com), 15 minutes down the road.
Westcliffe and Silver Cliff. PHOTO BY LARS LEBER/COURTESY OF COLORADO STARGAZING
These two south-central Colorado towns, located a mile apart in the Wet Mountain Valley, were the state’s first International Dark Sky Community. Here you can watch the unfolding drama of the night sky at the Smokey Jack Observatory (darkskiescolorado.org), which has a retractable roof and telescopes, including a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain.