Dark Sky Parks: A Guide to the Best Nighttime Vistas

When was the last time you looked up to see the stars? We mean, a time when you didn’t immediately Instagram the experience #nature #blessed? Even in our ever-growing world, there are 51 communities that celebrate the night and are working to safeguard their vistas from light pollution and high rises. Here are 10 dark sky parks you can travel to that’ll let you see everything from meteor showers to lunar eclipses, distraction-free.

Q: What is a Dark Sky Park?

A: An International Dark Sky Park is a land possessing exceptional starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific natural, educational, and public enjoyment. Long story short, dark sky parks are home to some of the most fantastic nighttime views of stars and planets in the world.*

1. Ballycroy National Park and Wild Nephin Wilderness, Ireland

Ireland’s first national dark sky park covers over 37,000 acres of land. If you’re staying in Dublin, Ballycroy can be a relatively easy day trip. Take the train to Westport then a bus to Ballycroy Village. While you’re in the County of Mayo, don’t forget to see the famous Cliffs of Moher or the Clare Island Lighthouse.

Accommodations from $12

2. Bodmin Moor Dark Sky Landscape, England

In Cornwall, Bodmin covers over 51,000 acres of stunning star-gazing land. It contains an observatory as well as 7 sites established exclusively for looking at the night sky. While you’ll get more dark sky time in the colder months, Cornwall is great to visit in summer for its lush gardens and surfing.

Accommodations from $124

3. Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

There are places in Utah that still feel like the Wild West, and Goblin Valley is certainly one of them. With roughly 3,600 acres of land, many hikers take to Goblin to see the “hoodoos” (freestanding sandstone rocks that have eroded over time). Located in the state’s Green Valley, there are plenty of opportunities to hit the trails, raft on the Colorado River, or see the Crystal Geyser. Then, once you’re done for the day and camping under the stars, the real show begins.

Accommodations from $41

4. Eifel National Park, Germany

In the grand scheme of the German National Park System, Eifel is a newbie. Covering 27,000+ acres, it’s located in the North Rhine-Westphalia state, the country’s most populous. Despite that fact, Eifel has some of the best views of the night sky in Western Europe. Take a trip there when visiting Cologne and it’s gorgeous cathedrals.

Accommodations from $33

5. Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

Go big or go home. Galloway is the UK’s largest forest park, stretching nearly 193,000 acres. It spans into both Dumfries (where you can see Caerlaverock Castle) and Galloway, two scenic destinations well worth your while, meteor showers or no meteor showers.

Accommodations from $56

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

This list wouldn’t be complete without the Grand Canyon. Easily one of the most recognizable parks in the world, it covers 1.2 million acres of land and covers a swath of northwest Arizona. Prepare yourself for epic hikes, river trails and stunning, Instagram-worthy photo opps. Camp out under the dark sky to see the stars like never before.

Accommodations from $217

7. Hortobágyi National Park, Hungary

Near the city of Debrecen is Hortobagyi, Hungary’s first national park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has almost 25,000 acres of land for you to explore. Visit the “Bridge with Nine Holes” and stay in one of the inn’s that have popped up over the centuries to serve travellers seeking a closer look at Hungary’s natural wonders.

Accommodations from $33

8. Møn and Nyord, Denmark

Talk about an island getaway. Visitors to Mon and Nyord islands are usually from larger cities, seeking a bit of peace and quiet. With over 55,000 acres to explore, they’re sure to find it.

Accommodations from $19

9. Warrumbungle National Park, Australia

Stargazers and amateur astronomer alike will know Warrumbungle as Australia’s only Dark Sky park. At 5 hours inland from Sydney, the 58,000-acre park is easily accessible for even the casual adventurer. Hike Breadknife and Grand High Tops, then settle down for a picnic under the vast night sky.

Accommodations from $39

10. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Montana/Alberta

Waterton-Glacier is the first Dark Sky park to span two sides of an international border. It’s also the first International Peace Park — a largely symbolic but noble partnering. Made up of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana, the park covers over 1.1 million acres of land. Together, they form an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, working to preserve that land’s rich natural resources and biodiversity. Whatever side of the border you fall on, the night displays here can’t be missed.

Accommodations from $95

Whether you’re catching meteors or staring at stars, KAYAK can help make sure you’re planned and ready to go on your next dark sky adventure.


*As defined and designated by the International Dark Sky Association.
Header Image Attribution:  Alexey Suloev/Shutterstock.com
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