10 Places Where You Can Still See the Night Sky

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on December 18, 2013.

For too many of us, getting a glimpse of the full panoply of the night sky has become a rare event. Only when in a national park or driving through farmland far away from urban centers can we behold all the constellations.

People are just starting to realize that it’s necessary to take efforts to prevent the spread of light pollution. The constant glare of bright electric lights uses up energy — and has even led the city of Paris to turn off the lights in some areas. Some communities are starting to seek out more sustainable ways to light up the outdoors.

The Tucson-based International Dark Sky Association (IDA) seeks to preserve the night and its beauty, to protect wildlife and save energy by reducing light pollution. U.S. residents waste an estimated $2.2 billion each year due to excessive and unnecessary lighting. The loss of “natural nights” wreaks havoc on humans’ circadian rhythms and produces adverse health effects.

In recognition of the night sky’s importance, the IDA awards dark sky status to parks, reserves and other communities around the world.

Here are ten places where the night sky is protected, and lighting controls prevent light pollution:

1. Northumberland Park, England

As of December 9, the 579 square miles of Northumberland Park have been given not just dark sky status, but also gold status.

As Steve Owens, dark skies consultant and chair of the IDA’s development committee, explains, “The quality of Northumberland’s night sky, and the huge efforts made by local communities to preserve them, make Northumberland Dark Sky Park a gold tier site, and one of the best places to stargaze in Europe.”

Plans are underway to further develop the park’s Kielder Observatory. As director Gary Fildes, one 80-year-old woman who saw Saturn was simply shocked to see the ringed planet:

She’ll have been through World War Two and went through some incredible things in her life, and for the first time in her 80 years she saw the planet Saturn for the first time, and saw it for herself, and that one moment alone was worth building the observatory for.

2. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located some 50 miles northwest of the Four Corners boundary of Utah, Natural Bridges National Monument was the first to be named an international dark sky park in 2007. According to the National Park Service, you can see 15,000 stars in the skies above the national parks — in contrast to only 500 in urban areas.

At the National Bridges moment, there is a “stunning river of light formed by the Milky Way rising over Owachomo Bridge” that, thanks to the IDA designation, is visible to visitors.

3. Death Valley National Park, California

The lowest point in the United States is located in Death Valley National Park; it now also bears the distinction of being the largest international dark sky park. Due to its distance from major cities, the view of the night sky from the desert floor is “pristine,” and “in many places, offers views close to what could be seen before the rise of cities.”

Visitors can actually see how extensive the Milky Way is, follow the path of a lunar eclipse or witness a meteor shower.

4. Zselic National Landscape Protection Area, Hungary

In heavily populated and industrialized Europe, finding a dark sky area is not easy. The Zselic region  is located in the southwestern part of Hungary, far from the capital of Budapest in the northwest. 10,500 hectares — much of it woodlands — is protected. On a clear night, the “artificial component of luminance of the nocturnal sky” is actually less than the natural aspects, making it possible to see the Milky Way and the Zodiac.

Only a few forestry- and recreational-related structures can be found inside the park itself. Light management plans are being implemented in nearby villages, to keep Zselic’s sky dark.

5. The Headlands, Michigan

To help you get the best experience of the night sky above this park in Emmet County, Michigan, you can view a Skymap showing which constellations are visible. Consider checking out the one-mile long Dark Sky Discovery Trail that leads to a designated viewing area.

By giving areas dark sky status, the IDA also seeks to educate the public about the need to preserve the sky. To this end, Emmet County Staff organized a “Lights Out Across the Straits” event in August, asking residents and business owners to please turn out the lights — all the better to witness the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower. The event also served as a reminder that, amid the fireworks and laser displays of summer, it’s worth enjoying the light shows that nature herself offers.

6. Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) includes Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin and is comprised of 1,600 square miles of New Zealand’s South Island; night skies here are almost “totally free from light pollution.” The site hosts the Mt. John Observatory — with tours during the night as well as the day — and also offers guided starlight tours.

Giving this area dark sky status was especially significant, as the night sky was key to navigation among the indigenous Maori. It also served to integrate “astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives.”

7. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

This private nature reserve in Southwestern Namibia on the Namib Desert seeks to conserve not only wildlife – including leopards, jackals, hyenas, zebras, giraffes and baboons — but has also to preserve the night sky. The communities nearest to the reserve are small, and the night sky is being considered an “indigenous natural resource.”

8. Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

Sheep outnumber people 30 to 1 in this park in southern Wales; it can be described as a “secluded utopia for stargazing and appreciating the natural nighttime environment.”

Those who live within the park’s borders are encouraged to reduce their light pollution to maintain its unique sights and also to get to know nocturnal creatures — including “barn owls, lesser horseshoe bats and other bat species, foxes, badgers, dormice, hedgehogs, moths and insects.” All of these animals need the dark to hunt their prey, and over-lighting threatens their survival.

9. Flagstaff, Arizona

The IDA also recognizes communities that are seeking to “achieve a community-wide lighting code, promote responsible lighting, dark sky stewardship, and exist as an example to surrounding communities on the possibilities available with the proper lighting.”

Flagstaff was the first to receive the status of an International Dark Sky City in 2001. Residents don’t need to travel far to be able to gaze at the stars and enjoy the natural night.

10. Borrego Springs, California

Borrego Springs in San Diego County is also a certified international dark sky community. The town is surrounded on four sides by Anza-Borrego State Park, whose 600,000 acres make it the largest state park in the U.S.

With fewer than 4,000 residents, Borrego Springs would be unlikely to make much of a light footprint. The pristine quality of the community’s skies is notable because, as Oregon Live points out, Los Angeles, Coachella Valley, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Mexicali and San Diego-Tijuana all surround Borrego Springs.

Rather than turning on as many lights as possible when nights get long, why not look up into the sky and see what you can find to admire?

Photo Credit: Jeremy Thomas/Unsplash

247 comments

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H8 days ago

thanks

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Michael F
Michael F9 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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kathy b
kathy bonard9 days ago

Since we moved from London to the coast you really appreciate the night sky.It is so black and beautiful.Always different things to see.Love it!

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Georgina M
Georgina M9 days ago

TYFS

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Paula A
Paula Arias9 days ago

thanks

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Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia9 days ago

Once H Maria hit us and we were left with no power for long months I could see the stars as I remember watching them when I was a child. They were so brilliant and finely outlined that the heavens impressed as a marvelous painting to behold!

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Lucy S
Lucy S10 days ago

I loved this post, thanks! It must have been over 25 years ago, when I was visiting a friend in northern Vermont, in the dead cold of winter. I recall walking outside and looking up at the constellations. It was the first time, when I discovered the Milky Way! What a gorgeous experience that was. I still remember how excitable I was, from seeing all those lights in the sky.

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Cathy B
Cathy B10 days ago

Thank you.

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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