Cities around the world come alive at night, their streets filled with headlit cars instructed when to stop and go by traffic lights. Pedestrians wait for a lit-up man to tell them when it's safe to cross, minding the warning of the bright red hand that tells them when it's not. The effect of all these manmade lights extends farther than the places they're located, polluting the ability to appreciate the lights that existed long before we did.
Founded in 1988, The International Dark-Sky Places Association (IDA) has found a way to help humanity get back to its roots, designating the darkest places in the world, and therefore the best places to tilt our heads skyward. The campgrounds at these Dark Sky Parks serve as a reminder of how extraordinary it is to exist at this moment, on a planet illuminated by the same material that lives inside us all.
10 Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
Designated as a dark sky place in 2018, the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve underwent $20,000 in upgrades to ensure its 1,702 acres would be a superb stargazing spot. The Preserve now offers nighttime programs centered on the importance of conserving darkness in an increasingly lit-up world. The electricity-free Indian Ridge campground offers a pitch-black place to pitch a tent and enjoy the night sky.
- Address: 3485 County Rd 2700 E, Penfield, IL 61862
9 Warrumbungle National Park
Warrumbungle National Park was designated Australia's only dark sky park in 2016. On the edge of the park, the Siding Springs Observatory studies the sky from a spot not clouded by light pollution. The park is plenty beautiful during the daytime with its volcanic mountains and forests, but the landscape becomes even more surreal at night, the silhouettes of spires reaching towards a star-heavy sky. There are several remote campsites to wish upon a star from, but it might be impossible to single out which twinkle you saw first.
- Address: Belougerie Flats Trail, Warrumbungle NSW 2828, Australia
8 Medicine Rocks State Park
Named for its unique rock formations filled with Native American art, Medicine Rocks State Park earned its status as a dark sky park in 2020. Since then, the park offers star parties, inviting visitors to participate in conversations focused on the impact artificial light has on humans, animals, and the environment. There are 12 campsites to choose from, offering views of the Milky Way in a place as studded with historical and cultural significance as it is with stars.
- Address: 1141 MT-7, Ekalaka, MT 59324
7 Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park in Scotland was dubbed a dark sky place in 2009. Policies have been put in place to ensure that twenty percent of the park will never be permanently illuminated, which means unspoiled views of stars above the rolling hills. There are 11 campsites, but many campers prefer to go a different route with wild camping. There are almost 300 square miles encompassed within the park, so there are plenty of places to set up camp and sink into the feeling of being away from it all.
- Address: Galloway Forest, Creebridge, Newton Stewart DG8 6AJ, United Kingdom
6 Buffalo National River
In 2019, the Buffalo National River became a dark sky place. Blessed by tremendous bluffs, vast open fields, and beautiful forests the Ozarks are known for, this sanctuary for the sky offers stunning views any time of the day. Campers can expect a unique view of the sky brought down to Earth, the shimmer of stars reflecting off the water at one of many riverside campsites.
- Location: St Joe, AR 72675
5 Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley State Park became a dark sky place in 2016, and it is close to several other heavy-hitting locations like Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Park. While all of these designated places are great for sky-watching, Goblin Valley offers a more secluded star show. The landscape is covered in thousands of towering sandstone "goblins" and is one of the most heavily concentrated spots of hoodoos in the entire world. Visitors can bring their own tents or reserve one of two yurts available for camping.
- Address: Goblin Valley Rd, Green River, UT 84525
4 Prineville Reservoir State Park
The Prineville Reservoir State Park just recently became a designated dark sky place in May of this year. It's part of Oregon's high desert, standing over 3,000 feet above sea level. Campers will literally be closer to the stars at Prineville Reservoir, enjoying the contours of tree-dotted desert buttes illuminated by the night sky. It is open for camping year-round, with both responsibly lit campsites and primitive camping available.
- Address: Prineville Reservoir State Park, Prineville, OR 97754
3 Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
Far from Disneyworld, the beautiful Kissimmee Prairie Preserve was designated as its own majestic dark sky kingdom in 2016. The 54,000-acre preserve is one of Florida's largest parks. Unlike the swampy southern portions of Florida, the park is a dry prairie with vast expanses of grasslands that are home to several endangered species. Reserve a special astronomy viewing pad, where fires are banned and only red spectrum lights are allowed to ensure ideal stargazing conditions.
- Address: 33104 NW 192nd Ave, Okeechobee, FL 34972
2 Cherry Springs State Park
Cherry Springs State Park was designated as a dark sky place in 2008. As the darkest place in the eastern United States, it's the perfect spot for an unimpeded view of The Milky Way, which is said to be so bright here that it casts a shadow. Depending on the time of year, visitors may also view the Northern Lights at Cherry Springs. Overnight campers at the Astronomy Observation Field must register in advance and pay a fee, which is a small price to pay for such a spectacular view, especially if you can manage to snag a stargazing pod.
- Address: 4639 Cherry Springs Rd, Coudersport, PA 16915
1 Cosmic Campground
Located near untainted New Mexico wilderness, the Cosmic Campground was designated a dark sky place in 2016. The site is a popular spot for astrophotographers due to the unobstructed views and lack of light pollution. It's recommended to arrive before nightfall so that headlights don't impede a visitor's ability to take in the sights in their full capacity. Primitive campsites are first-come, first-served, and nightly quiet times are in place to ensure a peaceful experience for those gazing overnight.
- Address: 18 Ranger Station Rd, Glenwood, NM 88039