Stargazing Guide for RVers: 15 Bucket-List Destinations
Stargazing Guide for RVers: 15 Bucket-List Destinations
Plus, tips for making the most of staying overnight in the great outdoors.
By: Jon & Nadia Bajuelo
From time to time, we may feel a need to escape. Life under the bright lights of the city gets hectic, closing in with its deadlines, never-ending to-do lists, and performative busyness. We often choose nature for our great escapes, and it’s no wonder research consistently shows the positive effects nature has on our physical and mental health.
For such escapes, nothing makes it easier than your RV. And nothing puts daily stressors into perspective like spending a night stargazing.
What Makes a Good Stargazing Spot
Your RV easily carries you away from city lights, instantly upgrading any spot with your bed and bathroom built-in.
When finding a good stargazing spot, try to get as far away as you can from any light pollution. And, if at all possible, try to get to a spot where it’s not too humid. Easier said than done in certain regions, but something to consider if you have the time to cover some ground.
Make sure it’s a clear night with no or few clouds. Wherever you are, try to avoid the full moon. Outside the city, all that stuff about the silver moonlight suddenly makes sense. Full moons are amazingly bright and won’t make for good star watching.
While it’s nice to get out to a national park or Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
land, local city or state park campgrounds also make for great stargazing. U.S. Forest Service campsites have been some of our favorite spots.
International Dark Sky Designations
As light pollution grows, so does the importance of preserving our night sky. The International Dark-Sky Association works to recognize and promote conservation of the night sky. They provide five different designations, like International Dark Sky Community or International Dark Sky Park.
These designations are earned through action to preserve dark sites with responsible lighting policies and public education. The program also encourages other communities to join the effort.
Check out their map of International Dark Sky Places at darksky.org.
A Stargazing Bucket List for RVers
Through RVing, we started hitting some notable International Dark Sky Communities and International Dark Sky Parks. We were just stumbling upon these at first until we learned of the International Dark-Sky Association while in Flagstaff. Years later, we’ve got a list of our favorites.
International Dark-Sky Communities We Recommend
1. Borrego Springs, CA
Wide-open spaces to boondock and some dinosaur and dragon hunting during the day. Boondock or stay at The Springs at Borrego RV resort which hosts star parties and has its own observatory for hookups.
2. Flagstaff, AZ
Flagstaff has actually been designated since 2001, making it the world’s first-ever International Dark-Sky Place. Be sure to check out the Lowell Observatory (socially distant options available through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic). During the day, check out historic Route 66, their craft beer scene, and absolutely get pizza at Pizzicletta. Check out nearby national monuments for even more stargazing. Here are more tips for RVing in Flagstaff.
3. Fredericksburg, TX
We stumbled upon this spot while attending Heath & Alyssa Padgett’s RV Entrepreneur Conference and quite appropriately learned all about night photography in the process. Visit on purpose for the night sky and stay for the wine. Stars and wine, what could be more perfect?
4. Ketchum, ID
You may be more familiar with this spot as Sun Valley. One of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been to, it’s easy to disappear into nature. A beautiful place in summer and it’s also well-known as a ski destination. Stargaze and, if possible, extend the trip by driving along the Salmon River––you won’t be disappointed.
5. Sedona, AZ
Already a bucket-list destination, add stargazing to all the red rock touring. There is boondocking, which will get you under a dark sky amongst the red rock available for rigs of all sizes. Spots do go fast though, especially the Class-A-friendly spots.
National Parks We Recommend for Stargazing
1. Arches National Park, UT
By far the most comfortable stargazing we’ve done was at Arches. We’ve visited multiple times, and it’s one of the few places you can get me to happily lose sleep in order to stargaze past midnight. Also, the only place I’ve ever felt like I could just sleep outside, no tent, not that we did (Arches is open 24 hours, but thereis only one campground in the park). This is a truly spectacular national park.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Great stargazing and also one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. That pretty much says it all.
3. Death Valley National Park, NV / CA
Death Valley NP is the largest International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. Just be sure to be prepared whenever visiting desert destinations in your RV.
4. Big Bend National Park, TX
Big Bend NP has the least light pollution out of all of the parks in the lower 48.
5. Acadia National Park, ME
Acadia definitely proves that beauty and great stargazing can also be found east of the Mississippi.
6. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
This national park is quite easy to access, both in terms of location and how easily it can be toured by driving through, you also get great views of the night sky from the many campsites available inside the park.
7. Natural Bridges National Monument, UT
An off-the-beaten-path park, we highly recommend you spend some time in Natural Bridges while visiting Utah. It was the first place to receive the designation of International Dark Sky Park and is among the best places to catch the summer Perseid meteor shower.
Top State Parks for Stargazing
1. Cherry Springs State Park, PA
If you’re looking for a great place to stargaze in the east, look no further than Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. It’s known for its incredibly dark skies and is the second International Dark Sky Park.
2. Stephen C. Foster State Park, GA
Not to be confused with the Florida state park with a near-identical name, this Georgia state park provides some of the darkest skies you can find in the Southeast.
3. Bahia Honda State Park, FL
The high humidity of Florida doesn’t allow for much in the way of clear skies, but Bahia Honda State Park is a notable exception. It’s one of the few places where the Southern Cross constellation can be seen in the U.S., and you can explore the Florida Keys while you’re there.
Items to Bring on Your Stargazing Getaway
Know what you’re looking at with a star chart. Go analog or choose digital with a smartphone app. Our favorite app is SkyView. Just point your phone, and it tells you what star or constellation you’re looking at in any direction.
Another great resource is NASA’s What’s Up Guide. Bookmark this guide as they constantly update it with what to watch for that day/week/month, complete with info on the moon phase and other super helpful tips.
You’re going to be looking up for a bit so be sure to bring blankets and chairs so you can lie back or recline. Pillows don’t hurt either.
Bring snacks and drinks. Choose anything you like, but you can’t go wrong with energy bars and a thermos of coffee or hot tea.
And don’t forget to pack layers. Regardless of season, it can get chilly late at night. You might want extra blankets for warmth. Layers can also help you keep cooler in the summer as you can remove as needed.
Mosquito repellent is a must in many places during summer.
If possible, try not to look at lights for 40 minutes prior to stargazing to adjust your eyes. Pack a headlamp with infrared light or red cellophane to put over your regular flashlight to avoid bright white light.
While you can do plenty of stargazing with the naked eye, you might also want to bring along some binoculars or a travel-size telescope.
Major Stargazing Events to Plan Your Travels Around
Every summer brings the Perseid meteor showers around August; this year, the peak will be August 11-12. An average year will treat you to as many as 60 shooting stars an hour!
But, if you can’t get out during August, don’t worry; there are meteor showers most months you can look out for.
Seasonal & Year-Round Constellations
Use a sky map app to learn which constellations should be visible to you at your location. Luckily, some constellations are year-round. The What’s Up NASA guide linked above helps you find constellations and specific stars in the daily section.
Regularly Google ‘stargazing events for (insert year)’ and find out when conjunctions, lunar eclipses, and other neat celestial events are happening.
Before summer ends, be sure to see the milky way with your naked eye. This has been our favorite thing to see under the dark skies our Winnebago has taken us. Summer is the best time to see the Milky Way straight overhead. It’s possible to see it, though a bit lower in the sky, during late spring and early fall, but is impossible to see in winter.
The Milky Way is our home in the universe. Being that we’re looking out from within, it’s impossible to see it all, but the piece of it we can see leaves us awestruck. It’s inspired humans before us, yet it wasn’t such a rare sight for them. The light pollution of modern life has made it an elusive sight for many of us.
There’s plenty of time left to get out and watch the night sky light up before winter.