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Look up and reconnect with the stars. It’s time to blow your mind in Utah, where you’ll find the world’s the highest concentration of spectacular International DarkSky Association-certified locations.
There has never been a time in history where humans weren’t looking to the skies in awe of beauty and seeking inspiration, navigation or insight to the meaning of life. The night sky is a beautiful, mysterious place and an internationally protected resource. Across the world, there are more than 200 DarkSky certified places, protecting 160,000 square kilometres of land in 22 countries and six continents. And among the vast number of certified International DarkSky parks and communities catalogued as the finest dark skies in the world, the highest concentration is in Utah—part of The Great Western Starry Way of the Intermountain West.
Most of us don’t even realize it, but the Milky Way is visible from most places on Earth. However, 80% of North Americans live in places where light pollution from cities drowns it out. Utah breaks the mould with vast, open land, high elevation and an arid climate, beckoning with dark skies around nearly every bend. Utah’s dark skies are visible in any season, but viewing is weather dependent, so always build back-up days into your travels. For best viewing, plan your celestial admirations around the mood cycles, prioritizing the week before or after a new moon to avoid the full moon washing out the stars.
Ready to plan a road trip that explores the unusual and celebrates the celestial wonders of the world? Pack warm clothes, water, snacks, a headlamp and lawn chair, and a curious mind. Then head out to some of Utah’s most incredible dark sky parks and delve into the mysterious and mind-blowing world of natural wonders, visible only after the sun sets.
It’s all in the name—Goblin Valley is full of fun and adventure by day and a little spooky at night thanks to its geology and remote location on a corner of the Colorado Plateau and inside the San Rafael Swell. It sees fewer visitors than other state parks, but it is by far one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world to view the Milky Way. This strange and colourful valley is covered with sandstone “goblins” and formations that seem as though they fell from Mars. Camp among them as you stare up to the skies for inspiration.
Also remote and a little lesser known is Capitol Reef National Park. This hidden gem of a national park feels like a planet of its own with bluffs, domes, canyons and bridges along its highlight—the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic “wrinkle” in the Earth. At Capitol Reef, it is easy to imagine Earth before life appeared and how beings eventually learned to connect with the night sky. Be sure to visit nearby Torrey, a certified DarkSky Community.
Most people flock to Utah for the gorgeous red rock landscapes—Kodachrome Basin State Park takes this world-renown motif a step further with red, pink, white, yellow and gray shaded pillars that are only the beginning. Kodachrome is also one of the darkest skies remaining in the continental United States, thanks to its geographical remoteness, incredible air quality, high elevation, low humidity and distance from urban areas. Looking to up your stargazing knowledge? Park staff and volunteers offer astronomy events several times each year.
Escape metro light pollution and venture into high altitude at Cedar Breaks National Monument, which overlooks a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater from 10,000 feet. Wander the bristlecone pines and lush meadows of wildflowers by day, and if you’ve ever wanted to try sleeping under the stars, Cedar Breaks’ campground is the perfect place to give it a whirl. Rangers hold stargazing programs throughout the summer months, and night sky festival events take place in September.
Just 25 miles north of Salt Lake City sits Antelope Island State Park—a glorious island in the Great Salt Lake featuring free-roaming bison and antelope herds by day and mind-blowing dark skies at night, especially from the west side. Take in the sunset from Buffalo Point and Frary Peak before nestling into stargaze from the salty remnants of an ancient lake. Connect with the universal energy field from one of several primitive campsites or learn about the Milky Way and beyond from park programming. It’s easy to forget you’re just 50 minutes from the city!
Boasting some of the most spectacular dark skies in Utah, Dinosaur National Monument takes visitors back in time to when there was only the sky, the land and, of course, dinosaurs. Discover remains, still visible in the rocks, and petroglyphs that hint at earlier cultures—and even the homesteaders and outlaws that sought refuge in more recent history. Once the night settles in, prepare for some incredible stargazing and dark sky programming at the Split Mountain Campground.
Outreach programs, innovative public art, an intense wildlife focus and urban adjacency sets North Fork Park apart from other dark sky parks and communities in Northern Utah. This sprawling county park is nestled into a canyon near the community of Ogden, and although it is near an urban center, the Milky Way is still visible, since the Wasatch Mountains block light pollution. During the day, seek hiking, biking and equestrian adventures, but save energy for stargazing after the sun sets.
Discover the underground world in the caverns of helictites, stalactites and stalagmites of Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Offering up the thrill of twisting and bending in and out of beautifully decorated “rooms”, the cave is also the first National Park Service unit to be certified as an Urban Night Sky Place. Check out popular summer night sky programs in American Fork Canyon, and revel in delight at discovering the under and over worlds, all in one place.
Ready to start planning your dark skies road trip? Visit amatravel.ca/utah and discover the mystery and reconnect with your ancestral connection to the universe.