These National Parks Are Hosting Astronomy Festivals in 2024

Get outside, ditch the light pollution and marvel at the cosmos on these protected public lands

Milky Way over a dark landscape
The Milky Way is visible at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado. Rob Hazzard / NPS

National parks lure millions of travelers each year with their otherworldly rock formations, abundant wildlife and thought-provoking archaeological sites. But because they’re often located far from big cities and have very little light pollution, they’re also ideal destinations for stargazing.

Many national parks are now using the tagline “half the park is after dark” to remind visitors to stay up late and appreciate unobstructed views of the cosmos. As an added bonus, stargazing is a chance to experience these serene public lands while nearly everyone else is asleep—which is especially helpful at some of the most popular national parks.

You’ll often find year-round astronomy programming to help you make the most of the dark skies, no matter when you visit. But as you plot out your summer travel plans, you may consider adding some of these national park stargazing festivals to your calendar. They often feature guest lecturers from institutions like NASA, the chance to look through powerful telescopes and other fun, interactive ways to learn about outer space—and, perhaps just as importantly, bond with fellow astrophiles.

Grand Canyon National Park — June 1–8

You can still catch the final weekend of Grand Canyon National Park’s annual “star party,” with events taking place on both the North and South rims. On the South Rim, which is the most popular side of the Grand Canyon, enjoy evening programs in front of the visitor center, including a talk from Lauren Camp, the poet laureate of New Mexico, and a lecture on planet formation by Taylor Kutra, an astronomer at Arizona’s Lowell Observatory. On the North Rim, the line-up includes discussions about eclipses, Milky Way photography and how to become an amateur astronomer on a budget.

And if you can’t make it, don’t worry. The park offers year-round astronomy programming—so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to marvel at the cosmos during your next trip out.

Bryce Canyon National Park — June 5–8

Bryce Canyon National Park’s annual astronomy festival is also this weekend, with astrophotography workshops, lectures from NASA scientists and even solar telescopes you can use to safely look at the sun during the day. One lecture even explores our attempts to detect and contact extraterrestrial life. The 35,835-acre swath of southern Utah, which protects otherworldly, reddish-orange sandstone formations known as “hoodoos,” has been an International Dark Sky Park since 2019.

Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park — June 7–9

Arch silhouette against night sky
The Milky Way lights up the night sky behind Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Utah. Jacob W. Frank / NPS

Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park are teaming up for the third year to offer the Southeast Utah AstroFest. This celestial bash, which takes place at all three locations, includes ranger-led programs, telescope viewing and other family-friendly activities.

Badlands National Park — July 5–7

Forget fireworks. Stars, planets, nebulas, meteors and other dazzling celestial spectacles are all you need to celebrate the long Fourth of July holiday weekend at Badlands National Park.

Situated in southwest South Dakota, the 244,000-acre park is once again hosting its annual astronomy festival in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium. This year’s lineup includes guided tours of a scale model of the planets, solar telescope viewing sessions, a hands-on paper rocket launch and guest speakers discussing subjects like the James Webb Space Telescope and Mars geology.

Rocky Mountain National Park — August 2–3

You’ll need a timed entry reservation if you want to visit Rocky Mountain National Park during the day this summer, which can require a little forethought and planning. But, at night, you can drive right in without jumping through any extra hoops.

The park, located in northern Colorado, is hosting a series of astronomy events on several Fridays and Tuesdays throughout the summer, featuring ranger-led programming and telescope viewing. Park staffers are still ironing out the details, but they’re also organizing an astronomy festival the first weekend of August.

Voyageurs National Park — August 8–10

For the third year, the nonprofit Voyageurs Conservancy is hosting a star party at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. The exact lineup of events is still being finalized, but you can expect telescope sessions, s’mores around the campfire, constellation tours, a film screening and more. The dates also align with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, one of the year’s most highly anticipated celestial events.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park — September 5–7

People setting up telescopes against a backdrop of a starry night sky
The lack of light pollution makes it easy to admire the stars at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. Joyce Tanihara / NPS

Head to one of Colorado’s lesser-known national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in early September for three days of telescope viewing, guest speakers and general appreciation of the dark night sky, which the park calls a “threatened resource.” Known as AstroFest, this annual gathering also includes activities in Curecanti National Recreation Area and the town of Montrose. Spanning 30,750 acres, Black Canyon of the Gunnison earned its dark sky designation in 2015.

Great Basin National Park — September 5–7

Located in east-central Nevada, Great Basin National Park protects 77,180 acres of limestone caverns, 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees, towering peaks and glacier-carved landscapes. It’s also an International Dark Sky Park, thanks to its remote location and its unique basin topography, which helps block out any artificial light from distant metropolises. Another reason to visit? It’s the only national park in the country with a research-grade observatory, called the Great Basin Observatory (GBO).

The park’s annual astronomy festival will feature Milky Way photography workshops, observatory tours, arts and crafts, constellation talks and to-be-announced guest speakers.

Joshua Tree National Park — October 4–5

Milky Way behind rock and tree
You might catch a glimpse of the Milky Way if you stay up late at Joshua Tree National Park. NPS

Fall brings cooler temperatures to Joshua Tree National Park, the 792,623-acre park in Southern California that protects the Mojave and the Colorado desert ecosystems. The milder weather is perfect for hiking, climbing, backpacking and other daytime pursuits. But it’s also ideal for staying up late to admire the inky black skies above. Tickets for the park’s annual night sky festival—which doubles as a fundraiser for Sky’s the Limit Observatory & Nature Center and Joshua Tree Residential Education Experience—often sell out, so be sure to snag some when they go on sale June 15.

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