Your Guide to North America's Dark Sky Parks Destinations | Travel Zone by Best Western

Your Guide to North America’s Dark Sky Parks

By Stuart Hughes

Whether you’re a budding astronomer, an avid stargazer, or simply looking for a vacation that offers a truly unforgettable experience, if you haven’t already heard about North America’s incredible Dark Sky Parks, they might just change how you vacation in the future. 

Dark Sky Parks are awe-inspiring destinations with close to zero light pollution, providing visitors with unobstructed views and allowing you to witness the night sky in its purest form. That’s because North America’s Dark Sky Parks offer spectacular year-round views of celestial phenomena like meteor showers, the Milky Way, and even the Northern Lights 

Dark sky weather and the lunar cycle 

So unique are these experiences most Dark Sky Parks hold annual Dark Sky Festivals that coincide with the optimum New Moon phase in the monthly lunar cycle. Absent of any additional light sources, Dark Sky Parks are the pinnacle viewing platform to gaze into the universe on clear nights. Here you can witness millions of stars and visible planets shining, bringing the night sky to life each night… without needing a telescope. 

While dark skies are visible throughout the 29.5-day lunar cycle, it’s best to visit Dark Sky Parks throughout the weeks on either side of the scheduled New Moon. Use the  Dark Sky calendar as reference for the New Moon. 

Embark on an immersive journey as you holiday at one of these North American Dark Sky Parks, as these stunning stargazing destinations promise an unparalleled and unforgettable adventure. 

Acadia National Park, Maine 

Ideally located less than a day’s drive from New York, Boston, and Montreal, Acadia National Park in Maine, has become one of the most popular Dark Sky Parks on the east coast. Even with a host of day-time activities to keep visitors busy, it’s at night that Acadia National Park comes to life.  

Any time of year you visit, be sure to head to Cadillac Mountain to catch an incredible sunset, then wait as the twilight fades and the stars and planets of the Milky Way begin to light up the night sky. If you’d like to catch the Acadia Night Sky Festival, it’s traditionally held in the fall.  

Enjoy a week or two exploring Acadia National Park when you stay at the Best Western Acadia Park Inn in Bar Harbor, Maine. 

Death Valley National Park, California 

Recently accredited, Death Valley National Park has been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, confirming its status as a top destination with the darkest night skies. Although the Death Valley Dark Sky Festival typically takes place in February, this Dark Sky Park provides visitors with consistently favorable dark sky conditions throughout the year.  

With an abundance of stunning astronomical vistas, Death Valley National Park delivers an array of incredible photographic opportunities. Hypnotizing locations such as Badwater Basin Salt Flats, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Dante’s View make for stunning backdrops to the awe-inspiring night sky panorama. 

Enjoy a week or two exploring Death Valley National Park when you stay at the Best Western Frontier Motel in Lone Pine, California. 

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 

Did you know that the Grand Canyon isn’t just a magnificent natural wonder; it’s also become a sanctuary for stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts who seek to marvel at the majesty of the night sky. In fact, in June 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park was granted IDA International Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association. 

With incredible deep space observation points on the Colorado Rivers’ North and South Rims, the Grand Canyon National Park provides a different setting every night for stargazers to snap the night sky. Be sure to attend this Dark Sky Parks’ annual Grand Canyon Star Party in the summer. 

Enjoy a week or two exploring Grand Canyon National Park when you stay at the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn in Grand Canyon, Arizona. 

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), Minnesota 

Located in Northern Minnesota and surrounded by thousands of lakes, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of only 15 certified International Dark Sky Sanctuaries worldwide. So impressive are this Dark Sky Park’s cosmic landscapes; it has become a world-class stargazing tourist destination. 

With magnificent vistas all year round, viewing the visible planets and stars of the Milky Way can be done with or without a telescope. However, December is a great time to visit, as Cook County hosts its annual Dark Sky Festival in the winter. 

Enjoy a week or two exploring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness when you stay at the Best Western Plus Superior Inn in Grand Marais, Minnesota. 

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada 

As the second largest of all the Dark Sky Parks globally, Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, is also one of the most scenic. With a fantastic array of mountains, lakes, and glaciers, Jasper National Park provides a stunning backdrop to see the Northern Lights light up the night sky.  

While a common sight here, if the Northern Lights aren’t on display, Jasper National Park provides a stellar view of the heavens year-round. Get involved at the upcoming Jasper Dark Sky Festival. 

Enjoy a week or two exploring Jasper National Park when you stay at the Best Western Plus Hinton Inn & Suites in Hinton, Alberta. 

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

As our second Canadian Dark Sky Park, famous for its regular Northern Lights displays, head over to the Banff National Park in Alberta. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights activity often peaks around the equinoxes in March and September in Banff National Park. 

Here you can catch the early evening dark sky nights from the luxurious Banff Upper Hot Springs, or for late night viewings, head to the shores of Bow Lake. With almost no light pollution, Banff National Park is one of the world’s best Dark Sky Parks to observe the interstellar scenery. 

Enjoy a week or two exploring Banff National Park when you stay at the Best Western Plus Siding 29 Lodge Banff, Alberta. 

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