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Top 7 State Parks for Stargazing

It’s easy to forget that endless treasures occupy the sky above us every night! 

Stargazing has always been a pastime and a learning opportunity, and there are more tools and resources for trying it out now than ever before! Beginners can start off with books, binoculars and planispheres to get going in identifying constellations and celestial bodies. For experienced astronomers, packing up the telescope and heading to a park opens a whole world of opportunity. 

Even if the identification aspect isn’t for you, stargazing is a wonderful way to reconnect with nature and gain some perspective. Sometimes a getaway is necessary, even just for an evening. Take a drive to any Colorado State Park that allows visitors after sunset, spread out with a blanket and picnic, and stare into the magnificent sky. Insects like to come out in the evening, so bug repellent is recommended. Remember that Colorado gets chilly after sundown, especially at high altitude, so be sure to bundle up! 

Dark Sky Designations

Jackson Lake State Park in Morgan County was designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, becoming just the fifth national park and eighth total location in Colorado to receive the designation and the only site located east of I-25. More information: 9/10/2020 news release.

7. Ridgway

Ridgway sunrise and stars

Head to Ridgway for amazing expanses of clear skies over incredible mountain views. You might catch the best views from Dakota Terraces Campground, but for a more luxurious experience, check out one of Ridgway’s yurts! Ask park staff about upcoming stargazing events, which feature members of the Astronomer Society and instruction on telescope use!

6. Eleven Mile

Eleven Mile campground, stars and full moon

Camp out in your tent or RV at Eleven Mile to catch clear skies over the shimmering reservoir. There’s plenty of space for a telescope! Bring a constellation identification book along and see how many you can spot. Enjoy the peace and quiet of the secluded Stoll Mountain or Cross Creek campgrounds. Doesn’t the night sky make you feel small?

5. Pearl Lake

Stars at Pearl Lake over a yurt

What is a better way to experience stargazing than at a serene lakeside setting? At Pearl Lake, you get just that. Located in the mountains north of Steamboat, this park is the perfect escape from day to day life.  At Pearl Lake, your options for experiencing the night sky are plentiful. With 2 loops and 36 campsites available, camping here is a great way to experience those stunning mountain skies. If you are looking to leave your tent at home, consider renting one of the two yurts available for reservations year round, and enjoy the night sky from your elevated deck. If you are interested in a relaxing evening of stargazing with clear night skies, Pearl Lake will be a great fit for you. 

4. Rifle Gap

The night sky at Rifle Gap State Park

Nestled behind the Grand Hogback, and below the White River National Forest, Rifle Gap State Park is a perfect place to experience clear mountain skies. With 89 campsites, Rifle Gap is a great spot to plan an overnight stargazing trip. Enjoy breathtaking views of the night sky from one of the many wide-open campsites. Although you may miss the stars when the sun rises, the night skies will be replaced with lovely views of the reservoir and surrounding mountaintops. Start planning your stargazing trip to Rifle Gap today by checking out the five campgrounds available. 

3. State ForestMillions of Stars at State Forest Millions of stars at State Forest

Bundle up and get away from it all under a heavy blanket of twinkling stars at State Forest. Pack your binoculars and planisphere to help you get started identifying the constellations! Experienced astronomers recommend keeping a journal of everything you see. Get a new hobby started or sharpen those scientist skills! Stargazing is the ideal mix of learning and relaxing.

2. Navajo

Navajo glowing tent with background of stars

Light pollution is almost nonexistent under the thick smattering of stars. It’s just you and the constellations; sit back and enjoy the serenity. If you stare long enough, you might even catch a glimpse of a shooting star.

Educational events and telescope trainings take place at various state parks throughout the year. Chat with park staff to learn about upcoming events and for pointers on the best spots to scope out some constellations!

1. Jackson Lake

Full moon at Jackson Lake State Park

For us, Jackson Lake State Park takes the cake! In August 2020, Jackson Lake in Morgan County became the only state park in Colorado to receive a designation as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Already popular with amateur astronomers, the park removed large street lamps and eliminated and updated many light fixtures to be dark sky compliant. Park staff also worked with the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society and with Mile High Astronomy, an astronomy shop in Denver, during the designation process. Mile High Astronomy helped the park get a Celestron telescope at a reduced price. The telescope has a keypad and makes it easy to find celestial objects in the night sky. The result of all this work is one of the best places to view the night sky in Colorado.