Dark-Sky RV Parks in the U.S.

When observers go camping, we want to find RV parks far away from the city lights. Taking in the wonders of the night sky is part of the appeal of camping and RV travel, but sometimes, a campground’s lights can make the night sky look like you’re in a miniature city.

No matter when we go stargazing, however, we can find places to camp that yield the least light pollution and allow us an unobstructed view of the skies. Here are a few suggestions for RV campgrounds around the country ideal for observing.

RV park under the stars

El Monte RV

Top USA RV Parks for Stargazing

Beneath the legendary dark skies of the Modoc Plateau in far-northeastern California, Likely Place RV & Golf Resort is a favorite with astronomy clubs and campers who travel with their telescopes. The skies here are dark (21.85 on a Dark Sky Meter) and lighting is managed with observin in mind. A telescope field with power, concrete telescope pads, an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level, and comfortable RV amenities make this site a “must visit” for enjoying night skies.

Another West Coast campground custom-made for stargazing is the Casini Ranch Family Campground near Duncans Mills, California. This western Sonoma County RV park and campground features 100 acres along the Russian River, far enough away from the lights to promise crystal clear views of the heavens. The resort is large enough to accommodate your astronomy club’s camping needs, so why not organize a group trip?

Moving west, we like the stargazing possibilities over Gila National Forest in western New Mexico. Apache RV Park near Reserve, New Mexico, features a rural setting away from most light pollution. Thanks to its more southerly location, you’ll be able to see stars not visible in the northern states.

When we travel through Texas in search of dark skies, one of our favorite spots is Fort Griffin State Historic Site near Albany. Thanks to surrounding large-acreage ranches, there’s little light pollution to hinder views of constellations, meteor showers, and other heavenly sights. The park offers monthly organized stargazing events. A small campground away from the observation area has full hook-ups or primitive campsites.

Another Texas site famous for its unobstructed views of the heavens is Big Bend National Park in far west Texas. In fact, it’s recognized as the least light-polluted national park in the continental U.S. Big Bend’s vast, open spaces and the park’s commitment to eliminating light-pollution equals unparalleled opportunities for observing the night skies.

There are plenty of opportunities for maximum stargazing in the eastern U.S. too. Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County, Pennsylvania, is famous with astronomers for its dark skies unspoiled by civilization, including shielded lighting throughout the park and a 360-degree view of the night sky. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has certified Cherry Springs as a International Dark Sky Park thanks to its efforts at minimizing light pollution. The park makes campers with an observing bent especially welcome with its Astronomy Field, where concrete telescope pads with electric hook-ups allow you to set up your sky-watching equipment.

Another favorite place to camp among amateur astronomers is Staunton River State Park in southcentral Virginia. Recently named an International Dark Sky Park, this state park offers campers loaner telescopes, stargazing programs, and a park-wide commitment to dark-sky lighting practices.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Stargazing RV Trip

Before you pack the RV with lawn chairs and telescopes, we suggest calling ahead to local astronomy clubs to learn what sky-watching programs might be offered. The state parks I’ve mentioned also offer programs and helpful tips for making the most of your time under dark skies.

Dark skies make a tempting case for capturing celestial wonders with the art of astrophotography. Pull out your camera (or your smartphone) and give it a try, but first check out the advice from Jerry Lodriguss, S&T contributing editor and renowned astrophotographer astrophotography, geared toward everyone from those just starting out to advanced imagers, and find more information among S&T’s astrophotography resources.

One more crucial tip for enjoying stargazing while RV camping: whether you’re staying at a private RV resort or a state park campground, take time to learn the etiquette for observation areas. Campfires, unshielded lighting, and using telescope power sources as RV hook-ups are frowned upon in most parks where dark skies are treasured.

The brilliant heavenly displays above North America are a great reason to get out and camp in your RV. Start searching for dark-sky areas locally, then expand your search to places you’ve always wanted to camp. It’s a great year to get started on your journey to find America’s best stargazing campgrounds.

2 thoughts on “Dark-Sky RV Parks in the U.S.

  1. Wayne-WootenWayne-Wooten

    For 40 years, the campgrounds at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island have hosted dark sky sky interpretation by members of our local Escambia Amateur Astronomers; They have dark sky facilities at Battery Worth, with power and scope pads, next to the RV park and campgrounds. If the bad weather moves on, will be out there Friday evening and Saturday morning for Perseids in the Park with the NPS rangers. For more info about our monthly gazes at the Pensacola Beach Pavilion, Fort Pickens, and Big Lagoon State Park, contact sponsor Dr. Wayne Wooten at wwooten@pensacolastate.edu or call 850-484-1152.

  2. Howard RitterHoward Ritter

    I can testify to the dark-sky conditions at Big Bend. Two years ago my wife and I spent a couple of nights in our RV at Big Bend’s Rio Grande Village campground in July, and had the place virtually to ourselves – this huge park is awesomely deserted in the hot low season, so much so that we were two of I think literally no more than a couple of dozen people in the 1300-square-mile park overnight. With no Moon in the sky, no other humans in the vicinity, and not an artificial light to be seen, night is stupefyingly dark and the sky indescribable. See my Focal Point essay in S&T for February 2014. I believe that S&T Editor-in-Chief Peter Tyson can tell you a thing or two about being even more remote in Big Bend than we were!

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