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.
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.