GRAND CANYON – The National Park Service (“NPS”) and the International Dark-Sky Association (“IDA”) announced on June 5 that Grand Canyon National Park is now a Provisional IDA International Dark Sky Park.
IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001. Among other characteristics, IDA-designated locations must comply with rigid lighting requirements (about 43% of the park’s lighting already meet IDA criteria). With provisional status, the park has about three years to complete its retrofitting; and Grand Canyon plans to complete the improvements in 2019, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the park.
"With provisional status during the NPS Centennial year and full certification for the 100th anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park in 2019, the timing could not be any better for this announcement," said Jane Rodgers Deputy Chief of Science and Resource Management. Rodgers, who submitted the application, also added, "Grand Canyon offers a spectacular night sky that visitors come from all over the world to experience. That experience would not be the same without the help of our staff, community, the NPS Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, the generous support from Grand Canyon Association, and of course the IDA." (NPS Press Release).
In addition to Grand Canyon National Park, here are some other very dark skies in the country within one day’s drive from just about anywhere!
With a name like Death Valley, one must assume it gets dark! The National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2013. While you are there, beat the heat with an early morning hike through Mosaic Canyon. Along the way keep an eye out for Desert Bighorn Sheep.
Far away from the bright lights and big cities of Northern Virginia lies Staunton River State Park. The historic park is a newly designated International Dark Sky Park and will not disappoint stargazers. Each year the park hosts the Staunton River Star Party.
Most of southern Utah gets pitch-black skies, but for perhaps the darkest skies around, visit Capitol Reef National Park. The park was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2015 and has definitely earned the honor - the bright lights of Salt Lake City are more than 200 miles away. While you are there make sure to take hike on the Cohab Canyon Trail or the Hickman Bridge Trail.
The only thing Big Bend National Park is close to is Mexico. This remote Texas park is about a 5 hour drive from nearest civilization, so one need not worry about any light pollution. A couple we recommend are the Boquillas Canyon Trail and the Lost Mine Trail.
Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park is perhaps the best place to watch the night sky in the Eastern U.S. The park has some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi and is within an 8-hour drive of well over 50 million people. While you are there make sure to take a hike along the nature trail during the day.
Badlands National Park in South Dakota has some of the very darkest skies in the country. With very little light pollution the Milky Way can be seen streaking against the sky in all its glory. The park features ample opportunities for hiking by day and stargazing by night.
The Headlands in northern Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is world-renowned for its dark skies. The International Dark Sky Park was designated in 2011. Emmet County is on board with the designation, even going as far as to issue countywide ordinances banning unnecessary outdoor lighting to curtail light pollution.
Nestled in central Idaho lies the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. This rugged wilderness is far way from any substantial light. The jagged mountains are within a days drive of the sprawling metropolitan areas of Portland and Seattle and are a perfect backdrop for the Perseids. Try and book a campsite at Stanley Lake for uninterrupted views.
Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park in North Carolina is a little over an hour drive from Asheville and is located in the Pisgah National Forest. The observatory was the Southeast’s first designated International Dark Sky Park and has some of the very darkest skies in the east.