April 5-12 is International Dark Sky Week, an annual event that raises awareness about the negative effects of light pollution. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) and its local chapters around the world will host virtual events, and are encouraging folks to discover the night where they live.
Utah has some of the darkest skies in the world—and you don’t have to drive to the national parks to find them. Celebrate dark skies at these six IDA-certified dark sky parks located an hour or less from the University of Utah campus.
“In Salt Lake City, you only see the brightest 100 stars. These places have significantly darker skies. In some of them, on a good night, you can see nebula and galaxies without having to spend the time, gas and money to go down to parks in southern Utah,” said Paul Ricketts, director of the U’s South Physics Observatory and member of the U-based Consortium for Dark Sky Studies.
Find a list of virtual events hosted by IDA Utah chapter events here.
Ricketts’ tips for stargazing
- Check when the park closes its gates and get there ahead of time.
- Pay the day-use fee to help support the dark sky programming.
- Once you arrive, use the site maps to choose ideal star-gazing areas. Places away from established campgrounds will have less lighting.
- For parks located on the Wasatch back, face the east to avoid light pollution from the cities along the Wasatch Front.
- Avoid shining white light—switch headlamps to the red-light mode.
- Set your phones on the darkest setting—your eyes need 20 minutes to see the maximum amount of starlight.
- Layer up. Wear long sleeves and pants for bugs and cold weather.
- Set up your telescope during the day to avoid fumbling around in the dark.
- No telescope? Bring binoculars.
- During non-COVID times, check for star parties. Often astronomers and enthusiasts will set up telescopes and point out celestial bodies.
“You don’t need fancy equipment. With the naked eye, you can see the expanse of the Milky Way, and even some of the brighter galaxies like Andromeda,” said Ricketts. “Binoculars will help you see things that are more invisible to your eyeballs. A telescope bumps that up even more.”
Six dark sky parks an hour or less from campus
Find more information on the parks at Visit Utah, online here.
East Canyon State Park
East Canyon State Park has one of the darkest skies on this list. The surrounding mountains block much of the light pollution from nearby cities makes it nearly 40 times darker than the skies in the valley. Look to the east and straight up for the darkest experience.
North Fork State Park
North Fork State Park sits in a canyon near Ogden that blocks the light pollution from Cache Valley and the Wasatch Front. It’s one of the few places where you can see the Milky Way so close to an urban center.
Rockport State Park
At 6,000 feet of elevation, the thin atmosphere in Rockport State Park makes for an exceptional star-gazing experience. Look for the park’s dark sky programming to learn about the importance of dark skies for nocturnal species.
Jordanelle State Park
Inside scoop: the darkest skies in Jordanelle State Park are in the Rock Cliff Nature Area.
Antelope Island State Park
Just 40 miles outside of Utah’s urban center, Antelope Island State Park’s night sky protection efforts have preserved breathtaking views of the Milky Way. From April to June, biting gnats can be all over the island. Call the visitor’s center to check whether they’re active.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument
The American Fork Canyon monument recently became the first National Park Service unit to receive an Urban Night Sky Place designation. Come for the spectacular caverns, stay for the stars.