There are few activities that give you such a dramatic perspective on our place in this universe as stargazing, and with the right equipment and conditions, you can also see some of the most beautiful sights that the galaxy has to offer. There are plenty of spots across the United States that offer fantastic stargazing conditions, and choosing to pack your telescope and equipment into the car and taking a road trip can prove to be a genuinely wonderful experience. There are plenty of things to consider when you are planning your stargazing trip, and here are a few aspects to consider as you plan your trip.
Choosing Your Destination
If you are not too concerned about the distance you will have to travel, there are some amazing spots around the United States that have conditions that are ideal for stargazing. The national parks are often great options, as they will be placed a reasonable distance away from towns and cities, and among the best are the Acadia National Park in Maine, the Joshua Tree National Park in California, and the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. For those not looking to go quite so remote as these locations, you will also find that the Clayton Lake State Park, around 15 miles from Clayton in New Mexico, and the Cedar Breaks National Monument, around 23 miles from Cedar City in Utah are both closer to civilization while still having great stargazing conditions.
What to Look for in a Spot
Once you have arrived at your desired destination, choosing a spot where you can set up your telescope ready to enjoy the stars is very important. One of the first things to remember is that you may be there for some time to enjoy the stars, so try to find a location where you will be able to make yourself comfortable, while a location with some trees in the area around the site can help to reduce the wind that will be sweeping across your spot. Ideally, light pollution should be at a minimum, so a site away from campsites or lodges that may be in the area will also be a good decision.
Camping or Local Accommodations
There are pluses and minuses to both options here, and certainly, if you are staying out for much of the night, then having a warm room, bed, and shower to go home to can be a wonderful luxury. However, stargazing can lead to quite unusual sleeping patterns, and the check-out times in many hotels, unless they are used to welcoming stargazers, will not always be stargazer friendly. Camping is also a particularly good option if your chosen spot for watching the stars is well out of the way, and it means that you won't have a long walk or car journey before you finally get to bed. This means that the real choice of accommodation depends on what your priority is after you have finished for the evening.
When to Arrive
Ideally, you want to get to your destination with plenty of time to set up your equipment as it is darkening, rather than having to use a flashlight. This also gives your eyes time to adjust once the light has been switched off. Make sure you have enough time to grab something to eat before camping out for the night, which means that you should arrive two to three hours before dusk.
What Equipment Should You Bring
If you are already an experienced stargazer, you will usually have a telescope and tripod, and depending on your level of experience you may also have astrophotography equipment. However, the most important thing is to make sure that you are comfortable, so a reclining chair or blanket that will allow you to look up while you are relaxed will make your evening much more comfortable. Food and hot drinks will also help to make your evening more comfortable. It is also vital to ensure that the power pack for your telescope is sufficient for the whole of the stargazing session, or you can bring a fully charged spare ready to swap over if the battery runs out during the evening.