Did you know that Utah has the greatest number of dark sky areas on Earth? Pretty illuminating, right? According to the International Dark-Sky Association, Utah is home to the most certified dark sky parks and places on the planet. So if the Milky Way isn’t an average sighting in your hometown, it might be time to plan a trip to Utah.

Where to Start a Salt Lake Dark Sky Experience

Salt Lake is a great starting point to begin your dark sky adventure. You’ll be flying into Salt Lake International Airport, so why not stay a couple days and acquaint yourself with the city before heading to the stellar night skies. The Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake is a fantastic place to begin your dark sky journey. At the planetarium, experts can help you plan your trip based on your goals and interests in viewing the night’s sky. You can build your education on what’s to come for this once in a lifetime star-viewing experience and get inspired with spectacular documentary films at The Hansen Dome Theatre, like Deep Sky or The Secret Lives of Stars. Also while you’re there, you can check out a slew of other interactive science exhibits at this 10,000-square-foot planetarium.

Check out our Salt Lake Connect Pass, to get discounted entry to the Dome Theatre.

Where to View

Many people think of Utah’s incredible national parks when searching for dark skies, but what you might not realize is just how close Salt Lake is to some of these certified dark sky parks. Some are less than an hour drive from Salt Lake. Pretty spectacular right? So for a first time astro-tourist, it can be a great place to get your feet wet and enjoy some magnificent stars. You can even stay right in the heart of Salt Lake and merely make a day trip, or shall we say “night trip,” and then head back to a cozy bed in the heart of a bustling city. That’s the beauty of Salt Lake, where things that shouldn’t go together, miraculously do. It makes for a pretty unique star-gazing experience. Here are some of the places we recommend close to Salt Lake:

Antelope Island State Park

Home of the famous Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island State Park will have you gazing at the stars amongst the western hemisphere's largest saltwater lake. Unique, check. The park also hosts dark sky programs and events to learn more about the night sky.

East Canyon State Park

Drive up a beautiful winding canyon and watch the stars while sitting next to a glistening reservoir. East Canyon State Park also hosts dark sky parties throughout the year where they set up telescopes for viewing.

Jordanelle State Park

Located on the east side of the Wasatch Mountains, the reservoir at Jordanelle State Park provides a great dark sky viewing with its hillsides and mountains blockading the surrounding city light pollution. Only about 35 minutes from Salt Lake, it's easily accessible and hosts an array of dark sky events.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Home to an expansive cave system with stalactite decorated caverns, Timpanogos Cave National Monument is the first National Park Service unit to be certified as an Urban Night Sky Place. The Park is open from late May to the end of October, usually, so check their website before you go. This experience is very unique as you can see the underground darkness in the cave followed by the expansive darkness of the galaxy.

When to Visit

The best part about night skies? They are a year-round activity, so really you can experience the phenomena anytime of the year. We do recommend planning your dark sky trip in accordance to the moon cycles—particularly during or within a few days before or after the new moon. The new moon is not visible from Earth and is the time that the skies will be the darkest. The last thing you want are the stars to be washed out by the light of the full moon. Although the full moon is pretty cool in its own regard, it wouldn’t be optimal dark sky viewing. With the new moon, you can experience not just the grandiose view of the Milky Way but even the faintest of celestial objects like dust lanes of the galaxy.

Starry Skies over pine trees

Other Important Tips & Tricks

  • Bring a headlamp that has a red light. Ever notice how your pupils dilate in low light and the second you turn on a bright light they constrict? That’s your eye’s natural way of adjusting to light. For optimal star viewing, you want your eyes to adjust to the darkness as much as possible. This is why red light is the best for night vision vs. a bright white light.
  • Bring binoculars or a telescope (if you have access to one). Although these items aren’t needed since you’ll have a spectacular viewing simply with the naked eye, having these items can enhance your celestial viewing experience.
  • Come prepared. Remember you’ll be out in nature in the pitch black of night. Be sure to bring warm layers, plenty of water, and snacks. Pro tip: bring a chair, blanket, and a warm thermos of your favorite hot beverage for the ultimate cozy experience. Remember, even in the dead of summer, it can be cold at some of these parks due to higher elevation and colder night temperatures.

For even more details to help you plan your dark sky trip, check out Visit Utah’s Dark Skies Beginners Guide.

And for more trip planning ideas while you’re in Salt Lake, check out our trip planner page for all the things to know for your upcoming vacation.