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Starry-Eyed Destinations

Arizona may be home to some of the best sunsets in the world but even the most experienced star gazer would be impressed by the awe-inspiring starry night skies. Whether you’re an amateur astronomer or just love to observe the celestial objects in the sky, the Grand Canyon State has a star studded line up of stargazing spots.  

From Northern Arizona to the Valley of the Sun to Southern Arizona and the great towns in between, there are 29 stargazing locations one should be sure to check out when looking for the best views of the stars.

The first stop starts in the Northern part of the state. If you are willing to make the trip to the Northern Arizona area, you will certainly discover some breathtaking views.

The Grand Canyon:A classic certified Dark Sky Park that is known around the country to provoke wonder. The combination of high elevation and desert air makes for some picturesque night sky views. For the best views, head to Moran Point or Lipan Point on the South Rim.

Arizona Sky Village – Portal, AZ: 24/7 magnificent dark skies protected by the Portal, AZ community is some of what you can experience in this quaint community. Every house in the 450-acre community even has a domed observatory.

Lowell Observatory – Flagstaff AZ: Lowell Observatory is historically known for many things, such as the finding of the dwarf planet Pluto. Here at this observatory, not only will you find a big piece of Flagstaff’s history, but you can also stargaze, interact with exhibits and observe the solar system.

Monument Valley – Navajo Tribal Park: After acquiring a guide and tribal permission to this Navajo Nation Valley, you will experience some of the most iconic and stunning landscapes and skies. Monument Valley is additionally one of the few remaining locations with naturally dark skies in the United States and Europe.

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area – Cottonwood: Verde River is in the top 20% of the world for locations with the best visibility of the Milky Way. This spot is perfect for stargazing as it is far away from any light pollution, so be sure to check this astonishing location out.

Mount Elden – Flagstaff: Those interested in stargazing at Mount Elden may also find the gravesite for John Elden Jr., shot on Mount Elden at just six-years-old. When it gets dark, keep an eye out for some fantastic night sky views but try not to be too spooked!

Wupatki National Monument – Flagstaff: Surprisingly enough, the parking lot of Wupatki National Monument is one of the best places to see the stars, with almost nothing blocking the view. With the visitor center and trails closing by sunset, nothing is stopping you from enjoying the views from the comfort of your car in the parking lot!

Buffalo Park – Flagstaff: Not only do you get an amazing view of the night sky, but also the privilege of being accompanied by buffalo and mule deer during your visit. This is an especially convenient location if you are in the Flagstaff area.

Arizona Snow Bowl – Flagstaff: Make sure to visit this spot during the summer, as they have events during the other seasons. Snow Bowl also hosts events that celebrate stargazing as well as many other fun events to check out.

Sunset Crater Volcano Park – Flagstaff: Ponderosa pines frame this magnificent view at 1,000 feet high, including great options for camping. This park also happens to be one of the youngest volcanic craters among the 400+ in northeast Flagstaff.

Coconino National Forest – Sedona: One of the most diverse forests in the country, Coconino offers breathtaking night sky views amidst pines, red rock, cacti and alpine tundra.

Verde River Area – Cottonwood: This spot is well worth the drive for a glorious view of the stars, far removed from city light pollution. Verde River, one of the only free-flowing rivers left in the desert, features excursions and a trail loop that takes you through the area’s natural beauty and wildlife.

If you desire a stargazing spot closer to the Phoenix Metropolitan area, here are some equally inspiring spots to see it all right in the Valley of the Sun.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park – Maricopa County: 21,099 acres of desert make for a truly astounding view of the night skies. Programs are offered here with telescopes included as well as some great trails for hiking.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park – Waddell: For just $6 per vehicle, you can experience the wonders of this stargazing hotspot near Phoenix. This national park also offers numerous events and classes related to the stars.

Cave Creek Regional Park – Cave Creek: A favorite tourist destination, this regional park offers some fantastic night sky views as well as hiking. The most popular trail you should be sure to check out is the Go John Trail.

Tempe Town Lake – Tempe: Tempe Town Lake is a popular hangout location that offers various activities such as a beginner class on stargazing and kayaking at night. Park close by and walk along the lake for a night filled with stars, cool weather and restaurants nearby.

Estrella Mountain Park: Estrella, which translates to star in Spanish, boasts 20,000 acres of desert, wetland and mountains with awe-inspiring night sky views. Legend says Mexican gold is buried somewhere around the mountain.

Phoenix Mountains Preserve: This preserve of parks is only 20 minutes from downtown. Piestewa Peak and Camelback are the highest points in the preserve and offer some magnificent panoramic views. The hike is challenging to get up there but well worth it.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Not only are there scenic trails but some great night sky views as well. This revered park surrounded by mountain ranges is also a sacred marker to the Yavapai people.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park – San Tan: This piece of Sonoran Desert holds a suburban park ranging in elevation from 1400 to 2500 feet. There are many activities offered here, such as horseback riding, hiking and stargazing tours.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch – Gilbert: Here you will find the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory, which is open to the public every Friday and Saturday.

Hilltop at SunRidge Canyon – Fountain Hills: For those less interested in hikes and more in a luxury setting, here you will find some breathtaking night sky views with many high-end resorts to accommodate.

If you want to be even closer to the equator and looking for stargazing in Southern Arizona here are some great locations to check out near Tucson:

Mount Lemmon SkyCenter – Mount Lemmon: Located high above the City of Tucson, this SkyCenter possesses two of the largest telescopes in the Southwest, available to the public.  Mount Lemmon SkyCenter also holds stargazing events almost every night of the year.

Kitt Peak National Observatory – Tucson: Established in 1964, just 50 miles from Tucson, this observatory holds the single most diverse collection of astronomical instruments in the northern hemisphere. For $50, sign up for the Nightly Observing Program, one of their best stargazing experiences.

Saguaro National Park – Pima County: Home to cacti almost two centuries old, tourists can see the park and the crystal-clear dark skies in the comfort of their car. These desert skies provide for some spectacular stargazing.

The Sonoran Desert: Relax under a blanket of stars and enjoy the serenity of the Sonoran Desert.  Loop trails, excursions, jeep tours and more will offer great views of this landscape.

Oracle State Park – Tucson: Wildlife refuge with great picnic areas, this park is one of the least visited in Arizona making it perfect for those looking for solitude in their sky viewing.

Tumacácori National Historical Park – Santa Cruz: Stars of the constellations Cassiopeia and Andromeda can be seen from the ruins of these three Spanish mission communities, two of which are U.S. National Historic Landmark sites.

Catalina State Park – Pima County: This park offers great campsites, horse riding, magnificent hikes and sometimes a concert series. This certified dark sky is removed from Tucson’s light pollution and is sure to give some amazing night views.

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