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We’re all used to seeing parts of Nevada lit up with flickering neon lights and extravagant illuminations on the streets of its big cities. These glitzy shows are a big part of the appeal of the Silver State, but there are even better light shows up in the skies every night, and what’s more, they’re completely free! From remote national parks to purpose-built viewing areas, here’s everything you need to know about stargazing in Nevada’s Dark sky Sanctuaries and immersing yourself in the vast space above.
Getting started with stargazing
One of the joys of stargazing, aside from the obvious visual reward of seeing the universe in front of your very eyes, is the fact that you don’t need anything special to get started. Technical equipment, star charts and other props can be useful, but the only thing you really need is dark skies. This term applies to areas where artificial light pollution is at a minimum so, as you can imagine, the further away from large cities you are, the better.
Park to Park in the Dark is a useful resource if you want to plan a multi-destination stargazing trip. You’ll need to prepare a few things in advance to do this properly, like having a suitable vehicle for off-road portions of the route, paper maps incase of network coverage issues, and relevant weather forecasts, but common sense would tell you to have this on your checklist before departure anyway. It’s also worth noting that travelling from destination to destination at night isn’t encouraged. It’s much better to get to your dark sky location before nightfall and prepare for the evening ahead.
The best places to stargaze in Nevada
If you want to go on a full stargazing tour, the Park to Park in the Dark route includes the destinations below. Of course, if you are short on time and still want something of an uncharted adventure – or at least feel the rush of going off the grid – then you can pick and choose from these dark sky hotspots to fit your personal itinerary. There are also 14 stargazing parks here, from Black Rock Desert to Angel Lake, and it’s worth planning to visit these as part of your own exploration of the area.
Great Basin National Park
This national park is open all hours, which means you can arrive here before nightfall, make the most of the stunning scenery and then stay on until the stars come out. Designated pull out locations are plentiful, so stick to those for everyone’s safety, and think about camping at one of the five sites here. Ranger-led summer programs are also an option, which include a telescope viewing in the Park’s recently opened Astronomy Amphitheatre.
Five miles east of the main entrance to the Great Basin National Park sits the small town of Baker. The last recorded population count was less than 100, so when we say small we mean small. Anyway, a few miles out of town you’ll find a few spots where, on clear evenings, you can get a full view of the Milky Way. You’ll notice the difference from the rest of the sky right away as different colours will start to emerge once your eyes adjust to the vivid contrasts. This might be one area where a pair of binoculars or a small telescope will come in handy. There are some great lodging options here with motels, Airbnbs, RV parks and campsites all located in town.
The largest city in White Pine County, Ely, is a great place to experience the best of Nevada if you want to avoid the usual hotspots but still get a lively atmosphere. If you drive from downtown to Historic Ward Mining District, you’ll get a sense of the otherworldly terrain Nevada is famous for, while the stars above will add to the magical aura. You’ll get a unique backdrop if you turn around and face the lights from the town too, as the neon glow, mountainous framing and rock formations make for perfect photo opportunities.
Another one of our favourite ‘big’ small towns, Tonopah is a spot for in-the-know travellers heading on to Reno. As well as great dining options, comfortable places to stay and the local creepy clown motel (only in Nevada…) there’s also a dedicated stargazing park a few miles down a dirt road just off the main highway. If you’re here in the summer months you can also join one of the star parties, in what is regarded as one of the best stargazing spots in America.
Back to a much smaller former boomtown, which you might consider a modern ghost town today, Goldfield has a tiny population but plenty of character, and you’ll find it a fascinating place to stop for a few hours in the day. At night, however, head to Gemfield or Gold Point to experience a stargazing phenomenon in all its glory. You can find glamping accommodation here and even charge points for your electric vehicle… but no gas stations!
Close to Rhyolite Ghost Town, Beatty has plenty of dining options, so you could use this town as a base for a longer stay. There are some great public lands surrounding the main town that are ideal for comfortable stargazing evenings if you’re a beginner. This is one of the unmissable highlights on the ‘starry-est route in America’. Beatty is also the gateway to Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley National Park
From Beatty you can head to Las Vegas but the better option if you want to really hang out with the stars is Death Valley National Park. This is a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, so you know you’re in for some serious opportunities to get the perfect nighttime experience. With more than 3.4 million acres to explore, you might want to take up a ranger-led program, but don’t be afraid to go it alone either. If you’re keen to go solo try popular destinations like Harmony Borax Works, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin and Ubehebe Crater, where you’ll have room to roam but also the comforting knowledge that like-minded stargazers are never too far away.
Want to experience these magical dark skies for yourself? Plan the perfect stargazing trip with Travel Nevada and find the perfect place to enjoy complete serenity in the wilderness.