“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” Anaïs Nin seems to capture wanderlust perfectly in that line. Most of us who feel the call of the road and the wind and the wild also feel our gaze pulled up to the starry sky. 

Sadly, the night sky is not as brimming with stars as it once was. Not for lack of stars but because artificial light clouds the view. Did you know many places around the globe can’t even see the Milky Way anymore? Our nights are overly lit by street lights, signage, and businesses and office buildings that leave their lights on when they are closed. Light pollution disrupts wildlife and natural ecosystems, and it has diminished our view of the stellar sky.

Enter DarkSky, formerly known as the International Dark-Sky Association. Since 2001 this conservation organization has been working with communities, parks, and protected areas to practice healthy lighting policies that reduce light pollution and save our skies. Their award-winning International Dark Sky Places Program has increased public education about responsible lighting practices and has certified 201 protected Dark Sky Places around the world.

Lucky for all you stargazers, Colorado hosts 15 Dark Sky Sites to keep you starry-eyed with wonder anywhere you roam around the Centennial State. 

Remember to pack a red flashlight or headlamp and a printed star map, plan your visit during a new moon phase for the best low-light views, and respect the nocturnal ecosystems! 

Here’s where to go for the best celestial views in Colorado.

Colorado Dark Sky Parks

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park


This national park in Southwest Colorado is about 14 miles northeast of Montrose. The deep and steep canyon offers wonderful hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking, but it also features amazing nighttime activities for looking up. The Black Canyon Astronomical Society and park rangers have many regular programs for visitors, including constellation tours, talks, telescopes, and even an annual multi-day Astronomy Festival.


Curecanti National Recreation Area 


This wide open space on a river system and three expansive reservoirs is located between Montrose and Gunnison in southwest Colorado. By day this recreation area offers great watersports, fishing, and hiking. By night the big, bright sky is on show and even reflects on the water! 


Dinosaur National Monument


In the far Northwest corner of Colorado lies this historical site full of dinosaur fossils and Fremont culture petroglyphs, and Class III and Class IV rapids for adventurous rafting on the Yampa and Green Rivers. It also has world-class stargazing, alone or through ranger-led programs at Split Mountain Campground.


Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument 


One of the richest fossil deposits in the world can be found just an hour west of Colorado Springs in Florissant. See massive petrified redwood stumps and a diverse exhibit of Eocene fossils along 14 miles of trails. At night, visitors can stargaze from the Hornbek Homestead, which stays open 24 hours a day. The park also partners with the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society for their guided Night Sky Programs.


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve 


The tallest sand dunes in North America are located in Southern Colorado, near Alamosa. Spend your day sand sledding or sandboarding, but don’t leave when the sun goes down! Being surrounded by a blanket of stars and clearly visible planets from atop miles of dunes is a truly otherworldly experience that will make you feel like you have left the Earth! Check the calendar for their summer night programs. Are you bringing the little ones with you? Kids ages 5-12 can earn a Junior Ranger Night Explorer patch!


Hovenweep National Monument 


Stretched across the southern border of Colorado and Utah lies the remains of six ancestral Puebloan villages under an open desert sky. This centuries-old historic site hosts structures and rock art that seem to mark the stars’ calendar of the solstices, giving the impression that people have been stargazing at Hovenweep for over 800 years. The monument closes at sunset, but the visitor center parking lot and campgrounds are open for stargazing. There are also spring and summer ranger-guided night sky programs.

Jackson Lake State Park


This “Oasis in the Plains” in Northeast Colorado was the first Colorado State Park to be certified as a Dark Sky Park. Its 3,303 acres of land and water give visitors plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors. Swimming on its sandy beaches, fishing, boating, and waterskiing are popular activities here, as well as enjoying the wide sky above in this serene setting. 

Mesa Verde National Park 


Located in Southwest Colorado, ten miles east of Cortez, are the historic cliff-dwellings of Mesa Verde. Go for a guided tour of the archeological remains, hike 30 miles of trails, watch some of the wildlife species that can’t be found anywhere else, and enjoy native dance demonstrations in this cultural center. At night, revel in the cosmic wonders under some of the darkest skies in the country. Make camp reservations, or stop at one of the many overlooks along the park road open to visitors after park hours to observe the breathtaking sky and celestial light show.

Slumgullion Center 


This undeveloped 58 acres near Lake City, Colorado, boasts great hiking and fantastic views of a rare natural landmark. The Slumgullion Earthflow is a slow-moving landslide that moves at a rate of about 23 feet a year! The Windy Point Observation Site is the best place to see the Slumgullion Summit, the earthflow, AND the expansive dark sky of bright stars.

Top of the Pines 


This open-space preserve near Ridgway serves as a prime place for outdoor educational programs for children, Nordic skiing, mountain biking, hiking, special events, and stargazing. Marvel at the grandeur of Mt. Sneffels rising up against a blanket of stars!

Happy Stargazing!

Colorado is also home to five Dark Sky Communities- Crestone, Norwood, Nucla/Naturita, Ridgway, and Westcliffe/Silver Cliff. These certified communities adopt outdoor lighting ordinances and public education initiatives that support the Dark Sky mission. They’re wonderful towns to visit if you want to see the stars, but you can’t make it out to the more remote parks.

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