One of the best things about camping is being able to get out of the big city, leave the lights and noise behind, and surround yourself in beautiful, peaceful darkness. Unmarred by pollution of all kinds, the great outdoors is a popular destination for campers who want to get away from it all and feel closer to nature.
Stargazing ranks right up there in popularity with hiking and kayaking when it comes to fun camping activities. But unlike hiking and kayaking, stargazing can be done by campers of any age or ability, requires absolutely zero gear, and it’s free! In a world where not much is free anymore, that’s huge!
We’ve all stargazed at some point in our lives, even if it’s just been a quick glance up at the night sky while walking to our car in a parking lot. Stars, and the universe around us, are fascinating. Part beauty, part mystery, our minds try to wrap around the enormity of the world above us as we gaze at stars and objects that are millions of miles away. The idea of feeling so small as we stare up at a seemingly endless sky dotted with twinkling lights grounds us and helps us reconnect with our roots. It’s good for our soul.
But if you’re like me, you want to know more about what you’re looking at. Curiosity always gets the better of me and I start asking questions that I want answers to. Like, what constellations are above me?How far away are the stars that I’m looking at? Is that a planet or a star? Camping in remote areas has helped me turn my interest in all things outer space-y into an enjoyable hobby. Destinations that are far removed from the bright lights of the city and pollution from roadways offer the best location to hone your stargazing skills. It’s always shocking to me, even after years of wilderness camping, just how intensely black the night can be when it’s not lit up by anything artificial.
The next time you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, give stargazing a try (if you haven’t already). Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Dress for success-
Nighttime can be chilly, even in the summer, so make sure you (and your kids!) dress for the weather. Stargazing takes patience, and if your kids are shivering in shorts and T-shirts because it’s a cool 50 degrees, your stargazing outing may be over before it even began. Bring blankets, sleeping bags, even hats/gloves if you think you might need them. It’s always better to have more than you need. And a good hot cup of cocoa always helps too!
I’m not talking about downloading Luke Bryan songs. Your best bet for great stargazing lies about 45 minutes outside of a city, where the dome of white lights can’t reach. Out in the country, in pure darkness, is where the stars are allowed to shine the brightest.
Let your eyes adjust-
Give your eyes about 5-10 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Our eyes adjust accordingly to light and dark, so don’t expect them to work right away. After only a few minutes you’ll notice that you can start seeing more clearly.
Stargazing? There’s an app for that!
Download a few stargazing apps that’ll tell you all about what’s overhead. They allow you to input your location, time of year, and time of day, and off you go. Or just point your device toward the night sky and let the app do the rest. A few that have great ratings include:
- Night Sky Lite™
- Sky Map
- The Night Sky™
- SkyView Free®
- Star Chart
Your naked eye can see planets, constellations, and bright stars all on its own. In fact, without binoculars or a telescope, your naked eye can see 2.5 million light years away on a clear night, according to Sky and Telescope’s Guide to Exploring the Universe! But if 2.5 million light-years isn’t far enough for you and you want to try using binoculars, choose 10 x 50 ones for the best visibility. Some are even sold in stargazing kits, such as this Orion 10 x 50 Binocular Stargazing Kit. Skip a telescope altogether unless your stargazing hobby is turning into a SERIOUS stargazing hobby and you’re willing to plunk down a lot of money for a good-quality one. With telescopes, you get what you pay for, so don’t waste your money on a cheap one.
If this post has piqued your interest in expanding your stargazing horizons, check out some great places in the U.S. to go stargazing. If a trip to one of these destinations isn’t in your near future, step out into your backyard on a clear night to see what you can see. Or pack up the family and head out of the city with a picnic and some blankets. The road to a galaxy far, far away isn’t quite as far away as you might have thought.
- Twin Lakes State Park (Virginia)
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Southern California)
- Joshua Tree National Park (California)
- Headlands International Dark Sky Park (Michigan)
- Cherry Springs State Park (Pennsylvania)
- Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)
- Acadia National Park (Maine)
- Glacier National Park (Montana)
- Big Bend National Park (Texas)
- Bryce Canyon (Utah)