Camping and stargazing go hand in hand. Starlit canopies, constellations, meteor showers, and planets make being outside infinitely more rewarding, and what better time is there to join these two ventures than amid a post-pandemic camping surge in which 10 million households embarked upon their first camping excursion in 2021?
If you’re one of the millions of novices or seasoned campers planting your flag somewhere new, plan on making at least one a destination that boasts incredible night skies.
The International Dark Sky Association this month named Greater Big Bend the 20th Dark Sky Reserve and just the second in North America. (Central Idaho claims the only other.) The 9 million-acre area spans from Fort Davis, Texas, to the Rio Grande River and into the Sierra del Carmen mountains of Coahuila, Mexico, making it not only the largest protected Dark Sky space in the world, but it also the first to ever cross an international border.
The designation should put a dent into numbers that indicate more than 99% of the U.S. population lives in areas with light pollution capable of drowning out even the most prominent constellations and planets, while approximately one in every three humans, and nearly 80% of North Americans, are unable to see the Milky Way. And while stargazing opportunities have diminished due to human interference, an abundance of unimpeded skies can still be enjoyed if you’re planning properly.
Collaborating with our friends over at Hipcamp, one of the most comprehensive resources for booking tent camping, RV parks, cabins, treehouses, and glamping, we pieced together a list of what we consider some of the best dark sky campsites in the West. To explore these and others, be sure to use Hipcamp’s interactive Dark Skies Map, a handy tool that overlays the International Dark Sky Association’s light pollution data on Hipcamp’s available inventory.
On the Arizona-Utah border, just outside of Monument Valley, is this western retreat offering top-notch views around the clock. Guests at Chiefs Camp bring their own camping gear but select amenities, including a fire pit, barbecue grill, outhouse, and outdoor shower with hot water, are available.
With Glen Canyon and Monument Valley nearby and spectacular stargazing in every direction, this northeastern Arizona accommodation is well worth a visit. Prices start at $28 a night. Book your stay here.
Just 35 minutes south of Grand Canyon National Park is a bushcraft-inspired stargazing cabin that comes replete with a large skylight, so you don’t even have to move to enjoy the heavens.
The cabin features a large deck overlooking the San Francisco mountains, while a fire ring and grill grate allow for home cooking. On the more primitive side, the property features an outhouse and composting toilet, and guests will need to bring their own water, bedding, firewood, toilet paper, cooking utensils, and propane. Four-legged companions are welcome at no extra charge. Prices start at $73 per night. Book your stay here.
With both Zion National Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park less than an hour away, this campsite is well-positioned to host all manner of adventurers and dark sky enthusiasts.
A picnic table, fireplace, chairs, and camp lantern are all included. As for the bed, a spacious king awaits guests who will have access to fresh linens, blankets, and pillows. Restrooms and towels are available, and for visitors who don’t mind sharing, a hot tub and sauna are also onsite. Prices start at $129 per night. Book your stay here.
Just Average A-Frame
It’s hard to beat an A-frame featuring a full glass window with views of the night sky, but that’s exactly what guests enjoy at this property an hour and a half east of San Diego.
The “Just Average A-Frame” premises, which sits adjacent to a host of recreational opportunities in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, features an outhouse and composting toilet, a shower, potable water, a communal kitchen, and small lounge area around a wood-burning stove. Prices start at $80 per night. Book your stay here.
Canyon Trails Ranch
Within walking distance of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is the Canyon Trails Ranch and its two shepherd camp wagons that combine touches of early western history with sights unique to western Colorado.
Each wagon includes a full-size bed and a pull-out table with built-in benches, as well as electrical outlets and a private outdoor seating area. Running water, fire pits, picnic tables, and a community shower and restroom are also available. With hikes to ancient ruins, horseback riding, and a vineyard all in the vicinity, Canyon Trails Ranch is definitely a place worth getting cozy. Prices start at $95 per night. Book your stay here.
Near Death Valley National Park
There’s just something about stargazing in the desert, and few places do that better than Death Valley National Park. At this site 20 minutes from Death Valley Junction and 45 minutes from Furnace Creek, guests can enjoy the region’s otherworldly sights at a camp conveniently located next to a family vineyard.
This primitive-oriented site offers picnic tables, potable water, and shared composting toilets onsite, as well as an outdoor shower. Rates start at $25 per night. Book your stay here.
After the news of the Greater Big Bend Dark Sky Reserve, we’ve got our eyes on southwest Texas, and Valerie’s Camp, set on 25 acres in the Chihuahuan Desert, is our basecamp of choice.
Guests, who are permitted to set up anywhere on the property, must bring their own firewood, water, propane, and other standard amenities. (Fire restrictions may be in place depending on wind.) An outhouse with a flush toilet is available onsite, as are fire rings. And if you want to do a little reading during your down time, the host’s extensive library is available to all guests. Prices start at $30 per night. Book your stay here.
Back on the glamping side of things are these luxurious tents, which come equipped with a king-size bed, a futon, private front porch, and electricity.
Just 8 miles from the southern Utah hub of Kanab, the property also features two shared washrooms with flush toilets, three kitchens (two indoor, one outdoor), grills, TVs, and a fire pit ready to toast up s’mores offered by the property. Not a bad way to enjoy the dark skies southern Utah is known for. Prices start at $210 per night. Book your stay here.
Custer Glamping Co.—Farm Pasture
Sticking with glamping—in Custer, Washington, just 20 minutes from Bellingham—this property boasts multiple sites nestled in a 1-plus-acre pasture highlighted by a rustic barn, evergreen trees, and remarkable night skies.
Tents include beds, warm blankets and sheets, and wood burning stoves. A shared outhouse and hand-washing station, as well as a community picnic table and fire pit, are onsite. For a small addition, visitors can also enjoy morning coffee service. Prices start at $89 per night. Book your stay here.
Nestled in an inlet on the south Puget Sound between Olympic National Forest and Capitol State Forest are approximately 7 acres of private land beckoning those comfortable with roughing it.
There is no sewage, water, or electricity, and a lack of toilets means, worst case, that a hole must be dug. But if that doesn’t scare you away, the privacy perks alone should be enough to lure you. Each booking which includes a fire pit and a 12×12 tent platform, gets the entire property, meaning no other guests will be there. Pack in, pack out, and enjoy the peace and quiet of solitude. Prices start at $38 per night. Book your stay here.