Arizona, known as the “Grand Canyon State,” is in the southwest corner of the U.S. The state’s amazing sights include Parker Dam, the world’s deepest dam and the largest human-made lakes in the U.S., Lake Mead, and Lake Powell. The Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Havasu Falls all draw in visitors worldwide with their stunning landscapes.
Arizona’s natural wonders are world-famous, but did you know the state has some mind-blowing stargazing opportunities? This region has so many great spots that are unspoiled by light pollution. If you want to visit these places, stay tuned. We have some great recommendations for you!
Why you should stargaze in Arizona
Why stargaze in Arizona over any other state? A combination of things makes it an ideal stargazing destination.
First, the sky is typically clear year-round, giving more opportunities to see the stars.
Second, the state has numerous mountain ranges, allowing observers to bypass the thickest atmospheric layer.
Third, there are plenty of designated “Dark Sky Spaces” that are well-maintained by the state. The International Dark-Sky Association selects these spaces. In Arizona, there are ten parks with this distinction.
The average person can see the stars in several ways. There are world-famous observatories, excellent camping grounds, and specialty hotels for stargazing.
Our favorite stargazing opportunities
There are many ways you can stargaze in Arizona. Here are a few of them:
- Taking a tour: If you don’t have any experience and would like someone to guide you, taking a tour may be a good idea. Many of them include equipment and a guide so that all you’ll need to do is show up.
- Camping: Many of the best spots have camping grounds. If you want to see the night sky with either the naked eye or your own equipment, this is a great option.
- Visiting an observatory or planetarium: If you want access to some high-powered telescopes, you may want to visit an observatory. You can see deep into space with their equipment. Observatories often have exciting exhibits and tours as well.
- Staying at a stargazing hotel or bed and breakfast: In Arizona, there are a few hotels that dedicate themselves to stargazing. Like an observatory, they may have their own telescopes, equipment, and experts. It’s an excellent way to have an all-inclusive experience.
How to plan your adventure
“So,” you may be thinking, “how do I start planning my trip?” As we see it, there are two main criteria to factor in:
What type of experience do you want?
You’ll want to decide what type of stargazing you want to do. You can refer to the list above for ideas and begin planning from there. Your experience level, the amount of equipment needed, and the stargazing you want to do will have an impact on your choice.
What season do you want to go in?
Arizona typically has at least 200 days of clear skies a year, so conditions are usually favorable for stargazers. However, you’ll need to keep in mind that the monsoon season (between July and September) can bring in heavy rains and storms. There are also occasional winter storms. October through June is usually an excellent time to stargaze in Arizona, which gives you plenty of possibilities.
Visit these 11 spots for stunning stargazing
Now, it’s time to explore your options! Here’s a guide to the top 11 mind-blowing spots for stargazing in Arizona:
1. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is Arizona’s most famous landmark, drawing in five million guests annually. Visitors love seeing its red rock formations and deep canyons during the daytime. However, after dark, the park lights up with billions of stars. In 2019, the park qualified for Dark Sky Park status. It is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site with that designation.
Stargazing is optimal around the canyon rim. It is straightforward to reach these areas from both the lodges and the camping grounds. There are a few light sources in the park you may have to avoid, but it isn’t too tricky.
2. Oracle State Park
Located an hour-and-fifteen minutes above Tucson, Oracle State Park is both a wildlife refuge and state park. You can explore over 15 miles of hiking trails during the day, and at night, you can see the stars. If you want to see the Milky Way Galaxy, this park is perfect. Like the Grand Canyon, Oracle is an International Dark Sky Park.
Oracle State Park is off-the-beaten-path, and you will not have to worry about crowds. Annually, starting March 1st, the park opens roads and trails for stargazing. During the summer, there are Dark Sky Parties, which has impressive guest speakers.
3. Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns, located nine miles south of Benson, is known for its stunning underground limestone caves. Visitors are in awe of its many ancient stalactite and stalagmite formations. However, it’s not just what’s below the ground that is impressive. The park is also an International Dark Sky Park and an excellent place to stargaze.
Amateur stargazers from around the world love visiting this park. Kartchner Caverns State Park management does an excellent job of protecting their dark skies and creating a lightscape management plan. All these efforts pay off, and as a result, visitors can enjoy completely unpolluted night skies.
4. Lake Havasu City
Lake Havasu City, located on the Arizona-Nevada border, is one of the state’s best desert stargazing sites. Each year this spot has roughly 290 clear nights with no light pollution. Just outside of the town are some excellent places to see the stars, Milky Way Galaxy, and even some planets.
The Pleiades star clusters are an incredible sight for visitors with binoculars. You can also see five planets from the desert – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. If you want to meet other star lovers, you can attend a star party to share telescopes, socialize, and enjoy the night sky.
5. Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory
You can find the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory 35 miles south of Tucson. Outside of Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is the largest Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory field installation. Guided tours are available during the day three times a week from mid-March to November with a reservation. The tour includes a bus trip to the mountain facilities.
At night, visitors can use multiple mirror telescopes and see three-dimensional models of the galaxies. There are many educational exhibits to learn about astronomy, astrophysics, cultural history, and more. You can also use observatory telescopes and binoculars to see some impressive views of the stars.
6. Mount Graham International Observatory
The Mount Graham International Observatory is a part of the University of Arizona’s Astronomy Department. It is located six miles below Safford, Arizona. Researchers from around the world flock to this observatory to use its world-class telescopes.
The general public can also enjoy the Mount Graham facilities. The Discovery Park Campus at Eastern Arizona College is the official visitor’s center. You can take weekend tours of the facilities from mid-May to October. You can also see the night sky on your own at one of the six campgrounds surrounding the observatory. It’s a great spot if you’re interested in astronomy.
7. Kitt Peak Observatory
The Kitt Peak Observatory is an exciting destination to visit. Its location is on Kitt Peak in the Quinlan Mountains, 55 miles away from Tucson. The observatory houses one of the northern hemispheres’ most extensive collections of astronomical instruments with nearly two dozen active telescopes. Three of these telescopes are for public viewing.
Visitors can explore the center’s exhibits, take tours during the day, and participate in public programs at night. Nighttime programs introduce visitors to observation techniques and the night sky. There’s a Dark Sky Discovery program for deep-sky object observation and a Night of the Marvelous Moon program.
8. Lowell Observatory
The Lowell Observatory, located just outside of Flagstaff, is a family-friendly stargazing adventure. It is a non-profit research institute focused on outreach programs and public education. Its facilities house modern science researchers and public telescope domes.
Stargazers who want an educational experience will love its personalized stargazing sessions. Trained educators will guide you through the universe and point out objects, stars, and constellations in the night sky. You can also view the cosmos through their two telescope domes – the Clark Refractor and Giovale Open Deck Observatory. It is even possible to observe the closest star to our planet, the Sun.
Hotels and B&Bs
9. Yavapai Lodge
This lodge’s location is conveniently within the Grand Canyon. Visitors who come to stargaze in the park can take advantage of the lodge’s “Constellations at the Canyon” package. If you do not have stargazing equipment, this package is beneficial because it includes everything.
With your overnight accommodation, you will receive a kit with all the materials you will need to stargaze at the national park. The kit includes a stargazing map with a red lens filter to observe the constellations and other cosmic sights. This lodge is the perfect place if you want to see the stars from your hotel.
10. L’Auberge de Sedona
You can find the L’Auberge de Sedona in Sedona, one of Arizona’s Dark Sky Cities. This luxurious lodge has plenty of amenities for visitors. Guests live in luxury and enjoy a relaxing experience with scenic backdrops such as Oak Creek’s banks and Sedona’s red rocks.
For guests who want to focus their trip around stargazing, there is a “Written in the Stars” package. This package is a two-night stay that includes a stargazing map and cosmic amenities. Nocturnal activities at this hotel include star bathing, guided tours beneath the stars, and moonlit meditation. Professional astronomers lead stargazing tours for guests.
11. Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa
The Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa is one of Tucson’s oldest resorts. The 80-acre ranch is at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Not only is it a beautiful resort embedded into the desert, but it’s also an excellent place for stargazing.
The resort has its own deep space, Celestron 2000 telescope. Guests have access to this telescope, and staff is available to help you use it every night between dusk and midnight. There is an exclusive Stargazer Spa Suite package for guests, including a private patio and hot tub, perfect for unwinding under the starry sky.