Dark Sky Parks in the United States

The night sky in Joshua Tree National Park.
The night sky in Joshua Tree National Park.

Light pollution is a continuous reality for many cities around the world. The use of artificial lighting during the night has led to disruptions in the nocturnal environment. These disruptions cause problems for plants, animals, and even humans by interfering with the natural night-day cycle. With rising awareness on the importance of a dark sky in the night, astronauts and national organizations have created areas away from interference by artificial light called dark sky parks. These areas exist in categories such as communities, reserves, preserves, and sanctuaries. Dark sky parks help astronomers in studying the night skies and for stargazers who wish to enjoy the night skies. There are over 60 dark sky parks, communities, and reserves in the United States located in various states as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Dark Sky Parks in the United States

Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve

Dark Sky Reserve was designated in December 2017 as the first dark sky reserve in the US. The reserve, which is located in central Idaho, occupies an area of about 1,400 square miles. The reserve boasts as the third largest dark sky reserve in the world.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park was listed in 1987 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is found in the county of McKinley, New Mexico. In 2010 it was designated as an International Dark-Sky Park. The park has an area of about 13,750 hectares and attracts about 39,175 visitors. The management of the park has initiated vigorous preservation efforts against light pollution including the initiation of the Chaco Night Sky Program.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is a dark sky park located in Utah. The park occupies an area of 527 square miles. Designated in 2015, the park attracts thousands of visitors who wish to enjoy an unpolluted night sky. The park’s management has established conservation measures such as the use of night-sky friendly lights in the night.

Dripping Springs

Dripping Springs is a dark sky community formed by the residents of Dripping Springs City in Texas. The dark sky community was designated in February 2014 and occupies an area of 117 square miles. Residents of the city are subject to the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, which helps in protecting the night-sky of the city.

Death Valley National Park

Located in California, the Death Valley National Park is a popular destination for stargazing. The national park is endowed with one of the darkest skies in the country. The park was listed as a dark-sky park in 2013 following efforts to protect the night sky from light pollution by the bordering Las Vegas.

Conservation Efforts

International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the National Parks Service, and several other organizations around the US have initiated efforts to conserve the night-skies from the rising use of artificial lighting. Some of these efforts include mass education on the dangers of light pollution on wildlife and human beings, promotion of nighttime recreation activities such as stargazing and nighttime photography. IDA designates dark-sky areas by processing applications and selecting those that meet the set criteria including meeting the Borte Scale requirements. The Borte scale is a numerical scale which runs from 1 to 9. Other dark-sky parks in the world include Beaver Hills and Fundy National Park in Canada, Westhavelland Nature Park in Germany, Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve in Ireland, Albanyà in Spain, Warrumbungle National Park in Australia, Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park in Japan, and NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia among many others.

Dark Sky Parks in the United States

1FlagstaffArizonaInternational Dark Sky Community2001
2Natural Bridges National MonumentUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2007
3Cherry Springs State ParkPennsylvaniaInternational Dark Sky Park2008
4Borrego SpringsCaliforniaInternational Dark Sky Community2009
5Clayton Lake State ParkNew MexicoInternational Dark Sky Park2010
6Geauga Observatory ParkOhioInternational Dark Sky Park2011
7HeadlandsMichiganInternational Dark Sky Park2011
8Homer GlenIllinoisInternational Dark Sky Community2011
9Big Bend National ParkTexasInternational Dark Sky Park2012
10Chaco Culture National Historical ParkNew MexicoInternational Dark Sky Park2013
11Death Valley National ParkCaliforniaInternational Dark Sky Park2013
12Beverly ShoresIndianaInternational Dark Sky Community2014
13Copper Breaks State ParkTexasInternational Dark Sky Park2014
14Dripping SpringsTexasInternational Dark Sky Community2014
15Enchanted Rock State Natural AreaTexasInternational Dark Sky Park2014
16Grand Canyon-Parashant National MonumentArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2014
17Hovenweep National MonumentUtah, ColoradoInternational Dark Sky Park2014
18Mayland Earth to Sky Park & Bare Dark Sky ObservatoryNorth CarolinaInternational Dark Sky Park2014
19Oracle State ParkArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2014
20SedonaArizonaInternational Dark Sky Community2014
21Black Canyon of the Gunnison National ParkColoradoInternational Dark Sky Park2015
22Canyonlands National ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2015
23Capitol Reef National ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2015
24Horseshoe BayTexasInternational Dark Sky Community2015
25Pickett CCC Memorial State Park & Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural AreaTennesseeInternational Dark Sky Park2015
26Staunton River State ParkVirginiaInternational Dark Sky Park2015
27Thunder Mountain Pootseev NightskyArizonaInternational Dark Sky Community2015
28UBarU Camp and Retreat CenterTexasInternational Dark Sky Park2015
29Weber County North Fork ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2015
30Westcliffe and Silver CliffColoradoInternational Dark Sky Community2015
31Big Park / Village of Oak CreekArizonaInternational Dark Sky Community2016
32Capulin Volcano National MonumentNew MexicoInternational Dark Sky Park2016
33Cosmic CampgroundNew MexicoInternational Dark Sky Sanctuary2016
34Dead Horse Point State ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2016
35Flagstaff Area National MonumentsArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2016
36Goblin Valley State ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2016
37Grand Canyon National ParkArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2016
38Great Basin National ParkNevadaInternational Dark Sky Park2016
39Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State ParkFloridaInternational Dark Sky Park2016
40Salinas Pueblo Missions National MonumentNew MexicoInternational Dark Sky Park2016
41Stephen C. Foster State ParkGeorgiaInternational Dark Sky Park2016
42Antelope Island State ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2017
43Big Bend Ranch State ParkTexasInternational Dark Sky Park2017
44Cedar Breaks National MonumentUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2017
45Central IdahoIdahoInternational Dark Sky Reserve2017
46Craters Of The Moon National MonumentIdahoInternational Dark Sky Park2017
47Joshua Tree National ParkCaliforniaInternational Dark Sky Park2017
48Kartchner Caverns State ParkArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2017
49KetchumIdahoInternational Dark Sky Community2017
50Newport State ParkWisconsinInternational Dark Sky Park2017
51Obed Wild and Scenic RiverTennesseeInternational Dark Sky Park2017
52South Llano River State ParkTexasInternational Dark Sky Park2017
53Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Montana (US), Alberta (Canada)International Dark Sky Park2017
54Anza-Borrego Desert State ParkCaliforniaInternational Dark Sky Park2018
55Camp VerdeArizonaInternational Dark Sky Community2018
56Fountain HillsArizonaInternational Dark Sky Community2018
57Middle Fork River Forest PreserveIllinoisInternational Dark Sky Park2018
58Petrified Forest National ParkArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2018
59Rainbow Bridge National MonumentUtahInternational Dark Sky Sanctuary2018
60Steinaker State ParkUtahInternational Dark Sky Park2018
61TorreyUtahInternational Dark Sky Community2018
62Tumacácori National Historical ParkArizonaInternational Dark Sky Park2018
63Wimberley ValleyTexasInternational Dark Sky Community2018
64Devils River State Natural Area - Del Norte UnitTexasInternational Dark Sky Sanctuary2019
65NorwoodColoradoInternational Dark Sky Community2019
66Rappahannock County ParkVirginia International Dark Sky Park2019

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