The Best Dark Sky Parks In The US To Catch The Perseid Meteor Shower This Weekend

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The comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object that repeatedly passes earth. It last greeted us in 1992 and will next pass in 2126, but we travel through the comet’s dust every year, making the Perseid Meteor Shower an annual event. This weekend (August 12-13th) marks the peak period to view the Perseids across all of North America. Better still, viewing conditions this time around are particularly ideal — due to a new moon. Stargazers can expect to see 150-200 meteors an hour, complete with streaks and fireballs. Mars and Saturn will also be visible at different points.

If you’re a fan of summer skywatching, this weekend your chance. We promise: It’s worth the effort.

If you want to catch the Perseids in all their glory, a drive to the darkest place near your home should suffice. But for those who want to experience the meteor shower amped up to 11, getting to a “dark sky park” is an absolute must. These internationally recognized areas possess an exceptional quality of starry nights, making them ideal for shows like this one.

If you intend to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower this year, be sure to watch between midnight and dawn. That’s when the earth will have turned into the meteor stream, which means the show will be just above the horizon line. And if you’re intrepid enough to travel to a dark sky park, here are some of the absolute best in the United States.

Hovenweep National Monument – Colorado and Utah

By the late 1200s — essentially yesterday, cosmically speaking — over 2,500 people called Hovenweep home. And human habitation in the area can be dated as far back as 10,000 years ago, making this dark sky park the most ancient site in America to view the Perseids.

Ancestral Puebloans built the towers of Hovenweep (how epic does that sound?) sometime between 500-1300 A.D. Their reasoning remains unclear to archeologists, but some have speculated the towers were built as defensive structures, storage facilities, civic buildings, or, you guessed it, celestial observatories.

Pickett CCC Memorial State Park – Tennessee

Pickett CCC Memorial State Park was the first state in the southeast to gain an International Dark Sky Park designation and they brag that the views of their night sky are akin to something you’d find out in the wide-open West. Sky aside, Pickett CCC lies within the Pickett State Forest, so spend your mornings exploring the hiking trails and rustic cabins, or take a swim in the 12-acre lake. Better yet, grab an inner-tube and lay back in the lake waters to watch the sky light up at night.

Chaco Culture – New Mexico

Another ancient site to watch the stars, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico is one of the world’s newest dark sky parks. Because of its remote location, Chaco offers few amenities, but what you lose in convenience you gain in intimacy with the night sky.

With over 4,000 prehistoric archaeological sites on its ground, Chaco was once the ceremonial and economic center of the San Juan Basin and its petroglyphs and ancient plazas are sure to keep you busy enough for a weekend-long visit.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park – Michigan

Undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline and pristine woodlands make this dark sky park one of the most peaceful settings to watch the Perseids this year. At just 550 acres, the Headlands are home to deer, wild turkey, osprey, and a black bear (yes a single bear!). The views above the Headlands are absolutely stunning and being in upper Michigan, stargazers are lucky enough to be able to catch some of the best northern lights viewings.

If stargazing in a forest is for you, we can’t think of anyplace better than the Headlands.

Big Bend National Park – Texas

Another dark sky park full of archeological sites, the area of Big Bend has had a long and rich history within the lives of many different settlers — from 10,000 years ago to the twentieth century. Canyons of limestone and great hiking trails make this national park a favorite for visitors year-round. Bordering the United States and Mexico, Big Bend is the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States and, in addition to cultural history, the park is full of geological features like sea fossils and volcanic dikes.

Texas is home to many great stargazing parks, but Big Bend is hands-down the finest.

Craters Of The Moon – Idaho

We couldn’t think of a more appropriate dark sky park name than Craters of the Moon. It straight up sounds like a fake name, but Craters was actually formed from a vast ocean of lava — so the topography resembles an untouched landscape that wouldn’t look out of place catapulting through space.

If you plan on watching the Perseids from this dark sky park, be sure to take lots of pictures, as the night sky is bound to look breathtaking, hanging above the strange and scenic landscape of Craters of the Moon.

Cherry Springs State Park – Pennsylvania

Cherry Springs is known for its stunning views of the milky way and, at just 82-acres, it’s one of the smallest state parks on this list. Surrounded by the Susquehannock State Park, the park is open every day of the year, but the night sky public viewing area is only intended for a few hours of star gazing a night, and only registered users of the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field are able to stay.

It’s unfortunate that Cherry Springs isn’t more inviting to the public, because it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful locations on the eastern seaboard for stargazers seeking an unforgettable skywatching experience.

Death Valley – California

Tatooine itself, Death Valley is host to some of the finest stargazing in all of the United States. We are in the midst of summer, however, and… let’s face it, you’re not going to stay in the park. It would be instantly regrettable.

Death Valley is one of the hottest places on Earth but it’s close enough to Las Vegas and the high desert county of California to warrant a drive simply to catch the stars after the sun is down. Afterward, head to Vegas and the joys of air-con.