Astronomy and camping go together like campfires and smores. If your love of the outdoors includes star gazing, why not add an astronomy observatory star party to your RVing travels this winter?
Many observatories offer star parties with RV camping either on-site or nearby. Everyone from casual observers to astronomy buffs have a ball at these regular events held around the country.
Star parties are nighttime viewing gatherings at observatories where you’ll find amateur and professional astronomers giving educational programs to the public. Guests can view the night sky through powerful telescopes provided by groups holding the event.
Star parties are a fun way to learn about the universe and happenings in our galaxy and they’re often free, although special star parties that include dinner and drinks are also offered at some observatories.
Star Parties with RV Camping
To find a star party, just do an Internet search that includes “(your state) observatory.” Typically the observatory will have an events page that lists star party dates.
Here are just a few star parties with RV camping located in popular snowbird destinations. Happy star gazing!
The Southern Cross Astronomical Society hosts an big annual start party each winter complete with on-site overnight camping. The next one is February 8 – 14, 2016. WSP is held annually, usually during the new moon in February. The warm weather, coupled with dark skies, and possibly the steadies skies in North America attracts attendees from all over the frozen United States, Canada, and Europe giving the event an international flavor. The amateur astronomical “get-to-together”allows participants to meet and share observing ideas, astro-imaging techniques, as well as find out what’s new in the hobby. WSP offers a stellar daily line-up of speakers who are experts in their particular field.
Joshua Tree, CA
Escape the L.A. Madness and head to Joshua Tree for the Sky’s the Limit Nature and Observatory Center in Twentynine Palms. Located right outside of the north entrance of the park, the facility is dedicated to facilitating hands-on experience for learning about the desert, earth, and sky.” Every weekend you can enjoy a free star party, check out their event schedule for details.
Los Angeles, CA
One Saturday a month, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles hosts a free public star party from 2:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. with the assistance of volunteers from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Los Angeles Sidewalk Astronomers, and The Planetary Society. They are a chance for the whole family to look at the Sun, Moon, visible planets and other objects, to try out a variety of telescopes, and to talk to knowledgeable amateur astronomers about the sky and their equipment. Dates can be found here.
San Diego, CA
At the Palomar Observatory in Ramona, California near San Diego, free star parties are conducted on Friday and Saturday nights once a month during the spring, summer, and fall. Party goers can attend both nights or just one night. If planning to camp in the Observatory Campground, camping spaces are on a first come, first serve basis or you make reservations in advance at www.recreation.gov. The nightly camping fee at Observatory Campground is $15 for a single site, $30 per night for a double unit, and $5 per night for an extra vehicle. Observatory Campground has accessible sites, flush toilets, and coin operated hot showers. RV hookups are not available. Plan to bring water for drinking and cooking.
Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), supports the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth for nighttime optical and infrared astronomy and daytime study of the Sun. Kitt Peak is located 56 miles southwest of Tucson, AZ. The observatory holds regular star parties for about $50 which include an evening of astronomical wonder far from city lights under the celebrated dark skies of the desert southwest. This very popular program requires advance reservations.
The Austin Astronomical Society holds monthly star parties at Canyon of the Eagles Observatory and many smaller events in the Austin area. tar parties are normally held as weather permits unless it is an advertised rain or shine event. Public star parties may also have an organizer who can give you more information on a specific event. Check their website for details about location and nearby camping.
Fort Davis, TX
If you’re traveling Interstate 10 near El Paso, the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis is a must-see destination. Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening the Visitors Center opens for Twilight and Star Party programs. The Twilight Program is an educational program that takes place 1.5 hours before the Star Party. The Star Party program (~ 2 hours, depending on weather & crowd size) is fun for the entire family, and is open to everyone. Enjoy night sky constellation tours and views of celestial objects through a number of telescopes. Check the McDonald Observatory Star Parties homepage for details.
You don’t even need to leave your RV park to have a star party in Benson, AZ. Just reserve a couple of winter nights at the Butterfield RVResort and attend the nightly astronomy session at their observatory. They have a 16″ reflector telescope in their dome and change their sessions to view the objects that are most visible that night. Great program!
Craters of the Moon National Monument (Arco, Idaho) has a “star party” twice during the summer. The astronomy club members from Idaho Falls set up their equipment and lets everyone join in the fun.
D. L. says
McDonald Observatory listed above is within 13 miles of Davis Mountains State Park. Park provides all levels of overnight camping options.