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Take This Road Trip To The New Dark Sky Parks
The International Dark Sky Association recently certified a few more parks across the Western U.S. as Dark Sky Parks. These include the iconic Grand Canyon, Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado & Utah.
These three parks join dozens of other areas in the U.S., and several more around the globe, that are recognized for their exceptionally dark night skies. These Dark Sky Parks are not only ideal places for stargazing, but they also offer programs and events to help educate the public about the importance of limiting light pollution to preserve the night skies for years to come.
We love camping in these less crowded areas and gazing at all the stars and constellations after dark. So, we planned out the perfect route to visit all three of these newly certified Dark Sky Parks in a row. Check out the route (pictured above) and plan your own travels on RV LIFE Trip Wizard to find all of the other great campgrounds and points of interest along the way.
Dinosaur National Monument
Start your trip at Dinosaur National Monument, which spans over the Colorado-Utah state border. This historic park, as the name suggests, marks where dinosaurs once roamed millions of years ago. You can still see ancient fossils at the Quarry Exhibit Hall as well as learn more about the history of the area. The Green and Yampa Rivers flow throughout the park and are popular for river rafting.
Dinosaur National Monument also has hiking trails and five campgrounds for tents and RVs. There is a designated spot near the Split Mountain Group Campground where they host night sky programs. The Milky Way and even the International Space Station can be seen from the park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Continue your trip southeast towards Great Sand Dunes National Park in south-central Colorado. This national park protects the tallest sand dunes in North America and has great views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Rent a board or sled from one of the four local retailers and ride down the dunes during the day, then stay after dark to stargaze or go for a walk under the bright moonlight.
The Pinyon Flats Campground has about 86 reservable sites (without hookups) available between April and October. There are also several other campgrounds in the area including Oasis RV Park just outside of the park and the BLM-managed Zapata Falls Campground in the Rio Grande National Forest.
The Great Sand Dunes is an entirely other world at night. Stay silent and minimize your flashlight use, listen for nightlife such as owls, camel crickets, frogs, and toads, and look out for the coyotes and bobcats. The park rangers host several night programs over the summer with telescope viewing and informative evening programs. You can view the schedule here to see what’s coming up next.
Stargazing in the Grand Canyon
Finish (or start off) your trip at the iconic Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The national park has been striving towards Dark Sky certification for years and has only recently completed their full certification. The North and South Rims both have great viewpoints and RV-friendly camping. Venture out further to the West Rim to check out Eagle Point and the Skywalk.
Star clusters, nebulae, and seasonal meteor showers can be seen in the canyon’s night sky. Plan your visit around their 2019 Star Party coming up from June 22-29 at the South and North Rims. The event is free and open to the public and will include a slideshow followed by telescope viewing.
If you like stargazing in these Dark Sky Parks, check out these articles:
- 10 Of The Best Places In The U.S. To Go Stargazing
- Take This Road Trip From Big Bend National Park To Yellowstone
- 4 Amazing Geologic Sites You Need To See In Colorado
Our truck and fifth wheel’s combined length is too long to comfortably fit in any of the short Pinyon Flats sites at Great Sands Dunes NP (and we have a very short fifth wheel!). So we always stay at the cheapest campground in the San Luis Valley that has 30/50A electric hookups–San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area. This former state park closed in 2017 and now has no water, but there is a dump, camp sites up to 105′ long, and terrific views of the Sangre de Cristos. The cost for all that and only 11 miles from the national park–Free! Well, it is for those of us with Colorado fishing or hunting licenses anyway. For those without CPW licenses, there is now a $48 annual pass required for camping at most popular state wildlife areas (doesn’t apply to federal wildlife areas).