Dreaming of quiet night skies filled with stars and constellations? Then you’re in the right place! Pennsylvania is known for having some of the darkest skies on the Eastern Seaboard, so pitch a tent, find Orion’s belt as you look up at these epic stargazing spots to discover existing constellations, and dream away!
1. Cherry Springs State Park
Cherry Springs State Park simply must be at the top of your stargazing bucket list. Named the first International Dark Sky Park in the eastern U.S. and the second in the world to be ranked as Gold Tier, it’s easy to see why night sky enthusiasts flock to the park for its magnificent, unobstructed 360-degree views of tens of thousands of stars and their constellations.
2. Sproul State Forest
Sproul State Forest in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds offers 305,450 acres (or close to 500 square miles!) of stargazing bliss. No electricity, neighbors, or phone service — just deep forests, some challenging trails with steep and rugged hillsides, and perfect vistas for seeing more stars than you can possibly count. Spend the day exploring the forest’s great outdoors, then pitch your tent and gaze at the stars above where the only sounds you’ll hear are from the woods at night.
3. Laurel Hill State Park
Laurel Hill State Park is a perfect place to stargaze on a clear, cloudless night. After a day exploring the park’s old growth forest and numerous hiking trails, grab a bunch of family or friends to stay at the secluded Hufman Lodge and turn out the lights to gaze in wonder at the thousands of stars that seem to magically appear.
4. Raystown Lake
Stars gleam off the dark waters of Raystown Lake and shine brightly over the surrounding Appalachian ridges, making the area the perfect venue for some serious stargazing. With 8,300 acres of clear water surrounded by 21,000 acres of forested mountain slopes, your days will be filled with your pick of outdoor fun. Then, kick back, unwind, and stargaze under clear skies to your heart’s content in this outdoor paradise.
5. Lake Erie
Watch the sun set in a display of blazing color, then stay to watch the cool glow of stars and other celestial bodies take over the night sky at Sara’s Campground. Overlooking Lake Erie, you can pitch a tent on one of the beaches as you spy galaxies and star clusters. Hint: Gazing is best with no moonlight reflecting off the water; it’s just you and the stars!
6. French Creek State Park
With the largest block of contiguous forest between New York City and Washington, D.C., French Creek State Park in Elverson is the perfect place to stargaze in southeastern PA. Bonus: For those who love gazing at our fine, feathered friends during the day, the park is a National Audubon Society designated Important Bird Area.
7. Susquehannock State Forest
The sky’s the limit…quite literally! Bordering Lyman Run State Park, enjoy a peace-filled, stargazing night after backpacking into your own private, primitive camping site or driving to one of the remote sites located along dirt and gravel state forest roads at Susquehannock State Forest. A camping permit may be required, so be sure to check before pitching your tent.
8. Michaux State Forest
Michaux State Forest encompasses more than 85,500 acres in the South Mountain area of Cumberland, Franklin, and Adams Counties. Find your ideal camping spot, perfect for a night of stargazing after backpacking into your own private, primitive camping site or driving to one of the remote sites located along dirt and gravel state forest roads. A camping permit may be required, so be sure to check before pitching your tent.
9. Ohiopyle State Park
While well-known for some of the best whitewater rafting on the East Coast, stay the night and be dazzled by the stars at Ohiopyle State Park. The park forms the southern terminus of the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail that traverses the Laurel Ridge where you’ll find an overnight shelter area located every eight to ten miles along the trail. Looking for a bit more comfort?! Cozy up in a cottage or yurt, with these overnight areas open during specific seasons.
10. Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Steeped in natural and historical features, the 696-acre Pine Grove Furnace State Park is located less than an hour from downtown Harrisburg in an area known as South Mountain. Escape the city lights and stay the night at one of the park's campsites to enjoy this open star-lit playground.
AN EXTRA OBSERVATION
For the ultimate stargazing experience, visit one of Pennsylvania’s many observatories. Their high-powered telescopes offer an up-close view of the stars, planets, and other celestial bodies, all guaranteed to fill you with awe and wonder of the skies above.
1. Wagman Observatory
Built, owned, and operated by members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP), the Wagman Observatory at Deer Lakes Park loves to invite the public to its star parties. You’ll have an up-close view of celestial objects using the observatory’s two large permanent telescopes: a Brashear 11-Inch Refractor and a Manka Memorial Telescope, and the wide variety of members’ portable telescopes set up throughout the grounds.
2. Mingo Creek Park Observatory
The Mingo Creek Park Observatory is the AAAP’s newest addition. Just like its counterpart, the Wagman Observatory, Mingo Creek Park loves to throw a star party and share its love of the heavens. Not to be outdone, the observatory is home to a permanently mounted Mingo 24-inch Ritchey–Chrétien telescope, as well as a 10-inch D&G Refractor. You’ll get to do some serious stargazing looking through one or both!
3. Naylor Observatory
Come and observe the beauty of the moon, planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies through a wide variety of higher-powered telescopes during a public viewing night at the Naylor Observatory. Afterwards, you just might want to sign up for the six-week Introductory Observational Astronomy Course offered by the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg and impress your friends with your newfound knowledge of the night sky!
4. Bruce M. Bedow Memorial Observatory
The devoted members of the Oil Region Astronomical Society welcome one and all to the Bruce M. Bedow Memorial Observatory during one of their public events and outreach. Pay the $36 annual membership fee (or $48 for an entire family of four) and become a member, which gets you access to their building and telescopes along with their annual AstroBlast party, featuring lectures, educational sessions, dark sky observing at the 10-acre site, and a door prize! Plan now for AstroBlast 2024, currently scheduled for Aug. 6-11, in celebration of the society’s 30th anniversary of its first event.
5. Thomas G. Cupillari ‘60 Observatory
Keystone College takes seriously its mandate to make its Thomas G. Cupillari ’60 Observatory available to students and the general public. Located at the college’s La Plume campus, the Clark Refractor Telescope forms the heart of the astronomical observatory, which has been issued an Observatory Code I17 designation from the Minor Planet Center. The college offers several astronomy lectures and public viewing nights throughout the year.
6. Bradstreet Observatory
The Bradstreet Observatory at Eastern University makes it really easy for newbies to explore the night sky. Its 16-inch diameter Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes are fully computerized, featuring 64,000 objects pre-stored in the telescopes’ computer. The university offers several public observing nights throughout the year. You must make a reservation and the events are really popular, so check their schedule and plan to book your reservation three to four months in advance.
Bonus: The Julia Fowler Planetarium offers several entertaining shows about astronomy and the night sky throughout the year, including the ever-popular Star of Bethlehem Planetarium Christmas Show in December.
7. Mehalso Observatory
The Mehalso Observatory at Penn State Behrend has not one, but two dome houses — each equipped with its own state-of-the-art Meade telescope. Come to one of the ever-popular Open House Nights in Astronomy. There, you’ll get to look through the telescopes for a glimpse of the skies above. You’ll also learn more about the cosmos at the Open House presentations featuring astronomical images and animations geared to non-technical audiences for a “star-studded” fun night out.
8. Widener Observatory
The astronomy folks at Widener University love to share their fun with amateur astronomers. View planets, stars, nebulae, clusters, galaxies, and other celestial objects through the lens of Widener Observatory’s 16-inch computerized Meade Cassegrain reflecting telescope and several 12-inch telescopes at Public Telescope Viewing Sessions held every Monday evening or stargazing sessions held the first Friday of every month during the spring and fall, with advance registration required to attend.
9. Allegheny Observatory
For more than 160 years, the Allegheny Observatory has been on a quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe and detect extrasolar planets. You are invited to share in this exploration at public lectures and tours of the observatory. Lectures are held Jan.–Nov. on the third Friday of each month, while tours are held Thursday and Friday evenings, Apr.-Oct., ending at the 13-inch Fitz-Clark refractor. Lectures and tours are both popular events; registration is required.
10. Peter Van De Kamp Observatory
See spectacular views of what lies in the outer reaches of outer space at Pennsylvania’s newest observatory (and one of the newest observatories in the world!) at the Peter van de Camp Observatory at Swarthmore College. Perched atop the college’s Science Center, the observatory sports a 24-inch, f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien telescope complete with a suite of imaging, photometric, and spectroscopic instrumentation. Public viewing events and open houses are held the second Tuesday of each month.
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