Warmer weather can be the perfect time to view the celestial realm as myriads of shooting stars streak through the night sky. There is perhaps no better place in the Northeast to stargaze than Pennsylvania, home to some of the darkest skies on the Eastern Seaboard and several great observatories for an even closer look. So, get ready to find Orion’s belt as you trace your way across the sky, discovering existing constellations and maybe creating some of your own.
CHERRY SPRINGS STATE PARK
Cherry Springs State Park in Coudersport 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. Get ready for some great views of the Milky Way, planets, and hard-to-see astronomical objects and phenomena. On a clear night, you'll see a sky ablaze with up to 30,000 twinkling stars, which is an unforgettable experience!
SPROUL STATE FOREST
Sproul State Forest in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds offers more than 305,400 acres 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 the woods at night.
LAUREL HILL STATE PARK
Laurel Hill Lake at Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset is a perfect place to stargaze on a clear summer night. After a day enjoying the park’s 1,200-foot sandy beach, old growth forest, and numerous hiking trails, relax at one of the park’s many campsites and turn your eyes to the skies as day gives way to night and thousands of stars seem to magically appear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Built, owned, and operated by members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP), the Wagman Observatory at Deer Lakes Park in Tarentum 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.
MINGO CREEK PARK OBSERVATORY
The Mingo Creek Park Observatory in Finleyville 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? D&G Refractor. You’ll get to do some serious stargazing looking through one or both!
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 in Lewisberry. 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!
BRUCE M. BEDOW MEMORIAL OBSERVATORY
Use of the Bruce M. Bedow Memorial Observatory in Cranberry is generally restricted to members of the Oil Region Astronomical Society, but those who are interested in paying the $36 annual membership fee are in for a treat! Look out for their annual AstroBlast party, featuring lectures, educational sessions, dark sky observing at the 10-acre site, and more.
THOMAS G. CUPILLARI ‘60 OBSERVATORY
Keystone College takes seriously its mandate to make its Thomas G. Cupillari ’60 Observatory in Fleetville available to students and the general public. There are several astronomy lectures and public viewing nights throughout the year.
The Bradstreet Observatory at Eastern University in St. Davids 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, by reservation only.
Bonus: The Julia Fowler Planetarium offers several entertaining shows about astronomy and the night sky throughout the year.
The Mehalso Observatory at Penn State Behrend in Erie 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.
The astronomy folks at Widener University in Chester 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.
For more than 160 years, the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh 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 usually Thursday nights May–Aug. and Friday nights Apr.–Oct. Both are popular events, registration is required.
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.
VILLANOVA PUBLIC OBSERVATORY
The Villanova Public Observatory at Villanova University’s Mendel Science Center is open to one and all Monday through Thursday evenings from 7-9 p.m. when school is in session. Best yet, the school’s astronomy majors will be on hand to welcome and guide you as you view the wonders of the night sky peering through the observatory’s 14-inch Celestron CGE telescope.
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