Stargazing in Capitol Reef National Park is a little-known activity that could just be the most memorable part of your next visit. If you’re like most Americans, your view of the night skies at home is obstructed by light pollution from urban areas.
Around 80 percent of the population of North America can’t see the Milky Way in the night sky because of light pollution. Those living in Southern Utah are lucky enough to have easy access to stunning views of the night sky just a short drive away. But if you’re like most Americans, you’ll need to travel to enjoy stargazing.
Capitol Reef is one great destination. Whether you’re headed to Southern Utah specifically for stargazing or want to add it to your itinerary of outdoor fun, keep reading to learn what you need to know about stargazing in Capitol Reef.
Stargazing in Utah’s International Dark Sky Parks
Utah has a long history of stargazing. The state actually paved the way for the rest of the world in terms of reducing light pollution. This is particularly true in national parks, monuments, and other protected areas.
The state is home to the very first International Dark Sky Park, certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Since Natural Bridges National Monument earned that designation on March 6, 2007, a number of other parks have also earned this special honor — including Capitol Reef National Park. Today, Utah is home to the largest concentration of dark sky parks in the world. Zion became the last of the Mighty 5 to earn the title when it was the title in 2021.
Capitol Reef was named a Dark Sky Park in 2015. In order to earn that designation, parks must take measures to reduce light pollution within their boundaries. This includes ensuring that any lights on visitor centers or other park facilities are designed to shield the light from pointing towards the night sky. This means that on clear nights throughout the year, visitors to the park enjoy an incredible sky full of stars, undisturbed by city lights, street lights, and other light pollution.
Planning Your Visit
When you visit Capitol Reef will have an impact on what you see while stargazing. While stars are visible on clear nights regardless of the time of year, different seasons offer different perks and drawbacks for stargazing.
Shorter winter days mean that you can start stargazing early in the day. However, the colder temps will have you bundling up to go out after dark. Because Southern Utah typically experiences dry winter air, the skies may be clearer this time of year.
Hot summer days can sometimes lead to a haze. This will blur the night skies and dull the stars, even on an overwise clear night. However, summer nights are often warm and are also a great time to see the Milky Way. From March to November each year, the central part of the Milky Way, which is called the galactic core, is shining. This makes for a brilliant sight, as a cluster of stars lights up the sky in a long line.
The galactic core is visible at different times of the night depending on the time of year. From March to May, the core can be seen in the hours before sunrise. In June, July, and August, the Milky Way and galactic core are visible soon after sunset and stay visible for much of the night. September through November, the galactic core is typically visible just after sunset in the early evening, before disappearing.
Keep in mind that a full moon reflects a lot of light, which can obscure your stargazing. For darker skies, try to visit during or soon before or after a new moon.
What You Need for Stargazing in Capitol Reef National Park
One of the best things about stargazing is that it requires no experience, and no gear to enjoy. You can stargaze from anywhere in the park where you can safely sit outdoors. Bring along a folding chair or blanket to lie back on. You may wish to bring a flashlight to help you get to your stargazing spot. However, once you arrive, be sure to turn it off quickly to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness.
A flashlight or headlamp with a red bulb will reduce the effect on your eyes. If you’re going stargazing with kids, be sure to bring flashlights equipped with a red bulb. This allows them to turn on their light if they get nervous about the dark, but without having to wait for your eyes to fully readjust each time. A small telescope or even a pair of binoculars can enhance your stargazing but are not necessary. Don’t forget to bring along some snacks and drinks, because once you start stargazing you won’t want to leave to get something to eat!
If you plan to take photographs of the night sky, keep in mind that light painting is not permitted in the park.
Planning Your Stargazing Adventure in Capitol Reef
If you want to see the night skies as you’ve likely never seen them before, a visit to Southern Utah for some stargazing is a must.
Located just a short drive from the park, Cougar Ridge is the perfect base camp for your stargazing adventure. In fact, you’ll enjoy incredible views of the night sky from just outside the Lodge or your Casita during your stay! Ready to see some incredible night skies for yourself? Book your stay at Cougar Ridge today!