On August 21, the moon will pass in front of the sun and the sky will turn completely dark in the middle of the day. Total solar eclipses like this occur approximately once every 18 months, but they’re usually only visible from less than half a percent of the Earth’s surface. This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1979.
Despite the brevity of this phenomenon, its rarity makes it an experience stargazers do not want to miss. Many people have booked travel accommodations to be in that path of totality (meaning, the sun will be completely covered by the moon) for just a few minutes of daytime darkness.
The solar eclipse will undoubtedly be an exciting event to behold. But the sun disappears for all of us every single night. We’re so often busy with our lives that we don’t think to step outside, look up, and behold the beauty and wonder of the night sky. Unfortunately, many of us live in places full of so much light pollution that we could barely see the stars if we wanted to.
Luckily, there are plenty of places around the world where the night sky is perfect for seeing the stars. Whether or not you’ll be in the path of totality on August 21, we urge you to give yourself the chance to enjoy a darkened sky this summer. Check out our picks for the world’s best places for stargazing.
Cowboys in western movies often made camp beneath a blanket of dark sky and bright stars. Sedona looks like the iconic backdrop of so many old westerns because many of them were filmed there. If the dusty red rocks protruding into fluffy clouds don’t make you fall in love with this landscape during the day, the vivid stars at night will almost certainly win you over. Sedona is an official International Dark Sky Community. The city goes above and beyond to ensure their skies are truly dark, even when tourists crowd their streets. You’ll notice that little things, like a blue McDonald’s logo (which glows softer than yellow), have been adopted specifically to enhance the stargazing experience.
Thunder Mountain Pootsee Indian Reservation (Arizona/Utah)
One of the world’s best places for stargazing, Thunder Mountain Pootsee Indian Reservation is around 50 miles north of the Grand Canyon on the border of Arizona and Utah. Only 250 or so people call this community home. But visitors often pass through in search of famously miraculous views of the night sky. The area’s Kaibab Paiute people have taken the responsibility of preserving the dark sky territory above their home seriously. As a sovereign nation of Native Americans, the Kaibab Paiute are the first “ethnically and linguistically related people” to come together in establishing an official dark sky community.
Winter in Antarctica isn’t exactly welcoming. The weather averages -72º Fahrenheit, and it’s pitch dark for six months. But these harsh conditions are precisely what make it one of the world’s best places for stargazing. Ridge A, which is located deep within the interior of Antarctica, has been designated by scientists as the perfect place to see stars. It’s also so inhospitable that no human has actually ever been there. Visiting Antarctica during the region’s summer months (December-March) is much more comfortable, with longer, warmer days. Unfortunately, several of those weeks see almost no complete darkness. But if you time it just right, you can take an Antarctica cruise and still see a gorgeous night sky full of brilliant stars.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California)
The 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park ensures plenty of empty, dark skies that are far away from city lights. Borrego Springs, California is a popular destination for everyone from professional astronomers to amateur stargazers. On top of the quiet, empty desert environment, the dry air and average of 300 clear nights each year make this an exceptional place for stargazing. It’s only a two-hour drive from San Diego, making this a secluded yet convenient destination for viewing the night sky. Take a guided tour if you’re interested in digging deeper into the darkness and learning all about constellations, planets, galaxies, satellites, and more.
The rare birds of Fiji—including the orange fruit dove, chattering kingfisher, and Cook Island fruit dove—make for a perfect tropical island soundtrack during the day. But as night falls the birds go quiet, and you’re left to enjoy a dark sky full of stars. Being on “Fiji time” means taking it slow. This is not a place to rush from one destination or activity to the next. It’s a place to take it all in, one deep breath at a time. Which makes it the perfect environment to sit back at night, watch the brilliant stars, and reflect on how the ancient Polynesians used them to navigate as they sailed from one Pacific island to another.
Sark (Channel Islands)
There are no street lights on Sark, an island encompassing a mere 5.2 square acres.Sark is one of the Channel Islands, which are located off the coast of Normandy, France. It’s also Europe's very first dark sky community, and the perfect destination for stargazers looking to escape the crowds for a unique adventure. A visit to Sark is like taking a step back in time: There are no paved roads and no commercial motor vehicles. You’ll need a bike to get around, but you’ll be grateful for the lack of modern conveniences, such as cars and their pesky headlights. The stars are all you’ll need to light the way.
The seemingly endless days of summer begin to darken around August in Alaska, ushering in the perfect conditions for stargazers. Since so much of Alaska is untouched wilderness, it isn’t difficult to escape the lights of a city to find your own patch of starlit paradise. Of course, winters mean brutally cold conditions, so it’s best not to wait until then. Serious stargazers travel to Alaska in the shoulder season, as the nights become longer but temperatures are still bearable. Visiting Alaska’s national parks provides ample opportunities for stargazing. Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, Kenai Fjords, and Katmai are all great places to take in the overwhelming beauty of nature, including incredible evening skies.
Galloway Forest Park (Scotland)
The UK’s first dark sky park occupies 777 kilometers in hilly Scotland, just an hour-and-a-half drive from Glasgow. Galloway Forest Park includes the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, which offers two powerful telescopes that will help you make the most of this dark sky destination. This region is often referred to as the “Highlands of the Lowlands,” and it’s full of old growth trees and an array of local wildlife. Even before the sun sets, you’ll be romanced by the dynamic scenery.
Death Valley National Park (California)
California’s Death Valley National Park is famous for extremes. It’s home to both the lowest point in North America (Badwater Basin lies at 282 feet below sea level) and the hottest air temperature ever recorded (129.2ºF). But if you can handle the heat, Death Valley is one of the planet’s best places for stargazing. The clear, hot desert sky is far away from any sort of city lights, and the bizarre landscape of salt flats and sand dunes make this a particularly stunning place to explore.
Atacama Desert (Chile)
Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains lies the 1,000-kilometer strip of the Atacama Desert. But this isn’t just any desert: It’s the driest non-polar desert on Earth. The extreme conditions found here have made Atacama the perfect fill-in for Mars in many movies, and the soil is very close to the real thing. San Pedro de Atacama is an oasis town surrounded by the desert, and many tourists flock there just for its otherworldly stargazing experiences. In fact, the Atacama Desert’s Alma Observatory is the world’s largest astronomical project.
Britany Robinson is a freelance writer with bylines in BBC Travel, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, and more. When she’s not at her computer, she’s probably outside, hiking or camping with her dog, Jackson.