A Stargazer's Guide to the Green Bank

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If you often find yourself staring at the sky on a starry summer night, definitely plan a trip to Green Bank’s National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia.

In the NRQZ, radio, television, cellular and even wifi transmissions can cause serious interference with military intelligence transmission and scientific research, so they’re practically non-existent. Yes, that means that there is a place in America where people live without wifi and cell phones (believe it or not).

You can easily see why: the massive Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world, towers over the rolling hills. This 8,500-ton piece of space technology only works without other interferences, because it perceives sound waves from the stars instead of light waves.

So if you want to really disconnect, this stargazer’s paradise is your spot. With these dark, interference-less skies, you don’t even need a fancy telescope for a world-class view of the night sky.

If you are passing through anywhere near Green Bank, a stop-off here is an absolute must, and here are 3 reasons why:

1. Star Party!

The fall colors of West Virginia make autumn a particularly beautiful time to visit Green Bank.
    Ben
The fall colors of West Virginia make autumn a particularly beautiful time to visit Green Bank. Ben

Because of the clear starry views in Green Bank you just can’t find anywhere else, this small West Virginia town is home to several annual star parties, like the Green Bank Star Quest in late July.

This 4-day event is filled with camping, hot meals, presentations, clinics hosted by astronomy professionals and a chance to see the West Virginia sky from inside the observatory— with views of that famous telescope that most other people can only dream of. It’s family-friendly to boot.

If you can’t make it in July, there are a ton of other regional star parties, too.

2. Taking a Telescope Tour

The towering telescope weighs a whopping 8,500 tons.
    Ricky Montalvo
The towering telescope weighs a whopping 8,500 tons. Ricky Montalvo

Touring the observatory is one of those things you simply can’t pass up when you’re in Green Bank. It’s like skipping the Colosseum in Rome—just not an option. The tour includes the famous Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, planetarium sessions, and there are even High Tech Tours that’ll give you rare glimpses of what goes on behind the scenes in their labs and control rooms.

You can also take a stroll through the solar system model inside the observatory, going past all kinds of fascinating telescopes. Check the website before you go—the tour hours vary seasonally, and reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance for the High Tech Tour.

3. Enjoying Truly Peaceful Hikes

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is larger than the Statue of Liberty and easily dwarfs the landscape around it.
    Ricky Montalvo
The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is larger than the Statue of Liberty and easily dwarfs the landscape around it. Ricky Montalvo

If your neck is tired from all the looking up, take a break and hit the trails in and around Green Bank. Because it’s in the National Radio Quiet Zone, hikes through Green Bank don’t just feel more peaceful than anywhere else, they literally are— you certainly won’t find anyone on their phones along the way, because they simply can’t be.

Join the Space Race Rumpus, a family-focused bike festival through and around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. If you’re looking for something less organized, the Greenbrier River Trail (a 78-mile rail trail) and the Cranberry Wilderness (more than 47,000 acres of secluded perfection) are excellent selections, but there are plenty of other outdoor opportunities in Pocahontas County to chose from, and none will disappoint.

Discover more Dark Sky destinations in WV.

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