Stargazing in Washington: Where to Find the Darkest Skies

Washington is full of places to soak in the wonders of the night sky.
Washington is full of places to soak in the wonders of the night sky. Bureau of Land Management
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Anyone who has ever spread out a sleeping bag beneath a bare night’s sky knows the power of darkness. Far from the city lights, the stars become emblems that steer our thoughts toward a new perspective on the world—and our place within it.

The stargazing parties held by the Seattle Astronomical Society at places like Green Lake in the city and Rattlesnake Ledge a short ways outside of it out of it are fun way to learn about our the planets and constellations. But the farther from sources of light pollution you go, the more vivid the stars will become. Luckily, Washington still has several pockets of wilderness that are far enough away from major cities and towns to be minimally affected by manmade light (check them out for yourself by searching this map).

Just in time for the next new moon on Tuesday, March 8, when the skies will be at their darkest, here's where to find the best stargazing in Washington. The pondering of the state of the universe, however, we’ll leave up to you.

Ozette Triangle

Stargazing with the crashing waves in the background is especially sublime.
Stargazing with the crashing waves in the background is especially sublime. Pixabay

The Olympic Peninsula is famous for being remote and out of the way, which may be why the entire western third of it ranks so high on the darkness scale. And what’s more romantic than stargazing from the beach, accompanied by the sounds of crashing waves?

With its famous craggy rock towers extending out of the sea, the Ozette Triangle, on the Olympic Wilderness Coast, is a particularly stunning place to do just that. The [Cape Alva Trail](../../../../../../../Applications/Microsoft%20Office%202011/Microsoft%20Word.app/Contents/lake) travels 6.2 miles through lush green forests down to the Ozette Triangle beach, where you can camp on the shores beneath the twinkling sky.

Hoh Rainforest

Depending on the time of year, sometimes the Milky Way is in its full glory.
Depending on the time of year, sometimes the Milky Way is in its full glory. Flickr/BLM

As one of the few rainforests in North America , the Hoh is one of the most unique landscapes in Washington. It’s also one of the darkest. When the forecast looks clear, travel along the Hoh River Trail for a few miles to camp at Five Mile Island, where the forest opens up along the river’s bank, making it a fantastic spot to take in the constellations.

North Cascades

Stargazing is one of the simplest ways to regain perspective.
Stargazing is one of the simplest ways to regain perspective. Samantha Levang

North Cascades National Park is similarly remote to the Olympics but far less visited—meaning the chances for solitude, and darkness, are even better. The seven-mile round-trip trail to Cascade Pass is a gem that will bring you to stunning view of the surrounding peaks that becomes a prime position for stargazing come night. While you can’t camp at the pass itself, there are several backcountry campsites nearby, including Pelton Basin, Sahale Glacier, Basin Creek, and Johannesburgh.

If you find yourself driving back home after the sun has set at the end of a day exploring the North Cascades, take a moment to pull off at Rainy Pass, located just outside the park along the scenic Highway 20. Given the 4,855-foot elevation, you’ll feel especially close to the stars.

Mount Adams

Mount Adams is a great place to enjoy dark skies.
Mount Adams is a great place to enjoy dark skies. Wikimedia Commons

Mount Adams is a great place to enjoy dark skies. Digital20

Of Washington’s five active volcanoes, Mount Adams receives the least amount of light pollution. And, while the areas surrounding Rainier and St. Helens are more frequently visited, Adams’s flanks are equally beautiful.

Backpacking the 35-mile circumnavigation of the mountain is an unforgettable journey (with some seriously great stargazing). For a shorter trip, the 11-mile round-trip hike to Gotchen Creek explores cool ancient lava beds. Plus, being on the mountain’s east side means the climate is drier—so the dark skies are more likely to be cloud free, too.

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