The Perseids meteor shower is one of the most remarkable natural spectacles we have the opportunity to witness every year. One of the brightest meteor showers, it features a remarkable amount of action: Between 50 and 100 falling stars streak through the sky per hour during its peak, the result of Earth passing through a cloud of debris that originated from the Swift-Tuttle comet. When the particles enter our atmosphere, they burst apart in a fiery display.
The phenomenon begins in mid-July and ends in late August. But the best time to witness the show is during its peak, which will generally fall in mid-August. If you're lucky, the peak falls right before the new moon when the dark skies make the meteor shower seem even brighter.
Watching the event might mean an all-nighter, but the thrill of the stunning show will more than make up for the lack of sleep. The best viewing times are between 2 am and dawn, since this is both when the sky will be darkest and when our side of the Earth will be moving forward into the cloud of debris.
For the brightest display, go to a spot far away from the city (so that light pollution doesn’t muddle the scene) that has a clear view of the northeastern sky, where the meteors will emanate near the constellation Perseus. Remember to bring warm layers and a comfortable chair or pad to lie down on, and a headlamp for the hike.
Ready to get your stargazing on? Here are some recommendations for where to watch the Perseid meteor shower in Washington State.
1) Chinook Pass
Embedded within one of the darkest areas of Washington, Chinook Pass is a favorite among local stargazers. After driving up to the top of the pass, take a short hike away from the road to Tipsoo Lake, where you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of the skies above.
2) Mount Pilchuck
The fire lookout at the top of Mount Pilchuck , one of the most popular hiking destinations in Washington, provides the perfect structure to string up a hammock, get comfortable, and wait for the sky to come to life. There are a couple of spots where route finding requires some attention, so if you’re unfamiliar with the three-mile hike to the summit get an early enough start to do it while there is still light.
3) Rattlesnake Lake
Only a 45-minute drive from Seattle, Rattlesnake Lake is close enough to make for a convenient trip but still on the side of the foothills from Seattle, which help block the city lights to result in significantly darker skies. Take the popular two-mile hike up to watch the shower from Rattlesnake Ridge (though use caution if up on the summit at dark), or pick out a spot around the lake near the trailhead.
3) Umatanum Creek Canyon
Given western Washington’s propensity toward clouds and rain, a trip to the other side of the Cascades will be your best bet if the forecast calls for wet weather. Umatanum Creek Canyon makes for a great destination to watch the shower. Even if you don’t venture all the way into the canyon, the tall desert walls will make for a stunning background beneath wide-open skies, providing the perfect environment for a memorable night.
3) Olympic National Park
The west side of the Olympic is a great place to take in the night sky, because the mountains will block out the city lights to the east. One of the most easily accessible viewpoints within Olympic National Park is Hurricane Ridge (you can drive right up to it), making it a good choice to see Perseids. Alternatively, continue through the park to watch the event from the Olympic Coast : The stars falling to a soundtrack of ocean waves promises to be an otherworldly experience.
5) Mount Rainier National Park
As one of Washington’s most iconic features, Mount Rainier will make for a wonderfully romantic backdrop to the shooting stars. See them from Paradise Visitor Center—or, if you’re feeling ambitious, hike up to Camp Muir. You may even see some climbers heading up toward the summit as the meteor shower rains down.