An Out-of-This-World Guide to Stargazing in and Near Washington DC

Look up and reclaim your love of the night sky.

While the bright lights of big cities can be beguiling in their own way, those neons ultimately pale in comparison to the natural bulbs in our skies—the stars. Unfortunately, light pollution—or an excess of artificial lighting commonly found in bustling metropolises—has made it nigh impossible to see the twinkling natural lights above our head from within most cities, our nation’s capital included. After all, the best way to see the stars is to be in a truly dark space, unhindered by electricity and its side effects.

Luckily, thanks in part to height restriction laws that prevent skyscrapers from blocking our view of the stars in DC, our fair city—in addition to some nearby destinations—has its fair share of excellent locations for stargazing. And as the season begins to transition from unbearable warmth to more pleasant evening temps, there are few better ways than to spend an evening than by simply looking up.

We’ve rounded up some of the best places in DC and within the vicinity to go stargazing and reclaim your love of the night sky.

The Einstein Planetarium
The Einstein Planetarium | Photo courtesy of National Air and Space Museum

Stargazing Spots in Washington DC

National Mall
It comes as little surprise that the Smithsonian dedicated to our skies has a great option for stargazing. On the first and third Saturday of each month, the National Air & Space Museum offers a free 25-minute live planetarium show that provides a tour of the night sky and its constellatory inhabitants.

The National Mall

National Mall
On a clear night, you’ll find that you can see not only the moon, but also a few planets like Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and if you’re very lucky, Saturn. While the lights around the Capitol sometimes prevent a challenge, it’s still one of the more unique locales not only in the District, but in the country, to do some stargazing, especially with the monuments as a backdrop. Head toward the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial for some great shots of the Washington Monument alongside the stars.


Stargazing Spots Just Outside DC

Georgetown (Multiple)
The 180-long C&O Canal spans from West Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, and as a National Park Service-protected trail, has not been encumbered by over-development. As a result, in certain areas of the trail, you can find very little artificial light, and as such, a very good opportunity for stargazing. The area near Harpers Ferry may be one of the best places to do so, though on a clear night in Georgetown, you could likely do the same.
Distance from DC: Check out the C&O in Georgetown or follow it to its endpoint in Cumberland, MD, 2 hours away

Takoma Park/Silver Spring
The Montgomery College Planetarium in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus hosts Observatory Guest Nights, during which attendees can use Montgomery College telescopes to view and learn about visible solar system objects, star clusters, and nebulae. You’ll leave the session with a star chart and, hopefully, a newfound ability to identify some celestial objects by yourself. Check out the schedule of events.
Distance from DC: 25 minutes

The Turner Farm Observatory
The Turner Farm Observatory | Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Fairfax, VA
Just 20 miles outside of the city is the large Fairfax County park, which hosts a roll-top observatory that is open to the public. You can join the Analemma Society every clear Friday night for a stargazing party complete with a range of telescopes. There are also some special events, like poetry under the stars. Check out the full schedule.
Distance from DC: 30 minutes

Midland, VA
Just over an hour from DC is C.M. Crockett Park, whose flat, open areas make for ideal stargazing. The largest lakeside park in Fauquier County, C.M. Crockett also offers fishing, boat rentals, and cross-country trails that are open year-round, so you can get your activities in during the day before settling down to look for some constellations at day’s end.
Distance from DC: 1 hour

Sky Meadows State Park
Sky Meadows State Park | Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park

Delaplane, VA
Sky Meadows is an International Dark Sky Park, an official designation by the International Dark Sky Association that signifies an area to have minimal light pollution with maximum opportunities to appreciate the stars. It’s the closest such place to Washington DC, and is a stunning 1,860 acre park in which to explore the natural beauty of our planet.
Distance from DC: 1 hour

Fairfax, VA
The George Mason University campus in Fairfax, Virginia is just about 20 miles outside of DC, and is home to an impressive observatory boasting a number of fine telescopes. The university offers a range of programming at its observatory, including “Evening Under the Stars,” which invites the public to explore the night skies with the institution’s special hardware. You can check out the full schedule.
Distance from DC: 30 minutes

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Lulu Chang is a Thrillist contributor.