The first step in finding somewhere incredible to stargaze is to get as far away from other humans as you can, which is always an excellent start regardless of what you’re doing. If you live in a city, it’s easy to forget that the stars above you even exist, let alone how brilliant the night sky can be. When you finally escape all that light pollution you’ve grown used to, you’d be surprised how much of the Milky Way you can see with the naked eye.
There are more than 100 certified International Dark Sky places -- urban settings, parks, nature reserves -- across the globe, many of them in the US. Most of North America’s designated Dark Sky sites are in the southwestern US, but there’s a healthy number sprinkled all across the country. The nonprofit International Dark Sky Association (the folks who do the certifying) evaluates candidates not just on the basis of how dark their respective skies are, but in some cases, how much community support the site has. Here, we’ve narrowed down a a mix of shiny dark places where you’re likely to find friendly amateur astronomers, helpful park rangers, star parties -- where amateur and sometimes professional astronomers load up their telescopes and gather under the night sky -- or maybe no one at all.
Cherry Springs State Park
The East Coast looks absolutely garbage on a light-pollution map, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent options if you know where to look. Cherry Springs State Park is a designated Gold Level Dark Sky Park with its own astronomy field, even offering private tours. It’s open year-round, and you can check in advance when the skies overhead are expected to be clearest. There are star parties, but they do fill up in advance so make sure to register well ahead of time if you have your heart set on one. You might even see the northern lights.