Virginia has some of the best stargazing on the East Coast, with many wide-open spaces free of light pollution and high-tech observatories that are open to the public. Plan a Virginia stargazing trip near you and channel your inner astronomer.
Know Before You Go: Social distancing and face masks are required to attend stargazing events. Be sure to check safety protocols and special requirements before you go. Also, be sure to check the forecast before you go as stargazing activities are weather dependent.
—DARK SKY PARKS & DESTINATIONS—
Shenandoah National Park
Photo Credit: Gordon Lau IG account: @gordonklau
Free of light pollution and development, Shenandoah National Park is one of the premier destinations for stargazing in Virginia. The park offers Exploring The Skies astronomy presentations, Night Skies programs with amateur astronomers, and Twilight Hiking with Shenandoah Mountain Guides.
Dark Sky State Parks—Staunton River & James River
Staunton River State Park and James River State Park are two of only 81 parks in the world designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The parks have a strict outdoor lighting policy that ensures an exceptionally dark sky, which draws astronomers from across the country each spring and fall for multi-day star parties.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Photo Credit: Trevor Mahlmann, IG account: @tmahlmann
Assateague Island National Seashore, a non-developed beach, offers completely dark skies perfect for admiring stars, meteor showers, and comets. Add a visit to Chincoteague’s NASA Wallops Flight Facility to see NASA’s primary facility for launching suborbital missions, including sounding rockets and scientific balloons. Tours of the facility are available for organized groups with reservations. Note: the visitor center is closed currently due to COVID-19 so be sure to check the website for updated information before planning a visit.
Meadows of Dan & Primland Resort
Meadows of Dan in Patrick County, a rural Virginia county with little light pollution, is perfect for stargazing. Try Fairy Stone State Park’s campgrounds, cabins, yurts, and lodges and step just outside and enjoy the dark skies.
Meadows of Dan also includes Primland Resort, a luxury boutique resort set on LEED-certified, 12,000 acres of the pristine Blue Ridge Mountains. The resort’s high altitude, remote location, on-site Observatory Dome, and nightly Come Starwalk at Primland programs using the resort’s Celestron CGE Pro 1400 telescope make it an ideal place for stargazing. The tour starts with an outside demonstration of constellations and planets, then moves to topics like star formation and star death, galaxy formation, and the grand scale of the Universe.
Photo Credit: Scott K Brown
Visit Grayson County, home of Virginia’s highest mountain, and plenty of parks, cabins, cottages, and campgrounds that are spectacular for stargazing due to low light pollution. Visit Grayson Highlands State Park to hike among wild ponies by day and enjoy a front-row view of the stars by night.
Highland County is one of the premier dark sky areas in the eastern United States. Check out the Highland County Stargazers FaceBook page for information on upcoming astronomical events, including star parties in conjunction with the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. Note: star parties are open to the public, however, events for 2020 have been canceled.
Lake Anna State Park
With its clear skies and ample camping and glamping accommodations, Lake Anna State Park is a wonderful place to enjoy the night sky while enjoying park amenities like hiking trails, beach access, and docks by day.
Natural Chimneys Park & Campground
Photo Credit: Erin Harrigan, IG account: @erinharrigan
The Abbitt Observatory at the Virginia Living Museum offers daytime observations of the Sun, as well as periodic nighttime views of the stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies, and other celestial wonders through a variety of professional astronomy tools, including a ten-inch Meade telescope. Star parties with portable telescopes are held on the second Saturday of each month and during special events, depending on the weather.
“The Center of the Universe,” as locals refer to Ashland, is home to the Keeble Observatory at Randolph-Macon College. The Observatory houses a state of the art Ritchey-Chretien telescope with a forty-centimeter primary mirror. The Observatory is open to the public weekly when school is in session and admission is free.
Meadowkirk at Delta Farm’s Brinton Observatory features a 12-inch Meade telescope offering stunning views of the Solar System, stars, and some deep space objects during the one to one-and-a-half hour Stargazing Nights programs led by experts from the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC). Topics range from novice to advance and are reserved ahead of time.