There are many variables that can make a difference in a stargazer’s experience. Photographer Grant Kaye has learned the ropes and discovered the ideal places for stargazing across the United States. Kaye has spent many nights watching the stars as a professional landscape photographer, and the list below showcases the top six areas, from Alaska to Hawaii, Kaye recommends for stargazing.
If you want to see the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, Alaska is the place to be. Charged particles colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere causes the light phenomenon that attracts many visitors year round. Kaye explains that it’s an unbridled experience that shouldn’t be missed. For the most vibrant Northern Lights display, Kaye recommends going to Fairbanks for the best view of the lights.
2. Black Rock Desert
The Black Rock Desert, located in Nevada, boasts some of the most spectacular stargazing. Due to the remote location of the desert, the dark skies help pronounce the luminosity of the stars. The Black Rock Desert may be familiar to those who participate in the Burning Man festival every year in August, but according to Kaye, the expansive desert can be a dangerous and foreboding place for the uninitiated.
3. Bristlecone Pine Forest
The Bristlecone Pine Forest of White Mountain, California is home to trees that are hundreds of years old. This primitive forest offers a great backdrop and frame to view the night sky. Although this is a great area to stargaze, the area is only open select months out of the year depending on the weather.
4. Tahoe National Forest
Kaye calls Truckee, California home for good reason. 30 minutes outside of Lake Tahoe, Truckee provides the photographer access to some of the most memorable landscapes and views in the United States. The shimmering waters of Lake Tahoe are perfect to enjoy the night sky while scuba diving, observing the stars from below the water’s surface, or relaxing on the beach watching the moon reflect off of the water. If you can’t make it to Tahoe, Kaye recommends traveling to Donner Lake, with equally impressive sights 40 minutes away.
5. Racetrack Playa
The dry lake bed on Death Valley’s northwestern side can be a challenge to get to, but it is a rewarding experience nonetheless. The “sailing stones” that are a prominent feature of this landscape seemingly glide across the baked sands on their own without help from any living thing. However, several years ago scientists discovered that thin layers of melting ice and high winds have revealed themselves to be the culprit of the stone’s movement.
6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii isn’t just known for its warm weather and great beaches; Kaye, a Hawaiian native, utilizes the backroads of the islands regularly to photograph the majestic stars with the island’s volcanoes in the foreground. Volcanoes National Park is a one-of-a-kind location that Kaye has described as “magical.”
Another great place that Kaye suggests is the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The site of Kaye’s former employment is a tranquil, dimly-lit location to stargaze.