Virginia has some of the best stargazing on the East Coast, with many wide-open spaces free of light pollution and high-tech observatories open to the public. Plan a Virginia stargazing trip near you and channel your inner astronomer.
Know Before You Go: 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, @gordonklau
Free of light pollution and development, Shenandoah National Park is a premier destination for stargazing in Virginia. The park offers Exploring The Skies astronomy presentations, Night Skies programs with amateur astronomers on select Fridays from April-October, and Twilight Hiking with Shenandoah Mountain Guides.
Dark Sky State Parks
Photo Credit: Kara Asboth
Virginia has the most Dark Sky Parks east of the Mississippi with Shenandoah National Park and four state parks officially designated International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Staunton River State Park, James River State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, and Sky Meadows State Park have strict outdoor lighting policies to ensure exceptionally dark skies, which draw stargazers to astronomy programs throughout the year.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Photo Credit: Trevor Mahlmann, @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.
Meadows of Dan & Primland Resort
Photo Courtesy of Primland, Auberge Resorts Collection
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 is home to Primland Resort, a LEED-certified luxury boutique resort set on 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 a 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.
Nelson County’s rural yet central location provides an accessible destination for stargazing in Virginia. In addition to seasonal star parties at the Rockfish Valley Community Center, stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts can find dozens of Dark Sky events and destinations throughout the county with the new Dark Skies of Nelson initiative. From June 21 through December 31, 2022, 49 local hospitality businesses are promoting places that preserve and protect our Dark Skies with specials, packages, and events for viewing astronomical wonders.
Photo Credit: Scott K Brown
Visit Grayson County, home of Virginia’s highest mountain and plenty of parks, cabins, cottages, and campgrounds with spectacular stargazing due to low light pollution. Visit Grayson Highlands State Park to hike among wild ponies during the day and enjoy a front-row view of the stars at 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 an annual Fall star party sponsored by the Highland County Stargazers in conjunction with amateur astronomers from other astronomy clubs. Note: star parties are open to the public.
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 dock sitting during the day.
Natural Chimneys Park & Campground
Photo Credit: Erin Harrigan, @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 various professional astronomy tools like 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. 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.