Celebrating Darkness: The National Park Night Sky Festivals of 2019

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, then a couple of weeks ago you may have caught the post announcing our involvement with the annual Grand Canyon Sky Party. We’re really revved up about this. It’s an opportunity for our night photography program to be integrated into a dark-sky festival at one of the country’s—nix that, one of the world’s—grandest national parks.

The Grand Canyon Star Party is an event that no night-loving parks buff should miss. But it’s not the only event of its kind. The National Park Service (NPS) is dedicated to preserving night skies and to letting people know about it. Want evidence?

  • Exhibit A: the NPS Night Skies webpage.

  • Exhibit B: the wide range of parks and rangers that commissioned artist and astronomer Tyler Nordgren to produce the “Half the Park is After Dark” poster series

  • Exhibit C: the commitment that’s led to an ever-growing number of units being designated as Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark Sky Association

  • Exhibit D: the night sky festivals that so many NPS units host each year

That last point is the point of this post. All year long the parks host events all across the continent. Below are many of the noteworthy ones coming up in the next several months, including a couple in Canada.

Petrified Forest National Park. NPS Photo/Jake Holgerson.

Petrified Forest National Park. NPS Photo/Jake Holgerson.

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona, June 21

Annual Dark Sky Celebration

  • ranger- and astronomer-led programs

  • ancient solar petroglyph viewing at Puerco Pueblo

Yosemite National Park

California, June 22-23

Stars Over Yosemite

  • public telescope sharing

  • group camping

  • night-photography shoots

Grand Canyon National Park. Fujifilm X-T2. 30 seconds, f/4, ISO 6400. © 2018 Gabriel Biderman.

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona, June 22-29

Grand Canyon Star Party

  • held on both the North Rim and South Rim

  • constellation tours

  • daily presentations at the visitor center

  • a night photography talk and two night photography walks by National Parks at Night partners and instructors Gabriel Biderman and Chris Nicholson!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah, June 26-29

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival

  • led by Bryce Canyon's Astronomy Rangers and local astronomical societies

  • keynote speaker: Dr. Amber Straughn, associate director of astrophysics science at NASA

  • model rocket assembly and launches

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Colorado, June 26-29

Black Canyon Astronomy Festival

  • guest speakers

  • astronomy activities

  • held on the South Rim of the canyon

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

Idaho, June 28-29 & September 27-28

Craters of the Moon Star Party

  • run by the Idaho Falls Astronomical Society

  • telescopes available for viewing star and planets

Badlands National Park. NPS/Gary Joseph Cohen.

Badlands National Park. NPS/Gary Joseph Cohen.

Badlands National Park

South Dakota, July 5-7

Badlands Astronomy Festival

  • evening presentations with special guest speakers

  • nightly telescope viewing sponsored by the NPS Night Sky Program and Celestron

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

West Virginia, July 12

Harpers Ferry Night Sky Festival

  • guest speaker and kids program

  • stargazing activities after dusk at the Murphy-Chambers Farm

Ochoco National Forest

Oregon, July 30-August 4

Oregon Star Party

  • guest speakers, including NASA Solar System Ambassador Greg Cermak

  • observing programs for every level, from binocular to beginner to intermediate to advance to photographer (yes, in that order)

  • many, many programs

Lassen Volcanic National Park  Dark Sky Festival. Photo by NPS/Alison Taggart-Barone.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Dark Sky Festival. Photo by NPS/Alison Taggart-Barone.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

California, August 2-3

Dark Sky Festival

  • nightly constellation tours and stargazing

  • discussions and demonstrations by National Park Dark Sky rangers, NASA, the International Dark Sky Association, StarChazerz and the Astronomical Society of Nevada

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia, August 9-11

Night Sky Festival

  • ranger talks and programs

  • guest presentations ranging from topics such as space weather, space travel and our future in space

Wood Buffalo National Park

Alberta and Northwest Territories, Canada, August 22-25

Dark Sky Festival

  • presentations by Bob McDonald, host of CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks, and Wilfred Buck, a science facilitator for the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

  • fire circle and drumming

  • aurora and astrophotography workshop

sequoia dark-sky-logo-2018-01.jpg

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

California, August 23-24

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Dark Sky Festival

  • takes place in various locations, including the Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest, Lodgepole, Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, as well as Lake Kaweah in Three Rivers

  • over 50 programs, including tours, stargazing, guest speakers, movies, musical performances and more

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Pennsylvania, August 24


  • organized by the ChesMont Astronomical Society

  • presentations, kids activities, telescope demonstrations and door prizes

Kejimkujik National Park

Nova Scotia, Canada, August 24-25

Dark Sky Weekend

  • Canada’s only Dark Sky Preserve

  • presented in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North Dakota, August 30-September 1

Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival

  • rocket building and launching

  • half-mile Solar System Hike

  • stargazing and telescopes

Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. Nikon D5 with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, light painted with a Coast HP7R flashlight and a Luxli Viola panel light. 10.5 minutes, f/11, ISO 100. © 2018 Chris Nicholson.

Chaco Canyon National Historical Park

New Mexico, September 20-22

Astronomy Festival

  • sun and night-sky viewing through telescopes

  • learn about celestial alignments in the park’s ancestral Puebloan great houses

  • guided hikes

Joshua Tree National Park

California, September 21

Night Sky Festival

  • held primarily at Sky’s the Limit Nature Center and Observatory

  • viewing through at least 20 telescopes

  • astronomy lectures

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Maine, September 21

Stars Over Katahdin

  • campfire chat with hot cocoa and s’mores

  • science lessons

  • astronomy presentations

Acadia National Park. Nikon D3s with a Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens. 20 seconds, f/8, ISO 3200. © 2017 Chris Nicholson.

Acadia National Park

Maine, September 25-29

Acadia Night Sky Festival

  • internationally recognized speakers

  • poster artwork contest

  • events and workshops for everyone from families to the serious amateur astronomers

Great Basin National Park

Nevada, September 26-28

Astronomy Festival

  • daytime and evening telescope viewing

  • ranger talent show of astronomy-themed acts

  • night sky photography workshop by the Dark Rangers

Capitol Reef National Park. Nikon D750 with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8 lens. 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200. © 2016 Matt Hill.

Capitol Reef National Park

Utah, September 27-28

Heritage Starfest

  • a dark-sky run/walk

  • constellation tours

Cedar Breaks and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monuments

Utah, September 27-29

Southwest Astronomy Festival

  • night hikes

  • star parties in various regional parks and places

Jasper National Park

Alberta, Canada, October 18-27

Jasper Dark Sky Festival

  • keynote speaker: Jad Abumrad, creator and host of Radiolab

  • VIP stargazing reception

  • stargazing along the shores of Lake Annette

  • “Science for Breakfast” with Nick Pope, former head of the British government's UFO project

Other Opportunities

These aren’t the only opportunities to celebrate the night skies of the national parks. The above represents the larger events and the annual events—at least the ones that we know of at press time. (Blog time? Press-Enter time?)

In the 400-plus units of the park system, there’s often something going on involving night. Ranger-led walks. Telescope parties. Meteor-shower viewing. Moonlight strolls. And so on. To find an event in a park near you, or in a park near where you’re traveling, go to the NPS’ Event Calendar page and do a search for “night,” or “stars,” etc.

Moreover, if you live outside North America or you’re traveling internationally, you can look for night programs all over the world, such as the Exmoor (National Park) Dark Sky Festival in England, the Mayo Dark Sky Festival in Ireland and the Queensland Astrofest in Australia.

Really, there’s a whole world of seizing the night to be had. So … go seize!

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.