National Parks

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


Happy Birthdays: 4 Parks and More Celebrating Milestone Anniversaries in 2018

National Parks at Night is excited that we’ll soon be commencing our third year of photography adventure workshops in some of the prettiest places in the U.S. (and Iceland and Scotland too!). But three years is nothing compared to how long many of our national parks have been around. Four national parks and an entire category of preserved lands will be celebrating landmark anniversaries in 2018. (And we’ll be offering workshops, as well as running print exhibits, at two of them!)

Next year three parks will be celebrating their 50th year in the system: Biscayne in Florida, Redwood in California and North Cascades in Washington. And one park will be celebrating its 100th: Katmai in Alaska.

We are leading night workshops in both Biscayne and Redwood, and the culminating photography that comes out of those workshops from both the participants and the instructors will be featured in two concurrent group exhibits at both parks! The show is tentatively titled “From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters.” How cool is that?

Whether you join us for a workshop, attend one of the exhibits or want to just venture out on your own, we highly recommend witnessing and helping to celebrate the historic milestones of these great national parks. For more about each place, what they’re planning for their anniversaries, and how we’re planning to participate, see the information below.

Biscayne National Park

by Gabriel Biderman

Biscayne is a unique and rare place that has survived many battles and storms, and was welcomed into the National Park System as national monument in 1968. It was expanded in 1974 and again in 1980 when it was re-designated as a national park. (Visit the park website to learn more about the birth and evolution of Biscayne.)

One of the things that makes Biscayne so unique is that 95 percent of its 172,924 acres are under water. It is truly a wonderful water world.

Stiltsville—orange house along the forever horizon in Biscayne National Park. © 2017 Tim Cooper.

The rangers and the community around Biscayne have been so welcoming and incredible to partner with. They kicked off their golden anniversary in October and will be hosting many events over the next 14 months. National Parks at Night is honored and thrilled to be part of the celebrations with a group show of our Biscayne students’ work in October 2018.

We specifically planned our workshop during the first major celestial event in 2018: a blue supermoon! With spectacular horizon lines surrounding all aspects of Biscayne, we are all but guaranteed to capture the supermoon as it rises and reflects over the horizon.

Boca Chita Lighthouse will be just one of our many explorations at Biscayne … at night!. © 2017 Gabriel Biderman.

Out of all the National Parks, Biscayne might be one of the least documented at night, because there are very few places to set down your tripod on terra firma! However, we are getting special access to one of the surreal floating houses of Stiltsville, access to the ornamental lighthouse on Boca Chita, as well as access to several of the keys that never have nocturnal visitors! So come and be one of the first groups to lead a night photography venture in Biscayne!

Redwood National and State Parks

by Lance Keimig

The far north of the California coast makes for one of the more unique settings of any of the national parks. In addition to the truly amazing redwood forests, the park includes upland prairies which overlook the fog-shrouded tall trees below, and miles of spectacular Pacific Ocean coastline dotted with jagged sea stacks.

Fog-shrouded coastal redwoods in the Lady Bird Johnson grove. © 2017 Lance Keimig.

Redwood National and State Parks is a unique conglomeration of three California state parks and the national park, which was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Johnson in 1968. Conservation of the California coastal redwoods dates back even further—in fact, much further. The Save the Redwoods League was formed in an effort to protect remaining redwood forests from logging, and was instrumental in the founding of the three state parks. Today, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service work collaboratively to maximize protection of the parks’ natural resources.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the national park, and National Parks at Night is working with the NPS to help celebrate the occasion with our Passport Series workshop, followed a few months later by the print exhibit of student and instructor work to be displayed at the park headquarters.

One cannot help but be awed and overwhelmed by the enormity and majesty of these incredible trees. © 2017 Lance Keimig.

During our workshop in June, we’ll experience a healthy sampling of all three environments the park offers—the forests, the prairies and the coast. Our base camp will be in the heart of the Yurok tribal lands, overlooking the mouth of the Klamath River in the tiny fishing village of Requa. Unlike most of our workshops, this one is inclusive of meals and lodging, which along with our classroom sessions will be at the historic Requa Inn. The inn is a special place, and we will have it, along with their talented chef, all to ourselves during the workshop. Meals will be specially prepared for us using local seafood and organic ingredients from a nearby farm.

North Cascades and Katmai national parks

by Chris Nicholson

Though we won’t be running workshops at these parks in 2018, North Cascades and Katmai will also be celebrating notable anniversaries, so we wanted to include them in this dedication as well.

North Cascades is one of the gems of our mountain parks, protecting a half-million acres of alpine wilderness in northern Washington. Though it doesn’t get as much fanfare as the state’s other two national parks (Olympic and Mount Rainier), it ranks just as high in terms of beauty and photographic opportunity. It’s a wonderful spot for both road warriors and backpackers, as it features about 55 miles of scenic byway and 400 miles of backcountry trails. This mountainous wonderland includes inspiring peaks, forested valleys, over 300 glaciers, and countless lakes, ponds and waterfalls.

Mount Shuksan in North Cascades National Park sits reflected under a starry summer sky. © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

North Cascades is organizing a slew of events to commemorate its golden anniversary, which they will begin announcing over the next couple of months. Be sure to check their website and Facebook page for more information as it’s available.

Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska will be celebrating the biggest anniversary of the whole bunch: its centennial! Formed in 1918, the park protects some of the grandest landscapes in North America. Its features include scenery shaped by the devastating volcanic eruptions of 1912 (including the awesomely named Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes), the wilderness of 6,716-foot Mount Katmai, snow-covered peaks, pristine alpine landscapes and tundra, spruce and willow forests, hundreds of miles of coastline, hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, and hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes.

Brown bears are the most famous attraction of Katmai. NPS photo by R. Taylor.

Despite the 4.1 million acres of visual grandeur, that’s not even what Katmai is most famous for. The park’s major attraction is its most popular residents: the ubiquitous brown bears. If you’ve ever seen a photo of a brown bear fetching a salmon mid-air from the top of a waterfall, that image was probably created in Katmai, in particular at Brooks Falls. The bears are so frequent, numerous and predictable that people (especially photographers) flock to Katmai every July and September to see the beasts feast on the unfortunate sockeye salmon of the Brooks River.

For the park’s centennial, Katmai is planning a series of events that will begin in April with a geology research symposium in Anchorage, followed by a summer full of webinars, culminating with an on-site event in September. More details will be announced on the park website over the winter.

National Rivers and Trails

by Gabriel Biderman

Additionally, the National Park Service recently created a website that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. For the next two years you can #FindYourWay to events and stories that will be exploring the 12,734 protected miles of rivers such as Allagash, Salmon, Snake, Missouri and Concord, to name a few.

The Appalachian Trail, part of the National Trails System, wanders through some of the most spectacular scenery in the eastern U.S., including through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © 2013 Chris Nicholson.

The Appalachian Trail, part of the National Trails System, wanders through some of the most spectacular scenery in the eastern U.S., including through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © 2013 Chris Nicholson.

Not a fan of water? Then get lost on one of the many scenic, historic or recreational trails that unite our country. Scenic trails include the big three—Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest Trail—as well as eight others that extend well past 100 miles! There are 19 Historic Trails that bring you a richer sense of the history in their regions. A few examples are the ancient settlements of Hawaii, the gold rushers in California, the dog mushers of the Iditarod, and the adventures of the Lewis and Clark journeys, as well as the more somber Selma to Montgomery and Cherokee Trail of Tears.

Still can’t find a path to follow? Over 1,000 trails in all 50 states are organized under the National Recreation Trail database.

So no matter where you go, make 2018 the year that you go outside and explore more!

National Parks at Night Involvement

If you want to be a part of our part of history, join one (or both) of our workshops at Biscayne and Redwood that will culminate in the “From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters” group show that will be exhibited at both parks. (We will pass along more info about the latter as the event nears.)

Our Biscayne workshop runs from January 29 to February 3, our Redwood workshop from June 25 to 30, and the photo exhibit in both parks will be held in October 2018. We hope to see you there, seizing the night and celebrating the parks!

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at


Voices For the Wilderness: Public Comments on National Monuments Due Today

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Photo by T. Miller/NPS.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Photo by T. Miller/NPS.

Three months ago the United States government initiated a review of the 27 national monuments that have been created by Republican and Democratic presidents over the past two decades. That review includes a period of public comment, which ends today, July 10.

Most people on both sides of the American political aisle don't see this question as one of partisan politics, but rather as the interests of some industries versus other industries—in particular, natural resources versus natural spaces.

Our Voices

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Photo © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Photo © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

As a business that relies on the latter, and as people who love spending time in the wild, you can probably guess our opinion on the matter. We try not to wade into politics as an entity, but we did want to share the personal opinions of two of the NPAN partners and instructors. This is what Matt Hill and I submitted as public comments in reaction to the review:

Matt Hill

"I am co-founder of a photography workshop program that teaches night photography in public lands. We focus on national monuments and national parks.

"We provide an opportunity for our students to experience the uniquely dark skies offered by these locations which cannot be found elsewhere in the USA. They are also encouraged to learn about the landscape, wildlife, ecology and challenges each monument or land faces, and suggestions on how to honor, protect and share awareness about these qualities and challenges through their photography.

"Our students choose to spend their scarce vacation time or retirement money on supporting the local economies during our workshops. They also explore more monuments and parks in their own time, making more art and awareness in harmony with these precious spaces.

"I implore you to protect these unique, wild places. Do not exchange commercial benefits for irreplaceable acts of nature."

Chris Nicholson

"The lands of our nation belong to every citizen and every industry. But obviously some spaces need to be used by only one interest, as that use makes that space worthless for others. Outdoors enthusiasts have little use for lands riddled with oil derricks, and gas mining cannot occur on lands preserved for natural beauty. Therefore, a compromise is necessary—some lands relegated for preservation, some for development, mining, drilling, etc.

"That compromise was made more than a century ago. Processes were set in place to divide lands between interests that cannot share spaces, and a majority of available space has been dedicated to residential and business development. Business interests may not be happy with some specific results of that compromise, just as environmentalists are not happy with some. But that doesn't mean we go back on the compromise for either of those parties. Processes were put in place to determine which spaces would be set aside for preservation and which would be allowed to be developed, and the results of those processes should stand.

"Moreover, preserved lands may not benefit the industries of energy development, etc., but they are the lifeblood of the outdoors industries and local and international tourism. It is not the government's role to take existing economic interests away from one industry to grant them to another. The decisions and processes in place need to be respected and preserved in the face of special interests that seek to profit by strong-arming the American public out of compromises and agreements made in good faith over the course of generations."

Your Voices

If you're unsure of where you stand on the matter, a view of the spaces in question might satisfy curiosity. Journalist Brent Rose did just that—traveled to all 27 national monuments under review to see whether they're more valuable to America as natural spaces or business spaces. See his findings at

Craters of the Moon National Monument. NPS photo.

Brent obviously has an opinion which drove his narrative, so if you would prefer a completely neutral view, consider exploring photographs of these national monuments on Google Images or Flickr, or on their home webpages. You can see a list of the spaces under review at

Regardless of where you stand personally on this issue, we encourage you to let your voice be heard. To register your public comment today, visit and enter "DOI-2017-0002" in the search box.

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


Sharing the Experience(s): Celestial Celebrations (And More) in the National Parks

As the end of winter nears, our minds and hearts and cameras are ready to get outdoors again. (Well, at least for those who weren’t crazy enough to already be out there, like me, spending a few days in very snowy Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of weeks ago. Brr. But awesome.)

We here at National Parks at Night are particularly itchy to spend more time in the great wildernesses of our country photographing in the dark. Our 2017 workshop season is about to get underway, kicking off in Joshua Tree National Park next month, and aside from our workshops, all five of us like to get into the parks as much as we can. Fortunately for everyone, the parks offer myriad means and reasons to enjoy them.

Below I’ve detailed some of the opportunities you may be interested in taking advantage of, including a brand new centennial, night sky festivals and solar eclipse events.

Fee-Free Days

First, you might want to know how to get into the parks for free. They’re a great deal anytime, whether you’re buying a day pass for a single park or purchasing the much-recommended America the Beautiful annual pass. But if you want or need to get in fee-free, you can do so on the following days in 2017:

  • April 15-16 and April 22-23: National Park Week weekends
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 30: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend

On those dates, all 84 million acres of the 417 National Park Service units are free to enter—that’s all national parks, national monuments, national historic sites, national battlefields, national recreation areas, national seashores … you get the picture. (Ha! See what I did there?)

You can find more information here: “National Park Service Announces Fee Free Days for 2017.”

The Whole World Goes Dark

April 22 to 28 is International Dark Sky Week. At this moment we are not aware of any national parks preparing or hosting events to coincide, but regardless, it’s a great time to get outdoors and be part of seven days of observing, photographing and championing the night. You can also enter and win the associated 2017 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest.

Chimney Rock in Capitol Reef National Park, one of 16 International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S., and one of only three U.S. national parks with a gold-tier designation from the International Dark Sky Association. Photo © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

Chimney Rock in Capitol Reef National Park, one of 16 International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S., and one of only three U.S. national parks with a gold-tier designation from the International Dark Sky Association. Photo © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

Moreover, this week is an excellent time to learn more about the host organization, the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Among other things, they’re the ones who research, designate and support International Dark Sky Parks, 16 of which are in the U.S., and are uniquely wonderful for night photography:

  • Flagstaff Area National Monuments, Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (Arizona)
  • Death Valley National Park (California)
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
  • Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)
  • Great Basin National Park (Nevada)
  • Capulin Volcano National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument (New Mexico)
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas)
  • Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Bonus Location: Also check out Cosmic Campground in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. It’s one of only two International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world certified by the IDA.

Double-Bonus Location: There’s also Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Michigan, which, you can tell by its name, is kind of tailor-made for what we all like to do.

Happy 100th!

No, not to the National Park Service—that’s so last year! I’m talking about the centennial of Denali National Park in Alaska, established in … (hold on, I’ll do the math) … 1917. They’ve already planned a bunch in a series of events to mark the birthday, including a Summerfest and a 100th Anniversary Celebration in the town of Talkeetna, right outside the southern borders of the park.

Denali is perhaps Alaska’s most famous national park, home to some of the most rugged, beautiful mountain landscapes in the U.S., along with countless grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines, and also lots of other animals that won’t try to eat you as you hike through the park’s Massachusetts-size wilderness, all by bushwhacking because it doesn’t really have a lot of trails. (Bring bear spray.)

In all seriousness, this place should be on any park-lover’s bucket list. Also, Denali’s night skies are amazing, and you may even be able to photograph aurora.

For more information, see Denali’s centennial webpage.

Bonus: Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park is also celebrating a birthday this year. In October 1992, the island fortress and its surrounding spots of land 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico from Key West, were all designated as a national park. This is an amazing place—unique, remote, quiet, and with stunning night skies, and it deserves some birthday love. We are not aware of any plans they have to officially celebrate this anniversary, but perhaps they’re considering our workshop there in July to be celebration enough. We’ll bring cake.

2017 Night Sky Festivals

Of course, photographers aren’t the only ones who enjoy seizing the night. The dark skies of our national parks are appreciated by scores of people who are passionate about other things too, such as astronomy, telescope viewing, constellation watching and so on. To corral all that fervor, several national parks offer night sky festivals, where professionals and enthusiasts gather to appreciate and gaze upon the most pristine dark skies in the land.

Lassen Dark Sky Festival. Photo courtesy Lassen Volcanic National Park, by volunteer photographer Alison Taggart-Barone.

Lassen Dark Sky Festival. Photo courtesy Lassen Volcanic National Park, by volunteer photographer Alison Taggart-Barone.

As we did last year, we’ve put together a list of all the night-sky festivals currently scheduled for national parks in 2017. We hope you can use this guide to track down some opportunities to share this wonderful natural resource with others. If you’re interested in more than attending, you might want to consider volunteering at one of these events—the help is always appreciated.

And even if you can’t make it to one of these festivals, keep an eye on the calendars of any National Park Service unit that may be close to where you live or where you might be visiting. Many of them host single-night events throughout the year, such as star parties, full-moon walks, dark-sky presentations, celestial event watches, and more. Places that host these smaller opportunities range all over the country, including Saguaro (Arizona), Pinnacles (California), Hawai’I Volcanoes and Virgin Islands national parks.

(For the record, there are a few more national park night festivals that will probably be announced, but have not been yet, “at press time.” As we hear about these throughout the year, we’ll be sure to post details on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.)

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon Star Party, June 17-24, Arizona

Highlights: nightly presentations and slide shows, access to multiple telescopes and assistance from the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association on the South Rim and the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix on the North Rim

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Dark Sky Festival, July 21-23, California

Highlights: astronaut guest speakers, Crystal Cave tours, a special presentation on night photography in national parks

Bryce Canyon National Park

Annual Astronomy Festival, June 21-24, Utah

Highlights: hosted by Bryce Canyons astronomy rangers and local astronomical societies, keynote speaker to be announced

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Dark Sky Festival, August 11-12, California

Highlights: presentations and demonstrations by National Park Dark Sky rangers, NASA, International Dark Sky Association, RECON, Astronomical Society of Nevada and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Ochoco National Forest

Oregon Star Party, August 17-22, Oregon

Highlights: astronomy lectures, access to a “telescope park,” the solar eclipse totality, 900 friendly amateur astronomers, and a truck you can shower in

Shenandoah National Park

Night Sky Festival, August 18-21, Virginia

Highlights: constellation tours, telescope viewing, star parties, presentations

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival, September 15-17, North Dakota

Highlights: stargazing with rangers and astronomers, presentations by nationally recognized speakers, access to a “telescope field”

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 21-23, Nevada

Highlights: “Astronomy 101” presentation, astronomical viewing through 30 telescopes, free night-sky photography workshop by the Dark Rangers

Acadia National Park

Acadia Night Sky Festival, September 21-24, Maine

Highlights: workshops, speakers, hands-on experiences in the largest expanse of naturally dark skies in the eastern U.S.

Eclipse Events

This is not really a night thing, but definitely is a dark thing. Or maybe we can say its two nights in one day. Either way, 2017 is a year with a celestial rarity: a full solar eclipse that will streak across the skies of the U.S. on August 21—including directly over several units of the National Park Service. We at NPAN will be celebrating the event with our workshop in Montana’s Centennial Valley, but there are also plenty of opportunities elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of  NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory .

Congaree National Park

South Carolina—One of the least-visited national parks in the country will also be one of the three that will have the totality pass directly overhead. Not many details of their “Shadows and Science in the Wilderness of Congaree National Park” event have been announced, but viewing the eclipse in this swamplike floodplain forest would be rather surreal, to say the least.

Grand Teton National Park

Wyoming—As of now, we are not aware of any official event being hosted by Grand Teton, but the Jackson Hole area is more than ready for the dark sun to pass overhead. Hotels have been booked up for months, and the town of Jackson (at the southern tip of the national park) could be the hottest hotbed in the country for viewing the eclipse. Grand Teton is not huge, and there will be a lot of people, so I recommend getting off the beaten path—ideally, up onto the mountain trails, or at least along the little-traveled, four-wheel-drive-only Grassy Lake Road.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

North Carolina and Tennessee—The bad news is that Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the U.S. and midsummer is its busiest time of year, so chances are good that it will be a tad crowded when the sun turns off. The good news is that GSM is the most popular park in the U.S. for good reasons, the totality of the eclipse will pass over the entire western half, and three awesome locations will be hosting official viewing events: Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove (one of my favorite photography spots in the whole park system). See the GSM’s 2017 Solar Eclipse page for more information.

Other National Eclipse Sites

In addition to those three national parks, other NPS units will also experience totality and/or host eclipse events (click links for details on organized happenings):

In addition to those sites, several national forests (technically Department of Agriculture lands, but still pretty) will also be darkened by the eclipse. These can be great places to go for a better chance at solitude, as they tend not to be strong tourist attractions like the national parks and monuments are. National forests in the eclipse’s path include:

  • Salmon Challis and Sawtooth (Idaho)
  • Mark Twain and Shawnee (Missouri)
  • Nantahala (North Carolina)
  • Willamette, Ochoco, Umatilla and Malheur (Oregon)
  • Francis Marion (South Carolina)
  • Chattahoochee (Tennessee)
  • Bridger-Teton, Shoshone and Medicine Bow (Wyoming)

And one final place that’s a fantastic location to photography an eclipse, even though it’s not a national land, is Carhenge in Nebraska. Seriously. It might even be cooler than photographing an eclipse at Stonehenge.

If you can’t make any of those opportunities, go to the parks anyway! The night skies are gorgeous, and you never know when you might find a ranger program to make the experience even richer.

Wherever you go, wherever you roam, we hope to see you out there, seizing the night.

Chris Nicholson is the 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


Any Time of Year, A Great Idea: Giving Back to America's Best Idea

2016 was a great year for the national parks. The centennial really put the parks back into the minds of Americans, resulting in increased visitation and awareness. For more information, see the State of Utah's “Mighty 5” national television ads promoting their national parks, or the Suburu “What We Leave Behind” ad campaign, or the REI “Centennial Adventure” outreach, or the explosion of the Chimani park-guide apps, or the yearlong coverage of parks by National Geographic, or the serial “On the Trail” features on "CBS Sunday Morning," or the sudden popularity of the TV show “Rock the Park.” Et al.

So I’m intrigued to see what 2017 brings. Will interest in the parks remain at these levels, or diminish as the glow of the centennial subsides?

And what will the ramifications be? This year’s record attendance also produced some wears and tears, something the parks already had enough of before. The uptick in visitor fees may help pay for some of that maintenance and facilities backlog, but will next year’s probable downtick create an even greater shortfall for an already cash-strapped park system?

Who wouldn't want to help protect a view over heaven?  Olympic National Park , © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

Who wouldn't want to help protect a view over heaven? Olympic National Park, © 2016 Chris Nicholson.

Another thought, which despite first appearance, I promise is related to the first: As national park photographers, as nature photographers, we sure do owe something to these wonderful places. They are our subject, our inspiration, our muse. As such, we should feel proud of them. We should feel protective of them. And we should feel an obligation to leave them better places than we found them, to ensure that they can be our muse again, and that they can inspire future generations of artists in our stead.

But how can we do this, aside from leaving only footprints (and hopefully not even those)?

Well, there certainly are means to do so. So as the old year winds down and we enter this season of giving and of giving back, I made a list of ways that we, as photographers, as lovers of these landscapes and wildernesses (and, of course, the pristine night skies that canopy them), can help support the national parks now and for the years and decades to come.

One way is to support the organizations dedicated to the cause of preserving these wild spaces. That support could be financial, but it could also be time volunteered, or it could be the creation of intellectual property (e.g., in our case, photography). Here are a few organizations to consider:

National Park Foundation

Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation is the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. The foundation raises private funds to support conservation and preservation efforts, to spread the word about the parks, and to inspire young Americans to learn to love these lands too. They also have a great free email newsletter that features articles about the parks.

National Parks Conservation Association

These folks have been at it for a while, long enough to start getting ready to celebrate their own centennial. Founded in 1919, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been a strong and independent voice supporting our country’s greatest idea. Their efforts range from in-park support to legal defenses to assist public lands to lobbying for pro-parks policy and legislation in Washington, D.C.  They also publish the excellent National Parks magazine, a subscription to which is a benefit of becoming a member.

NPCA volunteers work to remove fencing near the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park to allow pronghorn antelope to reestablish historic migration routes. Photo courtesy of the National Park Conservation Association.

NPCA volunteers work to remove fencing near the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park to allow pronghorn antelope to reestablish historic migration routes. Photo courtesy of the National Park Conservation Association.

National Park Trust

The National Park Trust is dedicated to land acquisition and preservation, along with conservation projects in 45,000 acres of public lands in 33 states. Perhaps more importantly, they also work to cultivate a love of the parks in the youngest generation, through two national youth programs, the Buddy Bison school program and Kids to Parks Day—because, as they say, “kids need parks and parks need kids.”

In Texas' Big Thicket National Preserve, Ranger Alex Halbrook leads and teaches school children who are part of the NPT's  Buddy Bison program . The educational outreach program provides parks, wilderness and STEM opportunities to K8 kids in more than 60 schools across the U.S. Photo courtesy of the National Park Trust.

In Texas' Big Thicket National Preserve, Ranger Alex Halbrook leads and teaches school children who are part of the NPT's Buddy Bison program. The educational outreach program provides parks, wilderness and STEM opportunities to K8 kids in more than 60 schools across the U.S. Photo courtesy of the National Park Trust.

Sierra Club

Founded by noted naturalist (and meme star) John Muir, and staunchly supported by Ansel Adams, the Sierra Club is certainly one of the oldest (perhaps the oldest) group supporting the preservation of the wild. They also claim to be the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, with 2.4 million members and supporters. They help protect over 250 million acres of wilderness, host over 20,000 outings and events per year, and their reach and government lobbying power is well respected.

Friends of Parks Associations

Most (if not all) of the parks are associated with a local organization that supports that specific park. These tend to be the groups that benefit from merchandise sales at the park gift shops, and the ones that get their hands dirty helping to blaze trails, or restore plantlife environments, and so on. Examples include the Yellowstone Forever, Conservancy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Friends of Big Bend National Park. If you live near a national park, or frequent a specific one, orhave an affinity for a specific park for whatever reason, these micro-organizations are a great place to start helping. For info on the many that exist, see the Friends Group Directory collated by the National Park Service.

Volunteers help with plantings at Glacier National Park. NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Volunteers help with plantings at Glacier National Park. NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Also, keep in mind that another way to help all or any of these organizations is to spread the word about them. These days we all have our own media reach, so can share the links and stories of these groups on Facebook, Twitter, etc.


On the federal level, national parks have been underfunded for years—the reported maintenance and repair backlog is about $12 billion. Not only does that endanger the parks we have, but is also a good argument for not creating new parks, which is an unfortunate side effect.

How can you help with this, other than donating time and money to those organizations that try to help fill in the financial gaps? Write to your Congressperson to encourage the restoration of lost funding. Despite the massive list of deferred maintenance, in the first half of this decade the National Park Service budget was reduced by 12 percent, or $364 million. That’s understandable during cash-strapped economic periods, but surely in better times we, as a country, can start finding ways to recommit to this important shared resource.

(Along the same lines, the NPCA offers a "Guide for Meeting With Legislators," should you be fortunate enough to do so.)

Annual Pass

Buy an American the Beautiful pass even if you don't need it. If you travel to the parks a lot, the pass is a no-brainer—you’ll pay it off in about 3-4 visits. For one year, the pass garners you free entry to all national parks, national monuments, national historic sites, national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and all units managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That’s a lot of places. But even if you visit just one park per year, buying an annual pass contributes directly to the system, helping to support something you obviously care about.


Finally, you can consider donating photos or photography to the park. Anyone reading this knows the value of a good photograph. If donating your work is not your thing for business reasons, I totally understand that. But if you’re the type of photographer who picks, say, one organization to help out, then a park foundation or association is a worthy one to consider. A place like Yellowstone doesn’t need the photo help, but smaller parks with minimal budgets, staff and infrastructure may appreciate the gesture, as would nonprofits that genuinely try to reserve their cash for their causes.

I read something recently that encouraged people to think of the parks not as "federal lands," but rather as shared resources, as national treasures. I further that sentiment by suggesting that because we co-own these places, we're all responsible for helping to sustain them.

Chris Nicholson is the 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