National Forest Foundation

Nine Tips to Enjoy the Night Sky on National Forests

Camping, Hiking and Backpacking

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Our National forests and Grasslands provide 193 million acres of prime stargazing. On your next nighttime visit, keep these tips in mind to maximize your view of the stars!

Look beyond campgrounds

While the National Forest System offers thousands of developed campgrounds to call home for a few nights, a better way to experience the night sky is away from the crowds. Dispersed camping offers a more secluded and private overnight experience that will take you away from the noise – and more importantly – the lights of a developed campground.

Also, consider “turning” off caveman TV. Have a fire is great entertainment, but can distract you from a better show above.

Regardless of where you camp to see the night sky, be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles.

Sleep under the stars

To truly experience a full night of stars, sleep directly under them. Invest in a hammock or simply ditch the tent and bundle up for the changing night sky.

Avoid the full moon

As you make plans for a fun night of stargazing, check the moon cycle and avoid a visit around the full moon. While the full moon can be dramatic, it also provides too much light to properly see the night sky.

Photo by Michelle Turner

Escape from large cities

While it may seem obvious, you’ll want to get somewhere dark. And surprisingly enough, some of our National Forests are quite urban. There is a chance you may see some light pollution on the Angeles or Uinta-Wasatch-Cache to name a few. Head deep into the woods! Or at least, a more rural National Forest!

Use a red light

White or blue bulbs from a head lamp reduce your night vision but red lights don’t! Consider purchasing a head lamp that has a red light setting or using translucent red tape to modify your existing head lamp.

Check for night sky events

A “normal” night sky can be breathtaking by itself. If you’d like to make it a bit more exciting, check to see when the next meteor shower or planet sighting will be.

Photo by Keith Howells

Bring a star chart

While we can all probably pick out the Big Dipper, a star chart can really make you feel like an accomplished astronomer. Bring your smart phone and download the Star Chart app, NASA app, or Night Sky lite to truly feel like a pro.

Head to water

Some of the best unobstructed views of the night sky are on water shores. Clear of trees, lakes and rivers provide panoramic views of the night sky. Use caution when exploring rocky or wet areas in the night!

Bring layers

Nothing will ruin a wonderful evening under the night sky quicker than shivering. Even in some of the hottest climates, temperatures will cool down at night. Grab an extra blanket and jacket and settle into one of nature’s greatest shows!

Want to take great night sky photos? Check out our blog post "Nine Photography Tips to Capture the Night Sky on our National Forests"


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