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The Best Parks to Visit at Night

Find a cool spot in the shade to snooze the day away. Then when the sun goes down, it’s time to get up and enjoy the nightlife in these national, state, and regional parks. Whether you’re a wildlife fan, an astronomer, or a party animal there are parks on this 50 Campfires’ list that will delight and deliver all … night … long!

Wildlife:

Channel Islands National Park, California

Channel Islands National Park
Channel sunset at low tide.

Take a tour via kayak in Channel Islands National Park to see glowing marine creatures beneath you! These bioluminescent “Dinoflagellates” are a type of saltwater plankton that shine blue when agitated. They can be disturbed by something as simple as rippling the water with a paddle, which is why these tours are given in kayaks. The best time to see this glowing phenomenon is late at night when the sky is darkest.

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Dismals Canyon, Alabama

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“Glow worms wall” by The Next Gen Scientist on Sept. 15, 2015

Take a guided night tour through the caves of Dismals Canyon to see thousands of glowworms! These worms are known as “dismalites” and are a type of fly larvae that emit a bright bluish-green light to attract food. They attach to the mossy walls of the canyon rock and because they live in such large groups, on clear nights it can be hard to tell where the worms stop and the stars begin.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

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“Tamano #14” by gacha223on July 2012

This park is home to synchronous fireflies, the only species of lightening bugs in America that synchronize their light patterns with one another. During the last week in May and first week in June, Great Smoky Mountains National Park allows visitors to purchase tickets to view this spectacular light show. It is so popular tickets are distributed through a lottery.

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Night Skies:

Acadia National Park, Maine

acadia
“Life” by Jason Corey on Jan 20, 2015

Because Acadia National Park is surrounded by ocean, its 47,000 acres offer some of the most expansive naturally dark sky in the US. Besides the breath-taking nighttime views from the beach, this park sponsors the Acadia Night Sky Festival each fall. Visitors gather to celebrate the night sky through live music, poetry, art, and stargazing. And thousands brave the Maine winter to view New Year’s sunrise at Acadia each year.

Click here to learn more.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

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Milky Way from Big Bend” By Vincent Lock on Nov 17, 2012

Due to its remote location and clear skies, Big Bend is an international dark-sky park with very little light pollution – one of the darkest places in the continental U.S.! On nights with no clouds, visitors have the opportunity to spot the Andromeda Galaxy that is more than two million light years away.

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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

bryce canyon
“Milky_Way_Utah_3” by Mike Durkin on May 28, 2012

Public telescopes, night-sky programs, and Thor’s Hammer…need I say more? Bryce Canyon yields some of the darkest night skies in the United States where thousands of gleaming stars are framed by its notorious hoodoos, a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of a drainage basin or badland. There are 50 telescopes and various night sky programs put on by the highly knowledgeable staff and are offered in August and September. Many consider this the best stargazing in the National Parks!

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

Chaco Culture National Park
Photo Credit: National Parks Services

With more than 99 percent of this park considered a “natural darkness zone,” Chaco Culture National Historic Park has no permanent outdoor lighting. It has its own observatory allowing visitors to see nebulas, supernovas, and far off galaxies. There are various ranger-led night sky programs and in late September you can watch the autumnal equinox sunrise with park staff.

Click here to learn more.

Death Valley National Park, California

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Photo by Tyler Nordgren

This is an awesome place to spot meteors in the night sky. Death Valley National Park is a well-known dark-sky park and the amount of light pollution is so minimal its views are similar to those that could be seen before cities were built. Because of this, the Las Vegas Astronomical Society hosts a fall stargazing program here each October.

Click here to learn more.

Denali National Park, Alaska

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“Autora” by Malcolm Manners on Dec 19, 2014

Wander into Alaska’s interior wilderness and you will find this six million acre national park that was established in 1917, 42 years before becoming a part of the United States. Enjoy star-filled, mountainous nights where Northern lights can be seen during the darker and colder times of the year. For best results catching a solid view of the aurora borealis, visit here in the late fall to early spring and start gazing between 12:00 AM and 2:00 AM.

Click here to learn more.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

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“Great Basin Night Sky” by NPCA Photos on July 11, 2011

The 360-degree views of the Milky Way are the main nighttime attraction at this park. The high elevation and dry weather allow for many opportunities to see the stars. Great Basin National Park also has weekly astronomy programs and offers a Perseid Meteor shower viewing party each August. In mid-September, this park hosts a three-day astronomy festival as well.

Click here to learn more.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

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“Another moonrise over Mesa Arch” by John Fowler on Jan 20, 2014

In 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument was named the first international dark-sky park in the world. It is known not only for its spectacular stargazing opportunities, but also its commitment to preserving the darkness. Observe the 15,000 visible stars through the monument’s rock formations and sandstone arches for an incredible, incomparable view.

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Silver Lake at Seaquest State Park, Washington

Silver Lake at Seaquest State Park
“When you wish upon a star…”

What if we told you that you could see a shooting star’s reflection in a vast, calm lake? Well that is entirely possible by reserving a campsite in Washington’s Seaquest State Park. If you’re not camping there, you will have to be out by 10:00 PM, but if you still want to catch a glimpse of the night sky and celestial activity, you can find a safe turnout off of Highway 504 and simply look up!

Click here to learn more.

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

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“Galactic” by Nicholas A. Tonelli on Sept 15, 2012

Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania is considered to be one of the best spots for stargazing in the United States. It even has its own Astronomy Field! This park is open year round and offers 360-degree views of the nighttime sky. For more serious stargazers, you can purchase a galaxy pass for overnight stargazing all year.

Click here to learn more.

Festivals, Events & Shows:

Chicago Park District, Illinois

Chicago Park District 1
Movie night at Jonquil Playlot on June 21, 2015

All of the parks in the Chicago Park District take part in an annual Movies in the Parks series. Over 250 new and classic movies are shown throughout the summer on giant outdoor screens. Pack a blanket or some chairs, grab a few friends, and head to the nearest Chicago park … the movie starts at dusk!

Click here to learn more.

Grape Day Park, California

grape day
Glow In The Park” by Chris Hunkeler on Aug 4, 2012

One night each October, Grape Day Park hosts the Grape Day Discovery Festival. This event has a wine and beer garden, entertainment that included live music, dance battles, and even a pie-eating contest! There are arts and crafts, tasty food, and an annual grape stomp that will turn your feet purple. This is a fun summer evening opportunity for adults and children. Additionally, Grape Day Park has outdoor movie nights every Wednesday throughout the summer.

Click here to learn more.

Gray’s Lake Park, Iowa

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Photo by Katherine Saunders on Nov 10, 2015

Gray’s Lake Park is a popular evening destination in the Des Moines area. This park’s centerpiece is a 1.9-mile trail that circles the lake, perfect for walking, biking, and more. However, this isn’t just a normal trail. As soon as it gets dark, the path illuminates with rainbow colors and makes all kinds of nighttime activities easy and safe.

Click here to learn more.

Lake Eola Park, Florida

lake eola
Photo by Tremayne Sirmons

Lake Eola Park offers rentable swan-shaped paddleboats that hold up to five people. Take a cruise on Lake Eola and watch the iconic Orlando fountain come to life as soon as the sun sets. The choreographed show is set to music and the water switches colors as the show goes on. This is open all year round and the musical theme changes with the seasons.

Click here to learn more.

Pritchard Park, North Carolina

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Dancer twirls his partner in the streets of Nashville

Calling all drummers! Pritchard Park hosts a drum circle every Friday evening during the warmer months. It’s a weekly occurrence in Asheville, North Carolina. Visitors can participate by watching, dancing, or taking part in the drumming itself. This event attracts people of all ages and showcases diverse traditions of Asheville.

Click here to learn more.

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Pennsylvania

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Photo by Marissa Fischetti

Twinkling lights, comfy hammocks, colorful Adirondack chairs – a perfect place to play or relax. Spruce Street Harbor sits along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and offers a fun atmosphere to unwind from a long day of exploring. This park features a beer garden too if you want to sip on an ice cold brew.

Click here to learn more.

Stone Mountain Park, Georgia

if1157 fireworks laser show stone mountain atlanta ga georgia crowd of people watch the christmas holiday laser show and fireworks display from the lawn at georgias stone mountain park in stone mountain
Credit to Mark Goebel. Taken May 27, 2007

The Lasershow Spectacular in Stone Mountain Park is a summer Atlanta tradition that can’t be missed. A new Drone War segment has been added that features popular music, epic fire effects, and an incredible firework display. It doesn’t stop there. Multiple fire cannons shoot flames one hundred feet in the air to make the show even more jaw-dropping. Watch the spectacular show from one of the park’s many terraces for the best view.

Click here to learn more.

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