Texas Starry Nights
It is true what they say about the stars in Texas, they are big and bright. In fact, they are some of the biggest and brightest in the country. With the increase in light pollution from urbanization, an estimated 80 percent of Americans have never seen the Milky Way. Texas, however, is blessed with wide open spaces away from urban areas where stargazers can view the celestial glory of the night’s sky. Here are some of the best place to stargaze in Texas.
Big Bend National Park
For stargazing in Texas, or for that matter in the United States, you cannot get better than Big Bend National Park. The International Dark Sky Association
ranked it a gold-tier designation, a designation Big Bend shares with only 13 other parks worldwide. The region is also ranked number four on the International Dark Sky Association’s top seven spots in the world to stargaze. Experts estimate a person can see 2,000 stars on a clear night compared to a few hundred in a medium-sized city. For stargazing inside the park, the Hot Springs Canyon Trail and the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail both offer breathtaking vistas with unobstructed views. The Marathon Motel,
just north of the park, keeps a high-powered telescope onsite for visitors to see stars up close.
The McDonald Observatory
Two hours north of Big Bend National Park in Fort Davis, the McDonald Observatory is a must-stop for any astronomy enthusiast. The observatory is part of the Astronomy Department at the University of Texas. It holds four high-powered telescopes that allow visitors to look deep into the night sky. Observatory staff host daily tours, weekly star parties and special viewing nights using some of the largest telescopes in the world.
Palo Duro Canyon
On a dark, moonless night the Milky Way is known to make an appearance above Palo Duro Canyon’s famous Lighthouse Formation. The park hosts regular star parties, moon gazing, full moon hikes and more. With the help of the onsite astronomy binoculars, two 4-inch telescopes, and a 10-inch telescope, visitors can see much more than just a few constellations. Unfortunately, Palo Duro Canyon’s close proximity to Amarillo keeps it from being declared a true Dark Sky Park but, the Texas Panhandle delivers an amazing view to stargazers.
Matagorda Island is in the heart of the Gulf Coast, about an hour north of Corpus Christi boasting 38 miles of primitive shores and bayside marshes, only accessible by ferry or private boat. The island does not have electricity, concessions or private motorized vehicles. This isolated, natural beauty makes a great place for stargazing. Plan to camp on the island for a night or two, then head to the beach once the sun goes down to marvel at all the stars above the Gulf waters.
Brazos Bend State Park
About 45 minutes north of Houston, the Brazos Bend State Park still experiences light pollution from the country's third-largest city. To offset that, the George Observatory located inside the park has one of the largest telescopes in the U.S. that is regularly available for public use. The 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope brings stunning views of the solar system to the naked eye. Visitors in the observatory have seen Saturn’s rings, cloud belts on Jupiter, a total eclipse of the Moon, a bright meteor and the Milky Way.
About an hour-and-a-half west of Austin’s light population, Enchanted Rock, a designated International Dark Sky Park, is one of the best places to stargaze in Central Texas. The massive pink dome rising above the ground attracts outdoor enthusiasts to the park for a day of climbing, hiking and picnicking, and you can stay past sundown to see the natural star show. Park rangers suggest visitors stay on moonless nights to observe the vastness of the universe and possibly see a shooting star or two.
Canyon of the Eagles Resort
Canyon of the Eagles Resort is nestled in the Upper Highland Lake Region of the Texas Hill Country. Under the dark, pristine night sky, the 950-acre park is far away from big city light pollution. The stars are so clear that the resort built an observatory. The property's two telescopes offer magnificent views of bright planets, nebulas and distant galaxies. The Eagle Eye Observatory is open to the public one Saturday each month.
The town of Dripping Springs, known as the Gateway to the Hill Country, is serious about shielding itself from the ever-creeping Austin lights about 25 miles west. The Dripping Springs City Council passed a smart lighting ordinance in 2011 regulating night lighting in attempts to keep the sky clear of light pollution. Because of its efforts, it became the first community in Texas – and only sixth in the world – to be certified as a “Dark-Sky Community.” The town celebrates its classification with a Texas Night Sky Festival
every March, but visitors can stargaze year-round.
Texas State Parks
Several Texas State Parks host regular stargazing events to educate the public about the importance of preserving the night skies that make the viewing of constellations, planets, stars, satellites and other objects possible. To learn about these events visit the Texas State Parks Stargazing Events Page