Photo credit: Freztino
From the beaches of Saskatchewan to the world's largest astronomy park, Canada is home to some incredible places to stare at the sky. Amateur stargazers and the most serious astronomy enthusiasts can find all of the wonder and excitement their seeking in the Great White North. The following are just a few of the many places to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, count stars along the Milky Way or identify planets in the dark night skies above Canada.
Wood Buffalo National Park -- Northwest Territories
Many travellers visit Canada in search of the Northern Lights, and Wood Buffalo National Park is one of the best places to admire Mother Nature's light show. "Wood Buff," as the park is known among locals, is the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, and it is also one of the least crowded. The park's Dark Sky Festival is held every year in August, and camping is available to stargazers between the months of May and September. Those who visit Wood Buffalo National Park on a clear evening will see the Milky Way Galaxy brighten pitch black skies and possibly the greens and blues of the Aurora Borealis.
Jasper National Park -- Alberta
Photo credit: Christian Reusch
Travellers love hiking the trails and swimming in the glacier-fed lakes of Jasper National Park in the summer months. But many don't know that some of Jasper's best features shine after sunset. The Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve is the second largest in the world, and the visitor's center offers on-site telescopes to help visitors admire the Northern Lights and Milky Way Galaxy more closely.
The park holds its Dark Sky Festival in October, and dark sky programs are offered year-round. Those who prefer to gaze at the starry skies on their own will find success on Pyramid Island, Old Fort Point, Maligne Lake and the Athabasca Glacier.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park -- Saskatchewan
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park spills over from Saskatchewan into Alberta, but those on the Saskatchewan side enjoy the best nighttime entertainment. The Cypress Hills Observatory is open on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings for public drop-ins and programs. Visitors can spot galaxies, planets and constellations through the park's filtered telescopes and learn about what they're seeing in a number of astronomy programs.
Visit in the month of August, and you may catch the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, during which stargazers from across North America gather at Cypress Hills to enjoy a number of daily and nightly events and stargazing activities.
Bruce Peninsula National Park -- Ontario
Photo credit: essentielley
Tobermory, Ontario, is known as the shipwreck capital of Canada, but there's more to see than sunken ships along the coast of Lake Huron. Nearby Bruce Peninsula National Park is famous for its picture-perfect sunsets and the dark skies that follow. Amateur astronomers from near and far have built observatories in the park known among locals as, "The Bruce." Summer astronomy nights allow stargazers the chance to learn from the park's ecologists and gaze through mounted telescopes at the millions of stars above.
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See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here A genuine rarity on the densely populated European mainland, the region of Alqueva in the unspoiled Alentejo province of southern Portugal offers atmospheric conditions—minimal light pollution, clear skies—perfectly conducive to exploring the secrets of the night sky. The Alqueva Dark Sky Route offers a host of nocturnal activities: observing wildlife, horseback riding, wine tasting or dining on the lakeshore. Find telescopes placed at key locations along the route and expert guides who are available for advice and information. Experienced observers will be able to spot deep-sky objects like galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. Relax in one of eight spacious rooms at the Monte Alerta (from $115; 351-966-768-307; montealerta.pt), a family-run accommodation overlooking the medieval town of Monsaraz.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here Bone-dry, frighteningly remote and at a mind-numbingly high altitude, the Atacama Desert of northern Chile is a dream destination for serious stargazers. The desert has optimal conditions for exploring the astronomical highlights of the southern skies. The newly inaugurated ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array) telescope, situated at 16,404 feet above sea level, promises unprecedented views of the cosmos, like the birth of stars, infant galaxies and planets circling distant suns. Atacama’s intense terrain is not for the faint of heart; a visit to ALMA requires health screenings to ensure one can endure the altitude. Among the top places to stay is Explora’s Hotel de Larache (all-inclusive three-night program, from $1,980; 866-750-6699; explora.com), a remote lodge with its own observatory featuring one of the largest aficionado-level telescopes in Chile.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here Australia’s sacred landmark of Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is one of the island continent’s most remarkable sights, known for changing colors throughout the day. The giant sandstone formation takes on a glowing red at sunset, giving a dramatic finale to the day as the southern night sky unfolds across the ocher desert landscape. During an evening of dining under the stars, the Sounds of Silence experience at Ayers Rock Resort (from $185; ayersrockresort.com.au) decodes myriad stars visible through the clear atmosphere. Meanwhile, guests enjoy fine wine and innovative cuisine highlighting native ingredients like crocodile and quandong (a local wild peach). The eco-sensitive Longitude 131° (from $2,262 for a two-night minimum, including meals; 61-8/8957-7131; longitude131.com.au) offers its guests exclusive views of sunrise and sunset over Uluru.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here Ninety miles from the nearest town in the dramatic landscape of Namibia’s desert, an absolute silence reigns at Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR). The winter months (April to September) provide the clearest skies, with darkness descending at 6 p.m. to reveal a spectacle of star clusters and galaxies, as well as a clear view of the Southern Cross and Centaurus constellations. Summer highlights include views of 47 Tucanae, a multibillion-year-old cluster containing more than a million stars. At andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (from $535; 888-882-3742; andbeyond.com) in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, guests join resident astronomers at the state-of-the-art observatory, complete with a Meade LX200R 12-inch telescope. Each stone-and-glass desert villa features a large skylight above the bed for all-night stargazing.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here Home to the largest dark-sky preserve in the world, at 4,335 square miles, light-pollution-free Jasper National Park in southwestern Canada offers easy access to stargazing sites via a network of rugged backcountry roads and trails that lead through mountainous terrain. But due to the longer days in spring and summer months, the ideal season to visit is October through March for a chance to witness the magic of the Northern Lights. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (from $185; 780-852-3301; fairmont.com/jasper) has an offer well-suited to experienced and novice stargazers alike: Their two-night weekend astronomy package includes a luxe room, both a group and a private dark-sky tour, telescope instruction and a portable take-home telescope.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here Close to the Cambodian border, around 200 miles east of bustling Bangkok, the island of Koh Kood is home to rain forests and sleepy fishing villages. Its sparse population and relative remoteness mean little light pollution, which results in successful stargazing. Guests at the Soneva Kiri Resort (from $760; 66-0-3961-9800; soneva.com) can make the most of its favorable latitudinal location—more constellations come into view closer to the equator—using the high-tech telescope in the resort’s own observatory and the expertise of resident astronomer Dr. Parag Mahajani. The telescope has a database of more than 40,000 celestial objects, which can be zoomed in on in a matter of seconds. Legendary moon walker Buzz Aldrin visited the observatory in 2012 to share his unique experience with space travel.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here Eye-popping natural beauty, stellar cuisine and a dizzying range of outings and activities are just part of Maui’s all-encompassing appeal. No surprise then that some of the best stargazing in the world also happens here. “On Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii are some of the largest astronomical observatories on earth,” confirms Eddie Mahoney, NASA solar system ambassador and director of astronomy at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa ($299; 808-661-1234; maui.hyatt.com). “The gentle trade winds provide a smooth laminar airflow with no industrial pollution for crystal-clear viewing. Being just 20 degrees north of the equator allows us a view of 80 of the 88 constellations!” See for yourself using the hotel’s state-of the-art telescope on the rooftop of a nine-story tower.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here The untouched wilderness of the Singita Grumeti Reserves in northern Tanzania is home to a well-established resident game population including zebras, gazelles, elephants, lions and cheetahs. Travelers with Singita Explore (from $1,950; 212-967-5895; singita.com) spend the night with mere canvas separating them from the bush and with nearly every imaginable creature comfort at hand. Swarovski spotting scopes and knowledgeable guides will help you catch sight of the large and small Magellanic Clouds, visible only in the Southern Hemisphere.
See More Top Stargazing Destinations Here As night falls on these Caribbean islands, the astounding daytime views—a turquoise Atlantic lapping fine-sand alabaster beaches—are gradually replaced by an equally tranquilizing celestial spectacle. “Amanyara offers a spectacular view of the night sky unencumbered by lights, buildings or mountains that may otherwise disrupt the view,” explains Lindsay Mensen, the resident naturalist at Amanyara (from $1,300; 649-941-8133; amanresorts.com), a secluded resort on Providenciales Island. During the stargazing experience, which can be arranged privately or in a group for sky events like meteor showers, guests learn more about the constellations, take a closer look at the planets of the solar system and explore the eerie crater surface of our nearest neighbor, the moon.
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