We firmly believe that stargazing in the deserts and mountains of SoCal should be on everyone’s bucket list! With just a short drive, soul-seeking city dwellers can finally see the stars out here in the IE. These picturesque desert and mountain regions are far enough away from the cities to maintain a very dark sky yet close enough for day trips.
Here are some of our favorite stargazing spots and observatories that are worth the trip – plus best stargazing tips courtesy of Joshua Tree National Park.
Best Tips for Stargazing, Joshua Tree National Park
- Use Red Lights Only – Don’t use bright white flashlights,headlamps, or cell phones. It takes 20-30 minutes for the human eye to fully adjust to very low light conditions. Bright lights delay this process. You can turn a regular flashlight into a red light by covering it with red cellophane,tape, fabric, paper, or similar materials.
- Avoid the Moon – Bright moonlight reduces the number of stars you’ll see. Check the moon’s phase and rise and set times to find the best time to stargaze.
- Bring Food and Water – Plan a head. There is no running water in most areas of the park.
- Layer Up – Temperatures drop quickly in the evening. Bring extra layers of warm clothing especially in the winter months.
- Bring a Chair – You may be on your feet and looking up for long periods of time. A lightweight folding chair will help keep each person in your group comfortable and reduce strain.Don’t trample vegetation and be aware of cacti in your area.
- Watch Your Step – Cacti,nocturnal animals, and uneven surfaces may be difficult to see at night. Use a red light to check for hazards.
74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms. ($20 entrance fee; camping is $15-$20 per night)
Located in Southern California’s High Desert, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the closest national parks to Los Angeles and spans 700,000 of park space. Boasting some of the darkest nights in SoCal, Joshua Tree National Park offers many visitors the chance to admire the Milky Way for the first time in their lives. In fact, JTNP was recently designated a “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA)
“Joshua Tree National Park is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”
We recommend visiting the park during the fall and winter months to reduce crowds which increases your enjoyment. Read all about the stargazing seasons, camping in JTNP and more great stargazing suggestions here.
9697 Utah Trail (adjacent to the North Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park) Twentynine Palms, CA
Opened in 2007, Sky’s the Limit operates at the southern most edge of Twentynine Palms (adjacent to Joshua Tree) and features year-round events highlighting the stars, astrology, astronomy and planet activity with a 360 degree view of the night sky. This unique family-friendly attraction is dedicated to facilitating a hands-on experience for learning about the desert, earth and sky. It hosts a nature trail, the “human” Orrery and the Meditation Garden and the scale model of the Solar System. This is an open site that visitors can explore anytime at their own pace and astronomy enthusiasts are welcome to bring their own telescopes and cameras. The observatory is also staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who operate tours and telescope usage.
Note: Docents are on campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays for free tours and solar viewing, but the campus is always open for visitors to walk the Nature Trail,explore the scale model of the Solar System, and enjoy the Meditation Garden and the steel sculptures of Simi Dabah.
North Shore Lane Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Solar Observatory has been in operation since 1997 and is primarily used as a research facility to study solar activity; viewed as a landmark designated by the white dome constructed on a jetty into Big Bear Lake and staffed by a small number of scientists,astrologists and engineers. The observatory offers small tours of the facility with an introduction to the 1.6 meter new solar telescope now renamed the Goode Solar Telescope. Big Bear Observatory is known as one of the best sights in the world for solar observation as Big Bear experiences more than 300 days of sunlight.For detailed directions, click here.
6575 Park Blvd Joshua Tree , CA 92252
For the more dedicated astronomy buff, Coyote Telescope offers incredible stargazing tour adventures, operating in and around Joshua Tree National Park doing guided telescope tours in the desert towns of Pioneertown and Landers, the National Park campground areas (excluding Cottonwood) and areas east of Twentynine Palms. They operate on a lunar cycle to provide the best star and moon tours and use a Celestron telescope for great quality and clarity.
Hole in The Wall – Mojave National Preserve
1 Black Canyon Rd, Essex, CA 92332
With 1.6 million acres of diverse desert habitats, the Mojave National Preserve is one of Southern California’s most fascinating natural wonders. Within the Mojave, the Hole-in-the-Wall area is a relatively easy hiking trail where folks can walk up to the sculpted walls of volcanic rock. It’s also popular for picnics and stargazing. It’s no accident that the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy holds regular star parties in the adjacent Black Canyon group campground.
We recommend late fall, winter and early spring visits and pairing up with an expert desert guide from the Mojave National Land Trust.