September 18, 2020

Stargazing in Utah: Top 5 Places Stars Shine Brightest

Best places around SLC to stargaze and see the milky way and other night sky objects.

The milky way shines bright among the stars at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Utah is a popular destination for stargazers from around the world. There is a reason Utah leads the world in the number of recognized dark sky parks. Astrophotography is becoming a popular hobby here because of the perfect combination of clear skies, high elevation, and lots of places to get away from the pesky light pollution. So, grab your blankets, hot beverage, and binoculars as you check out the list below to see some of the best places here in Utah to gaze at the night sky and see countless stars and other celestial objects!

1. Canyons around Salt Lake City

Head up the canyons to get away from city lights to see the stars a bit more brightly.
Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon near SLC provides a nice open area to stargaze.

While the city produces a great deal of light pollution, it only takes a quick drive to get out of it. Surrounding Salt Lake City are numerous canyons that lead you deep into the mountains to get clear views of the stars glimmering in the night sky. Big and Little Cottonwood canyons have numerous hikes and destinations that are great for stargazing. So after a day of bouldering in these canyons pull off at the Donut Falls parking lot or continue up to Brighton or Alta Resorts for incredible mountain-lined views of the beautiful night sky. If you’re lucky, maybe some wildlife will join you as you admire the stars above.

Looking for a place to eat before checking out the stars? Check here for the best eateries in the area.

2. West Desert

The west desert of Utah has some of the darkest skies in the world, bringing thousands of unknown stars into view
The west desert in Utah provides some of the darkest skies in the world. Just got to find the right spot!

If you head west on I-80 you’ll end up in the west desert in no time. In less than an hour you’ll be outside the light pollution with spectacular views of the night sky perfect for stargazing. Just past Tooele and Grantsville lies a vast wilderness of nothing and no one around to bother you. The mountains give way to the sky above and you have amazing 360-degree views of the bright night sky above. The west desert is large and covers a majority of the state of Utah, so depending on where you go you could end up in a Bortle 1 Dark Sky Zone – some of the darkest skies in the world.

3. Bonneville Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats provide an other-worldly experience for stargazing
Bonneville Salt Flats occasionally provide a perfect reflection of the stars. Feels like floating in space.

My personal favorite spot for stargazing is west of SLC in the west desert on the Utah/Nevada border – the Bonneville Salt Flats. Only about two hours away from the city lies an entirely new planet! The ground is made entirely out of salt and it sparkles below your feet. With the clear views of the stars and milky way above your head, and the glittering ground beneath your feet, this location truly makes you feel like your exploring another world. If you’re lucky to get out there after a rainstorm, small lakes form on the flats which on a windless night provide a perfect reflection of the night sky, giving you the sensation like you’re floating in space!

4. Bear Lake

Bright night skies and a beautiful mountain lake to enjoy the stars
After a day at the lake, enjoy a raspberry shake while staring at the clear, dark skies.

A popular tourist destination for the Utah locals is Bear Lake. A beautiful turquoise mountain lake is away from the lights of the Wasatch Front and gives you the clear skies that come from high-altitude. Grab a famous Bear Lake raspberry shake after your day in the water, then end your day right by stargazing at the brightly-shining stars above and all around you.

5. Southern Utah

Unique rock formations make for a one-of-a-kind landscape for the stars above
Goblin Valley is a certified International Dark Sky Park. The red sandstone hoodoos provide a unique landscape while gazing at the vast number of stars in view.

Although Southern Utah is a large area to include as a single top-5 spot for stargazing, there really isn’t a bad spot to gaze at the stars if you’re south of Payson, Utah. With no major cities and only a few towns scattered around, there is little to no light pollution in the entire area. Southern Utah also boasts some of the most unique landscapes and outdoor recreation in the world! While you can find a good spot almost anywhere in Southern Utah to watch the night sky, here is a list of specific places that you are sure to love!

  • Bryce Canyon National Park*
  • Arches National Park*
  • Zion National Park
  • Capital Reef National Park*
  • Great Basin National Park*
  • Lake Powell
  • Goblin Valley State Park*

*International Dark Sky Park

Note: All photos in this post were taken by the author, Ryan Hutchings (www.unscenephoto.com).

Seven Slopes

Seven Slopes in a local's guide to what to do in Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Mountains.  The articles on this site were written by students from the University of Utah as part of a digital marketing curriculum.
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