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Stargazing in Virginia

Virginia has some of the best stargazing on the East Coast, with many wide-open spaces free of light pollution and high-tech observatories that are open to the public. Plan a Virginia stargazing trip near you and channel your inner astronomer. 

Know Before You Go: Social distancing and face masks are required to attend stargazing events. Be sure to check safety protocols and special requirements before you go. Also, be sure to check the forecast before you go as stargazing activities are weather dependent. 

DARK SKY PARKS & DESTINATIONS

Shenandoah National Park

Photo Credit: Gordon Lau IG account: @gordonklau

Free of light pollution and development, Shenandoah National Park is one of the premier destinations for stargazing in Virginia. The park offers Exploring The Skies astronomy presentations, Night Skies programs with amateur astronomers, and Twilight Hiking with Shenandoah Mountain Guides. 

Dark Sky State Parks

Photo Credit: Kara Asboth

Virginia has the most Dark Sky Parks east of the Mississippi with Shenandoah National Park and four state parks officially designated as International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Staunton River State Park, James River State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, and Sky Meadows State Park all have strict outdoor lighting policies to ensure exceptionally dark skies, which draw stargazers for astronomy programs throughout the year. 

Assateague Island National Seashore  

Photo Credit: Trevor Mahlmann, IG account: @tmahlmann

Assateague Island National Seashore, a non-developed beach, offers completely dark skies perfect for admiring stars, meteor showers, and comets. Add a visit to Chincoteague’s NASA Wallops Flight Facility to see NASA’s primary facility for launching suborbital missions, including sounding rockets and scientific balloons. Tours of the facility are available for organized groups with reservations. Note: the visitor center is closed currently due to COVID-19 so be sure to check the website for updated information before planning a visit. 

Meadows of Dan & Primland Resort 

Meadows of Dan in Patrick County, a rural Virginia county with little light pollution, is perfect for stargazing. Try Fairy Stone State Park’s campgrounds, cabins, yurts, and lodges and step just outside and enjoy the dark skies. 

Meadows of Dan also includes Primland Resort, a luxury boutique resort set on LEED-certified, 12,000 acres of the pristine Blue Ridge Mountains. The resort’s high altitude, remote location, on-site Observatory Dome, and nightly Come Starwalk at Primland programs using the resort’s Celestron CGE Pro 1400 telescope make it an ideal place for stargazing. The tour starts with an outside demonstration of constellations and planets, then moves to topics like star formation and star death, galaxy formation, and the grand scale of the Universe. 

Grayson County 

Photo Credit: Scott K Brown

Visit Grayson County, home of Virginia’s highest mountain, and plenty of parks, cabins, cottages, and campgrounds that are spectacular for stargazing due to low light pollution. Visit Grayson Highlands State Park to hike among wild ponies by day and enjoy a front-row view of the stars by night. 

Highland County

Highland County is one of the premier dark sky areas in the eastern United States. Check out the Highland County Stargazers FaceBook page for information on upcoming astronomical events, including star parties in conjunction with the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. Note: star parties are open to the public, however, events for 2020 have been canceled.

Lake Anna State Park

With its clear skies and ample camping and glamping accommodations, Lake Anna State Park is a wonderful place to enjoy the night sky while enjoying park amenities like hiking trails, beach access, and docks by day. 

Natural Chimneys Park & Campground

Photo Credit: Erin Harrigan, IG account: @erinharrigan

Natural Chimneys Park & Campground lies at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in Augusta County, far from any major light pollution. Although the stray lightning bug may drift by, a clear night reveals a dazzling array of stars in the shadow of the chimneys. 

OBSERVATORIES

Abbitt Observatory 

The Abbitt Observatory at the Virginia Living Museum offers daytime observations of the Sun, as well as periodic nighttime views of the stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies, and other celestial wonders through a variety of professional astronomy tools, including a ten-inch Meade telescope. Star parties with portable telescopes are held on the second Saturday of each month and during special events, depending on the weather. 

Keeble Observatory 

“The Center of the Universe,” as locals refer to Ashland, is home to the Keeble Observatory at Randolph-Macon College. The Observatory houses a state of the art Ritchey-Chretien telescope with a forty-centimeter primary mirror. The Observatory is open to the public weekly when school is in session and admission is free. 

Brinton Observatory  

Meadowkirk at Delta Farm’s Brinton Observatory features a 12-inch Meade telescope offering stunning views of the Solar System, stars, and some deep space objects during the one to one-and-a-half hour Stargazing Nights programs led by experts from the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC). Topics range from novice to advance and are reserved ahead of time. 

 

7 replies on “Stargazing in Virginia”

Yes. I’ve taken photos of it at various locations near Knotts Island. Every night in the summer, it rises over Pungo Ferry Bridge.

James River State Park is working toward IDA Dark Sky Park certification and is a great, centrally located stargazing location. Their lighting is fantastic: no overhead mast lights in the park at all, the only lights on continually overnight are at the bathhouse (and are full cut off), and all lighting is shielded or full cut off and of warm Color Correlated Temperature. Lighting at Visitors Center (where astronomy club-supported sky watch programs are held) is on motion sensor. They’ve even switched out the interior lights there. https://www.roanoke.com/opinion/editorials/our-view-james-river-state-park-hopes-to-become-virginia/article_5e78493f-fe3c-5f66-bf3a-4c9d317b1f47.html

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