One of the best parts about camping in the Fall is topping off your campfire cooking and smores with some cozy stargazing wrapped up in a sleeping bag, before retreating into your warm campervan. However, not all camping locations are ideal for stargazing; primary factors influence this are light pollution and nearby mountains and trees blocking your view.
That’s why we’ve created a list of a few suggestions for those of you who want to plan your van camping trip around the cosmic vista, and really get lost gazing out into the twinkling soup of creation.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Far away from major cities, yet in a wide-enough basin between the rockies that a sky-wide view isn’t too obstructed, the Great Sand Dunes National Park not only has amazing dunes, waterfall, and trails to explore during the day, but some of the best starry views in colorado at night.
If you’re going to visit this area, you may as well accent that cosmic awe with a day trip to some of the many shrines, temples, and unconventional community in and around nearby Crestone, as well as a hike up from the North Crestone Creek Campground to the comanche trailhead and beyond, and see the changing flora and fauna as you get higher and higher up the mountain.
San Luis Valley UFO Watchtower
Not far from the Great Sand Dunes National Park is the San Luis Valley UFO Watchtower, a platform in the desert with nearby RV park and indoor pool, this is a great option for those who want a more luxurious camping experience amidst the stars. Who knows, you might just see a UFO as well. Then in the daytime you can go for a swim!
Smoky Jack Observatory at Westcliffe and Silver Cliff
If you’d like to supplement your campfire star gazing with something a bit more technologically enhanced, the Smoky Jack Observatory offers the opportunity to see the stars up close and in high detail, with a computer-guided high grade telescope. It’s also possible to visit here on the same trip that you visited the Greater Sand Dunes area, as it is just on the other side of the same mountain range.
Rocky Mountain National Park
At Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll have ideal stargazing conditions not because you’re in a valley, but because you’re in the very tops of the mountains. Keep in mind that it will be quite cold in the Fall here, probably even snowy, so be prepared for full-on Winter camping. The park also offers space education programs, so you and the kids can compensate the wonder of the view with knowledge about galaxies, nebulae, and star’s life cycles.
Natural Bridges National Monument
This Utah park is actually the world’s first dark sky park, specifically managed so as to maintain the least light pollution possible, as an ideal stargazing locale. While it is a greater distance from Denver, as the world’s only park specifically meant for stargazing, Natural Bridges National Monument might just be an ideal destination for the true enthusiast. Of course, it has many beautiful geological formations and trails for daytime enjoyment, as well.
Another Utah Park, Bryce Canyon hosts many activities centered around the night sky views against the backdrop of canyon shadows. Guest astronomers and telescopes make this both a fun and educational camping trip, great for the whole family, and there are of course plenty of canyon trails and day activities. A great location for your Western campervan stargazing trip.