How and Where to Plan a Stargazing Camping Trip in 2022
One of the draws of camping is to spend a night under the stars, but have you ever planned a trip with stargazing at the forefront? Stargazing can spark the imagination, open our eyes to our place in the universe, and be a fun activity for campers of any age.
Here’s everything you need to know about planning a stargazing camping trip.
Stargazing in the U.S. and Canada
Travelers in the Northern Hemisphere, including the U.S. and Canada, have the opportunity to see 36 visible constellations and a variety of celestial events throughout the year. Constellations, which are groupings of stars pieced together as recognizable patterns by ancient astronomers, are sought-after “sky-marks” for amateur stargazers.
Five constellations—Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor—can be seen year-round in the Northern Hemisphere. The other 31 well-known constellations are visible at different times of the year. Purchase a star finder that matches your latitude or download a stargazing app to use as a guide for the cosmos above.
If you’re planning a trip specifically with stargazing in mind, align your itinerary with a waxing or new moon so that the sky has the least amount of illumination. Stargazing is also best in late fall, winter, and early spring when nights are the longest. Basking in the beauty of the galaxy is possible in the summer, too—you’ll just need to stay up a little later or get up a little earlier.
Picking a Stargazing Destination for Camping
When researching spots for your next stargazing trip, start with International Dark Sky Places. These destinations, which are usually a bit off the beaten path, are known for their exceptionally clear skies and low light pollution. They’re far from bright city lights and provide unparalleled opportunities to see the cosmos in all its glory. Many Dark Sky Places—and in particular Dark Sky Parks—offer astronomy programs and resources to campers and visitors.
You don’t have to camp at designated Dark Sky Places to see a gorgeous night sky—anywhere with low light pollution and an open view of the sky will do. Campgrounds with few trees (or a field or shoreline) are best so that you have the opportunity to look from horizon to horizon. When picking your campsite, choose a spot that’s located away from bright lights, such as bathroom floodlights or streetlights.
Some campgrounds, such as the Likely Place Golf & RV Resort in Likely, California, cater specifically to sky seekers with amenities like 110-volt supplied concrete stargazing pads for motorized and computer-controlled telescopes.
2022 Celestial Events in the U.S. and Canada
Want to expand your stargazing beyond constellations? Plan a trip around one of these spectacular celestial events this year.
Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower
On May 5 at 4 a.m. local time, meteors will streak across the sky on the eastern horizon. Meteors, which are often called shooting stars, are small particles that race across the sky before burning up as they hit Earth’s atmosphere. Some of them, like those that can be seen during the Eta Aquariids shower, have long tails that make them especially visible. The Eta Aquariids are leftover dust and debris from Halley’s Comet.
Total Lunar Eclipse
The eastern U.S. will have a chance to see a total lunar eclipse on May 15 and 16. This Blood Moon, named for its red glow, will be in full eclipse for nearly 1.5 hours. All of the U.S. (except Alaska) will see some portion of the eclipse, but those east of the Great Lakes will see the phase in its entirety.
From June 19 to 27, North American skywatchers will have the chance to see five—maybe six—planets in a row. The planets will also be lined up in the same order as they are from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Look to the eastern/southeastern horizon at twilight to witness this impressive sight. If you’re in a place with little light pollution and a telescope, you might also spot Uranus.
Perseid Meteor Shower
If you’ve heard of only one meteor shower, it’s probably the Perseid. This spectacular show of streaking meteors, which will take place on August 11 and 12, often delivers 150 to 200 shooting stars per hour. This year, the Perseids will best be seen in the 2 to 3 hours before dawn, as it’ll coincide with a full moon.
You can see the Perseid meteor shower from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but optimal camping destinations for dark sky-viewing include the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve in Stanley, Idaho, and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
What to Bring on Your Stargazing Camping Trip
Packing for your stargazing camping trip doesn’t need to be complicated, but there are a few items that you’ll want to have to make the most of your night sky experience.
Astronomy app or star finder: An astronomy app or star finder will help you locate and identify constellations, planets, and the Milky Way.
Telescope or binoculars: A telescope or binoculars aren’t necessary for stargazing, but as you get drawn into the cosmos, you may find yourself longing to get just a bit closer.
Red flashlight or headlamp: A flashlight or headlamp fitted with a red bulb is a must-have for star watchers, as it allows you to move safely in the dark without shrinking your pupils like white or blue light does.
Clothing layers: It can get chilly after the sun goes down, even in the middle of summer. Pack a blanket for warmth.
Folding chair: Even the most enthusiastic sky watchers need to give their legs a break. Be sure to bring along a folding chair, stool, or blanket to sit on.
Bug spray: Unfortunately, the bugs don’t always disappear with the sun. Pack bug spray to keep pesky biters away from you as you enjoy the view.
Add a view of the night sky into your traveling routine this year. Where will stargazing take you?