Take a Silver State star-fari to space out under some of the darkest, most star-studded skies in the entire country.
Nighttime has always been when Nevada really lights up. But we’re not just talking about neon signs and dazzling LED marquees. Go beyond the glow of our metros, look up, and find yourself face-to-face with the brightest stars in the darkest skies in the Lower 48. Simply put, there’s no better place to stargaze than the Silver State.
Travel Nevada Tip
To get the most out of your astro adventure, view this full article on TravelNevada.com to gawk at more stunning images, get the full deets on where to stay and eat around these incredible locales, and discover thousands more things to do along the way.
Scope out this lineup of (literally) stellar spots to spy complete constellations, the Milky Way, thousands of twinkling stars, and even distant galaxies with your naked eye, all within easy road trip range of Reno.
Great Basin National Park
Distance from Reno: 6 hr / 385 mi
Great Basin is one of the Lower 48’s most crowd-free parks because it’s so far from any major city—and their light pollution, which also makes it a world-renowned destination for astronomers, astro-photographers, and stargazers. Since earning an International Dark Sky Park designation by the International Dark Sky Association in 2016 (pretty much the United Nations of starry skies), the park has converted facility lighting to red bulbs (which don’t compete with stars for your eyes’ attention) and opened the Astronomy Amphitheater, where visitors can listen to a “dark ranger” talk while gazing at constellations, planets, and other heavenly bodies through high-powered scopes.
By day, explore the park’s alpine lakes, peak-bagging trails, ancient bristlecone pine groves, and Lehman Caves system; come nightfall, discover why “half the park is after dark.” And if you really want to geek out with some serious astro-pros, swing by in September for the Great Basin Astronomy Festival.
Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary
Distance from Reno: 4 hr / 225 mi
The northwestern edge of Nevada is about as far away from light pollution as it gets in the contiguous United States. So much so that, in 2019, the International Dark Sky Association designated a portion of Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary—one of only seven on the entire planet with skies star-studded enough to earn this distinction. In fact, it gets so dark out here that, during a moonless night, even the stars can cast shadows. This stretch of stunning, wide-open sagebrush valleys and volcanic plateaus (which give way to uninterrupted panoramas of stars) is extremely remote and rugged, so brush up on Travel Nevada’s Dirt Road Code before you venture this way.
Black Rock Desert
Distance from Reno: 2+ hr / 110+ mi
There aren’t too many places where you can view other planets and the curvature of your own at the same time. This 1.2 million-acre wonderland is home to remote hot springs, craggy canyons, and its famous centerpiece: the Black Rock Desert playa, one of the longest, flattest, openest stretches of land on Earth. The skyward vistas from the 200-square-mile playa go on forever, with a distant rim of rocky mountains offering a shadowy frame. One glimpse of this unbelievable landscape confirms why people love coming here during Burning Man. But trust us: it’s even better without radiating space lasers, pulsing EDM beats, and 70,000 LED-illuminated bikes rolling around it. (Well, when it comes to stargazing, that is…)
The Loneliest Road in America
Total Distance: 375 to 500 mi
This famous stretch of Highway 50 earned its name for being a wide-open road trip through the heart of Nevada with only a handful of thinly populated towns dotting its 375-mile expanse. But as for “lonely”—who needs people when you can pal around with a few thousand stars?
Spend the day exploring ghost towns, Sagebrush Saloons, wildlife areas, and more on your way to celestial vantage points, which are as infinite as the heavens. Some of our favorite spots to stargaze include the old ruins of Fort Churchill State Historic Park, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Spencer Hot Springs, Kingston Canyon, Cave Lake State Park, and—of course—aforementioned Great Basin National Park.
The Rubies Route
Total Distance: 60 to 375 mi (The choice is yours!)
This three-spoke northeastern Nevada road trip offers a package deal for anyone whom the mountains have called, with camping and nearby lodging available along each stretch. The byway up glacier-carved Lamoille Canyon carries you to a network of choose-your-own-distance trails to several alpine lakes perched at about 10,000 feet along the spine of the towering, breathtaking Ruby Mountains. Meanwhile, an easy twelve-mile road out of Wells parks you at the edge of Angel Lake, a cliff-lined glacial cirque that makes a dramatic setting for staring straight up.
However, if it’s absolute off-grid solace you seek, hop in something with four-wheel-drive and head for the Jarbidge Wilderness, Nevada’s most untamed mountain landscape where larger-than-life, lake-dotted bowls meet towering, nearly 11,000-foot peaks and aspen-studded mountainsides. Out here, it’s just you, the wildlife, and more stars than you could ever shake a telescope at.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
The Silver State’s night skies are jaw-dropping any time of year, especially around a new moon. But for one of the greatest shows on Earth (or rather, above it), head to any of these spots in the summertime. In July, massive Sagittarius and Scorpio are in full effect, while the Perseids meteor shower rains countless streaks across the sky between mid-July and early August.
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