Camp Under the Stars

A star-filled night sky arches over a campground tent at Joshua Tree National Park.
A star-filled sky arches above a tent at Joshua Tree National Park.

NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

What better way to experience the great outdoors than camping in a national park under a star-filled sky?! Whether you're in the desert, on a mountain, or at the coast, nature at night is a compelling way to connect with the park environment.

Look up! Many of our national parks provide the best opportunity for seeing starry night skies — some dazzlingly so. Campsite views to the stars, Milky Way, meteors, Aurora Borealis, and other celestial bodies are a "Wow!" way to end your day. Relax. Be inspired. Can you find the Big Dipper? What constellations do you know? Enjoy the night alone, or with a group: many parks offer stargazing, interpretive programs. Ask a park ranger.

Look around you. The natural features of land and trees take on a unique appearance under the powerful glow of a full moon or twinkling starlight. Let your eyes adapt to the dark. Soon unexpected patterns and images will emerge. Individual objects will begin to set themselves apart from the surrounding darkness. Notice how they emit light and cast shadows from these natural light sources.
An arch formation at Arches National Park glows under the light of the full moon.
An arch formation is illuminated by the light of the full moon at Arches National Park.

NPS

Engage all your senses. Night brings opportunities to engage our senses differently than by day. What do you smell? Juniper, pine, wildflowers, and other plants have a presence of their own. Can you see or hear any animals? Nearly 70% of animals are nocturnal. Nighttime provides a critical function in park ecosystems and requires different protective strategies. Animals are sensitive to sounds and lights at night. As you enjoy camping at night, remember not to disturb them or your fellow travelers. The NPS wants to provide a quality nighttime experience for wildlife and its park visitors.

Use your judgement and stay safe. Research and learn about possible risks with the park environment and your camping trip before you go. The NPS Camping website is a good resource for planning your next adventure! And visit the NPS Night Skies website to learn about night skies and what the NPS is doing to preserve night viewsheds and habitat for future generations.


Julie West, Communications Specialist, Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division

Last updated: June 27, 2017