Astronomy & Stargazing

Milky Way over a dark scene with people using red light near telescopes
Visitors can attend telescope programs scheduled throughout the summer.

Photo by Joyce Tanihara


Many of the darkest skies in the country are found at national parks. Some visitors may come from places where light pollution hinders views of the night skies. Others may never have experienced an unobstructed view of a starry night sky or the Milky Way.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park in September 2015. The park has exceptional opportunities to view night skies, as well as stargazing programs scheduled throughout the summer months.

graphic showing why we see different parts of the Milky Way during different parts of the year
The Milky Way shines brighter in the summer than the winter. This is because we face the center of our galaxy on summer nights, while we face the edge of our galaxy on winter nights.

NPS graphic

Stargazing at Black Canyon

The park does not close and allows for night sky viewing at all hours. Overlooks that are far from the road are better shielded from the light of passing cars. These locations are great for stargazing, using a personal telescope, or for astrophotography:

  • Chasm View Overlook (South Rim)
  • Dragon Point Overlook (South Rim)
  • Sunset View Overlook (South Rim)
  • Chasm View Nature Trail (North Rim)
  • Kneeling Camel Overlook (North Rim)

Areas at the bottom of the canyon, like East Portal, are suitable for viewing, but the amount of visible sky will be reduced.

Visiting in the winter? Enjoy the unique experience of cross-country skiing by moonlight or headlamp. Red light-equipped headlamps or flashlights are best to help preserve night vision and reduce light pollution.

Viewing times and seasons

Experiencing moonlight in such a dark place can be extraordinary. However, bright light from the moon means faint stars and the Milky Way are not visible. The best time to view our galaxy is during the new moon phase, or at times when the moon rises late in the night. Check the moon phase, moonrise, sunrise, and sunset times for Black Canyon.

The Milky Way shines brighter in the summer than the winter. This is because we face the center of our galaxy on summer nights, while we face the edge of our galaxy on winter nights. As we look to the center, we look at the combined light of more stars than when we look toward the edge. In the summer, the Milky Way rises higher and higher throughout the night, resting directly overhead late in the evening. During the fall, the Milky Way appears directly overhead very early in the evening.

large black telescope with a sticker that says "BLCA," the park acronym
In the summer, attend one of our night sky programs and peak into the universe through a telescope, like the one pictured above.

NPS photo

Program Offerings

Park rangers, volunteers, and members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society (BCAS) work together to provide astronomy programs. These events occur frequently at the park during the summer. Programs are free to visitors who have paid the park entrance fee. Programs may include talks, constellation tours, or night sky viewing with telescopes. The park also hosts a multi-day Astronomy Festival every year. Check the park calendar for program and event listings.

For Kids

Check out the Junior Ranger Night Explorer program, which encourages young park visitors to explore the starry side of their national parks. Activities include learning about stars and galaxies, writing creative mythology about constellations, and using all senses to explore the night environment at a national park. Pick up a free booklet from the visitor center or download online.

Poster with a blue, black, and white graphic showing the Milky Way over Black Canyon
International Dark Sky Park poster for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Poster by Tyler Nordgren

2024 Moon Phases


Full Moon

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2024 Major Meteor Showers

Dates listed are for predicted maximum viewing. Most of these showers are also active for a few nights before and after the predicted peak.

  • Lyrids April 22
  • Eta Aquarids May 5-6
  • Delta Aquariids July 25-August 5
  • Perseids August 12
  • Orionids October 21-22
  • Leonids November 18
  • Geminids December 13-14
  • Ursids December 22
  • Quadrantids January 2-3, 2025
graphic of dark canyon walls with stars in a dark sky above
Astro Fest 2024

Astro Fest 2024, from September 5-7, celebrates the starry skies at three separate sites along the Gunnison River.

Milky Way with blue hues over a dark night sky
NPS Night Skies

Learn more about ways the National Park Service protects night skies across the country.


Stargazing in National Parks

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    Tags: stargazing

    Last updated: June 26, 2024

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    102 Elk Creek
    (GPS/physical address = 9800 Highway 347, Montrose, CO)

    Gunnison, CO 81230



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