The night sky is a glittering dome peppered with stars, planets, and passing meteors—but most people no longer get to see it. In urban and suburban settings, artificial lighting and atmospheric pollutants wash out the light of the stars. This is a serious loss. For millennia, our ancestors experienced a dark night sky. Cultures around the world told stories about the constellations and used the stars as a calendar. Only for the past few generations have humans been denied the chance to stand in awe of the heavens. Boasting some of the darkest nights in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park offers many visitors the chance to admire the Milky Way for the first time in their lives.
Tips for Stargazing
Use Red Lights Only
Bring Food and Water
Bring a Chair
Watch Your Step
Avoid the Moon
Where to View the Stars and Milky WayOn a clear night and moonless, you should have no problem viewing the stars from anywhere in the park. However, light pollution from surrounding communities does impact Joshua Tree's night skies, so some areas of the park are darker than others.
From the Backcountry
Camping should only be done by those prepared to undertake an overnight backpacking trip. If camping, you must carry all your supplies at least one mile from the trailhead. Complete rules and regulations for backcountry camping.
Things to Remember
Photography TipsThere are many different ways to photograph the stars and Milky Way. These are just a few tips for beginners that will help you get started.
Use a Tripod
A sturdy tripod will help you create sharp photos with no vibration or shaking.
Use Manual Settings
Experiment to Find the Best Results
Paint with Light
Night Sky ProgramsRangers regularly offer programs about the wonders of the night sky and our ongoing relationship with it. Check our Calendar or at any visitor center for information about upcoming programs or events.
Additions programs may be available through our partner:
Sky's the Limit Observatory
9697 Utah Trail
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
You can also learn more about the park's dark night skies and watch a series of short films and about why the National Park Service cares about protecting dark night skies.
The Night Sky by Season
Winter's most famous constellation is almost certainly Orion, the Hunter. The three stars that make up Orion's belt are easily seen in the southern sky. Below Orion's belt, three faint stars make up the great hunter's sword. Use binoculars or a telescope to look at the Orion Nebula, a vast stellar cloud of dust and gas that appears in the sword.
If you follow the line of Orion's belt down and to the left, you'll come to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is also known as the Dog Star and lies in the constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog.
Other prominent winter constellations include Gemini and Taurus. Gemini, the Twins, features the bright stars Castor and Pollux marking the heads of the two brothers, who stand in the heavens with their arms about each other's shoulders. From the eye of V-shaped Taurus (the Bull) winks the red giant Aldebaran.
Looking high in the sky to the south, you may find the sickle-shaped head of Leo, the Lion. Bright Regulus is Leo's front paw.
The Milky Way is at its best on a moonless summer night. At this time of year, we are looking inward toward the center of our galaxy when we gaze upward into the night sky. The galactic center, where the band of the Milky Way appears brightest in the sky, is located in the constellation Sagittarius.
The Milky Way runs through the center of the Summer Triangle, which is not a constellation but an asterism. Its three bright and easily observed stars are in the east at dusk and wheel overhead through the night. Each of these three stars is the brightest star in its constellation: brilliant Vega in Lyra (the Lyre), Altair in Aquila (the Eagle), and Deneb in Cygnus (the Swan).
The Perseid Meteor Shower in mid-August is one of the most consistently reliable meteor showers each year.
The Great Square is oriented more like a diamond, and you can use it to find the Andromeda Galaxy. Home plate is the star at the bottom of the Great Square, with first base to the right, second base at the top, and third base to the left. On moonless nights, the Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy patch off in the stands on the third base side of the field, about as far back from third base as between first and third. Use binoculars or a telescope to get a better view of this spiral galaxy.
Last updated: July 26, 2017