Thing to Do

Badlands Astronomy Festival

three people stand silhouetted atop a badlands butte, pointing at the night sky.

The Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival brings together space science professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, youth groups, and park visitors for a stellar experience. Celebrate the beauty of a dark night sky and the wonder of space exploration. 

Novices and experts alike will enjoy daily family-friendly activities and evening presentations with special guest speakers. In the past, activities have included planetarium visits, solar telescope viewings, technology demonstrations, and more. Nightly telescope viewings will be sponsored by the NPS Night Sky Program and Celestron.

This three-day celebration at Badlands National Park will support the continued protection and enjoyment of our incredible night skies as a precious natural resource. Although light pollution threatens dark skies across the globe, the Badlands are nestled in a corner of the Great Plains where light pollution is not a prevalent issue. Come celebrate the dark skies of the park with us!

The festival schedule and activities vary year-to-year. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to pick up this year’s schedule when you visit or check out the schedule below. Most events and activities are located in wheelchair-accessible areas. Astronomy Festival events do not require advance registration or tickets. 

 Badlands National Park has partnered with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium to co-sponsor the 2023 Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 14th-16th.

The festival brings together space science professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, and visitors for a three-day celebration.

Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration. Telescopes will be provided by astronomers from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours and the University of Utah for day and night observations. 

The schedule of events includes a scale model solar system tour and walk, solar observing opportunities, special guest speakers, public stargazing activities, static displays, as well as equipment demonstrations by professional and amateur astronomers. 

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

Schedule of Events for 2023 Astronomy Festival: 
2023 Badlands Astronomy Festival events are to be announced at a later date.

Schedule of Events from Last Year's (2022) Astronomy Festival:
Planet Walk
Friday, July 29; Saturday, July 30; and Sunday, July 31
1:30-3:00 pm. Meet in front of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center for a short walk through a scaled model of our solar system.

Sun Fun Solar Observing
Friday, July 29; Saturday, July 30; and Sunday, July 31
3:00-5:00 pm at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
View solar flares and sunspots through our special solar telescopes, 100% safe for eyes. Various other sun-based activities will also be offered.

Guest Speakers/Evening Programs/Public Stargazing
Friday, July 29; Saturday, July 30; and Sunday, July 31
9pm - 11:30 pm (Fri, Sat, Sun) at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater
Nightly evening presentations will be provided by invited guest speakers followed by hands-on experience with multiple state-of-the-art telescopes and amateur astronomers providing constellation tours while guiding visitors around the universe. View planets, star clusters, nebulae, and double stars while going down the “scope line.”

Speaker Schedule:
Friday, July 29th at 9:00pm

Journey to the Stars with NASA’s Space Telescopes: Hubble and James Webb
Tom Durkin – Nasa Space Grant Consortium, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, SD
Synopsis: This presentation takes the audience on a virtual trip into space passing by the Sun, several of the planets in our solar system, venturing outward to exploding stars and nebulae within our Milky Way Galaxy. We then venture further outward, back in time, beyond the Milky Way toward galaxies far, far away.

Saturday, July 30th at 9:00pm

Western Skies and Lakota Star Knowledge
Megan Ostrenga – The Journey Museum, Rapid City, SD.
Synopsis: This program will guide us through tonight's constellations from both the Western perspective as well as the Lakota perspective. Learn about the history of constellations, how to find constellations, and the corresponding star stories in this interactive presentation!

Sunday, July 31st at 9:00pm

Just 42!
Kevin Poe – Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Bryce Canyon, UT
Synopsis: Astronomy math is VERY hard, but the science itself is pretty simple when compared to biology, geology, etc. So much so, that once you exclude Earth, there's only 42 things left to learn about before you can understand the whole Universe. Join Kevin "The Dark Ranger" Poe to get a semester's worth of astronomy from this single show.

More events may be posted or updated as the Badlands Astronomy Festival approaches. 

30-60 Minutes
Pets are permitted in Badlands National Park with some restrictions. Pets must be kept on a leash no more than six feet in length at all times. Pets are only permitted in developed areas, such as campgrounds and picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles, such as gravel and paved roadways, roadway corridors, and parking lots. Pets are prohibited from hiking trails, public buildings (i.e. visitor centers), and backcountry areas, including the Badlands Wilderness Area, and areas with prairie dog colonies. Pet etiquette dictates always cleaning up animal waste and disposing of it in trash receptacles.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
Time of Day
Day, Night, Dusk
Accessibility Information

The event takes place in an ADA amphitheater. Certified service animals are welcome.

Badlands National Park

Last updated: February 8, 2023