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A Complete Guide to Stargazing in Yellowstone National Park

Montana’s nickname of Big Sky Country is well-earned. The local skies are famous for their clarity, free of the light pollution that can ruin a stargazing experience.

Yellowstone National Park, which is partly located in Montana, is blessed with these signature clear skies and serves as the perfect place for stargazing.

To make sure you get the most out of the starry skies, we have compiled a guide to stargazing in Yellowstone National Park!

What month is best for stargazing?

stargazing

Because Yellowstone National Park is free of the light pollution that typically plagues other areas across the country, it is always a good destination for stargazing.

The skies are usually clear throughout the year, so there’s no season or month where stargazing is worse or more difficult in the park.

That said, Rove explains that stargazers will want to choose a time of year with comfortable temperatures, as it can be quite uncomfortable sitting outside at night in extreme cold or heat.

The website confirms that the most popular times for stargazing in Yellowstone are in spring and fall, between April and October.

August is a particularly optimal month in which to stargaze at Yellowstone National Park because this is when the Perseid meteor shower takes place.

Watching the shower on a clear summer night will allow you to see dozens of meteors in addition to the stars.

Can you see the Northern Lights in Yellowstone National Park?

northern lights in yellowstone
Image: Yellowstone National Park

While it’s technically possible to see the Northern Lights in Yellowstone National Park, this is a very rare occurrence.

It only happens on exceptionally clear nights, and the odds of seeing them are extremely low. When the Northern Lights are visible in Yellowstone National Park, they’re usually very faint.

Can you see the Milky Way in Yellowstone National Park?

milky way in yellowstone

Yes! The Milky Way is visible in Yellowstone National Park between April and October (Yellowstone National Park Trips). Often, the Milky Way is visible with the naked eye.

The best time to view the Milky Way is when the sky is the darkest due to the presence of a new moon. You can consult your calendar or look online to find out when the moon will be waning from full or waxing towards full.

Yellowstone National Park Trips recommends the app PhotoPills, which indicates when the galactic core of the Milky Way will rise and where you need to look in the sky to see it. 

Where are the best places for stargazing in Yellowstone National Park?

You can watch the stars all over Yellowstone National Park, with the entire park boasting clear skies free of the light pollution that comes from busy cities.

But there are a few spots in particular which offer the most ideal viewing experiences, either because they’re not as crowded, they have high elevation points, or they have unique features that make stargazing simply amazing.

Mount Washburn

Mount Washburn is the most famous mountain in Yellowstone National Park, and several sources confirm that it’s one of the best points from which to view the sky at night.

To reach Mount Washburn, start at Wyoming’s Dunraven Pass and simply walk to the top of the mountain, which features an elevation of 10,000 feet (3048 meters).

This is one of the best places to stargaze simply because of the brilliant views and high vantage point.

Upper Geyser Basin

upper geyser basin
Image: Yellowstone National Park

The Upper Geyser Basin, which hosts the famous Old faithful and Castle Geyser, is one of the best places in the park to watch the stars.

The area is equipped with benches, which make stargazing more comfortable, and though the basin is extremely popular during the day, it’s nearly empty come nightfall.

Old Faithful erupts every 65-95 minutes, while Castle Geyser erupts every 14 hours. Watching the stars above the steaming geysers offers a once-in-a-lifetime view that is worth staying out late for.

Lamar Valley

The Lamar Valley is famous for its wildlife-viewing opportunities, but this is also a great place to stargaze in Yellowstone National Park.

The wide open spaces of the valley create the perfect environment to have uninterrupted views of the sky above.

Although Lamar Valley is one of the more popular locations in the park, the atmosphere is typically quiet and reverent.

Most guests arrive to witness wildlife from afar at dawn and dusk, clearing out by the time the sky reaches its darkest.

Swan Lake Flat

Swan Lake is found in the northern section of Yellowstone National Park, just south of Mammoth Hot Springs. Swan Lake Flat is ideal for stargazing because it’s quiet and undeveloped compared to other more bustling areas of the park.

A wide-open area in the Gallatin Range, Swan Lake Flat is the epitome of the Montana wilderness. During the day, guests are likely to spot wildlife, including the trumpeter swans for which the lake was named. At night, you’ll get unrivaled views of the stars.

Hayden Valley

hayden valley
Image: Sathish J

The Hayden Valley is another premier destination in Yellowstone National Park for wildlife watching. The area is expansive, serene, and undeveloped, leading to magnificent opportunities to witness the stars in all their glory.

Most popular at dawn and dusk, the Hayden Valley experiences low traffic after dark. It straddles the Yellowstone River, offering the perfect view of the starry sky above the winding river.

Mammoth Hot Springs

mammoth hot springs
Image: Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs is a fantastic place to view the sky and the stars, particularly for those who don’t feel up to climbing great distances to achieve a leg-up.

The springs have man-made terraces and boardwalks that give visitors a clearer view of the sky without the hours it would take to reach some of the other locations on this list.

Stargazing in Yellowstone National Park – Conclusion

Yellowstone National Park is one of the greatest destinations in the country from which to stargaze. Best of all, you can view the stars right throughout the year, and from multiple vantage points throughout the park.

Where would you most like to stargaze in Yellowstone National Park? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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