Experience the Night
Sangre de Cristo Mountains courtesy of Lars Leber
Night skies near Cuchara courtesy of Scot Mangold
Shooting stars near La Veta courtesy of Scot Mangold
Westcliffe's scenic views courtesy of Scott Dankof
A Silver Cliff farewell courtesy of Skyglow
Night lights in Crestone courtesy of Peter Ismert
Crestone's dark skies courtsey of Peter Ismert
Nighttime at the Great Sand Dunes courtsey of NPS/Patrick Myers
The moon over Great Sand Dunes
Night lights near Lake City courtesy of Michael Underwood
Lake City's San Juan Mountain peaks courtesy of Michael Underwood
Lake City views courtesy of Michael Underwood
Westcliffe stargazers courtesy of Mike Pach
Milky Way in Gunnison courtesy of Matt Burt
Stars over Nucla, Naturita and Norwood courtesy of Nola Svoboda
Starry night skies in Ridgway courtesy of Val Szwarc
Westcliffe & Silver Cliff
Westcliffe and Silver Cliff in the Wet Mountain Valley make up Colorado’s first designated International Dark Sky Community and the highest elevation of those sites in the world. The valley sits between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west and the Wet Mountains to the east, making for dramatic views in every direction. Stargazing here would not be complete without a visit to the Smokey Jack Observatory in Bluff Park. Constructed in 2015, this observatory boasts a retractable roof and a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain and five-inch refractor telescopes with computer-guided pointing and tracking to view the majestic night sky. The observatory is maintained by Dark Skies of the Wet Mountain Valley, which also hosts free public star parties throughout the year.
Go for a Hike • Frontier Pathways scenic & historic byway • Local Art Galleries • Mission: Wolf • Summer Music Festivals • All Aboard Westcliffe, Beckwith Ranch & The Silver Cliff Museum • Planet Walk
Lake City is the sole town in Hinsdale County, the most remote county in the lower 48 states. Made up of 96 percent public lands, it's an ideal location for watching the night sky and leaving civilization behind. In 2020, The Slumgullion Center was designated an International Dark-Sky Association Park, adding to the growing list of Colorado’s IDA Places. Along with amazing stargazing opportunities, the area offers seemingly endless miles of trails, 21 public campgrounds, five fourteeners (peaks rising more than 14,000 feet above sea level), three national forests, one BLM district, four wilderness areas and two wilderness study areas. Popular outdoor activities include hiking, biking, Jeeping, ATVing, ice climbing, snowmobiling and more. History speaks loudly in Lake City, where famous cannibal Alfred Packer, is rumored to have murdered his traveling companions. Lake City is also mining country, and many of the area’s historic mines are still standing and available for viewing.
Visit Creede, a small town tucked into the San Juan Mountains and surrounded by 900 square miles of gorgeous western wilderness, 95 percent of which is public land. This historic mining town is unique in that it sits in a volcanic caldera where it is surrounded by sheer cliffs, limiting the town’s physical growth, and thus, light pollution. This lends to the small-town feel and the stupendous night skies visitors love and come back for again and again. Creede serves as a jumping-off point to some of Colorado’s most popular backcountry regions. Top outdoor activities in Creede include fishing, rafting, hiking and mountain biking in the summer, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice-skating in the winter. Headwaters Alliance, an environmental nonprofit located in Creede, is actively working on developing the Southern San Juan Dark Sky Reserve that will receive designation from the International Dark-Sky Association in 2022. The proposed reserve encompasses more than 400,000 acres and officially preserves the night sky by limiting light pollution through lighting plans, hosting educational events for locals and visitors on the benefits of natural night skies and stewardship and monitoring the quality of the night sky.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve features North America’s tallest dunes, and is one of the state’s most visited attractions. The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down: This amazing feat of nature comes alive under the moon and the stars, which shine bright thanks to a combination of dry air, little light pollution and high elevation. Night at the Great Sand Dunes can include exploring dunes under a bright full moon, viewing thousands of stars on a clear moonless night, listening for owls along the foothills or observing migrating amphibians on a wet night. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was designated an International Dark-Sky Park in 2019.
Check out this video to see what it's like to stargaze at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Best Places to See the Stars:
The Park's Main Dune Field
Hike & Explore the Various Landscapes & Terrain • Photograph the Various Ecosystems • Check out the Visitor Center • Camp at the Pinon Flats Campground • When Medano Creek is Flowing, Pack a Picnic & Go Wading
The magic of Crestone is the blending together of earth, sky, rock, water, mind and spirit. Located at the nexus of ley lines — straight alignments said to carry energy and drawn between historic structures and prominent landmarks — Crestone is one of the highest energy centers in the United States. Like Mount Shasta and Sedona, Crestone is a sacred land. The area has become a mecca for different beliefs and spiritual traditions and has more spiritual centers per square foot than any other place in North America: You’ll find ashrams, temples, monasteries, retreat centers, labyrinths, stupas and a ziggurat. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report named Crestone one of the world’s most sacred sites. The arts are another important part of the Crestone community, which overflows with creativity of every kind, inspired and nurtured by the elemental energy and scenic grandeur of the area. In 2021, the International Dark-Sky Association designated Crestone as an International Dark-Sky Community, making it the 31st designated International Dark-Sky Community worldwide and the fourth in Colorado.
More than 15 spiritual centers • Hike the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness • Hike to Willow Lake • North Crestone Creek Campground • Baca National Wildlife Refuge • Orient Land Trust • Joyful Journey Hot Springs
La Veta is a rural town in southern Colorado known for its community of artists and ranchers. It sits at the base of the Spanish Peaks and at the opening of the Cucharas River Valley, making for 360 degrees of breathtaking scenery. Extraordinary geological formations called dikes dot La Veta and its surrounding communities. These large, vertical granite formations, combined with the area’s incredible night skies, make La Veta an unparalleled location for budding and professional photographers. La Veta has numerous walking and biking trails close to town that showcase its beautiful scenery — popular trails include La Veta Loop Trail, The Daigre Reservoir Trail, and the Hogback Nature Trail at Lathrop State Park, Colorado's first state park.
Rocky Mountain Star Stare
Cuchara is a charming mountain village tucked on the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the heart of the Cucharas River Valley. Surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest with all its lakes, mountains and wilderness, this village is a favorite respite for Colorado hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. At the heart of Cuchara is a quaint downtown area with colorful shops, lodging and restaurants. South of town along Colorado 12, part of the scenic Highway of Legends, are gorgeous views topping out at the 9,995-foot Cucharas Pass. Nearby are abundant opportunities for hiking, fishing, OHVing and camping, especially at Cordova Pass, Cuchara Recreation Area and Bear and Blue Lakes.
Rocky Mountain Star Stare
Incorporated on Feb. 28, 1880, the City of Gunnison is the gateway to the beautiful Gunnison Valley. Located in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 7,703 feet, Gunnison is home to nearly 7,000 residents. It is the county seat and largest municipality in Gunnison County. The Rocky Mountain city is an active, outdoor-oriented community with year-round activities for visitors and residents alike. The city acts as a base for access to regional natural areas such as Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In addition to close access to world-class skiing, fishing and mountain biking, Gunnison embraces its agricultural and ranching history. The city annually hosts the Cattlemen’s Days Rodeo, which has been held continuously since 1900. Gunnison is also home to Western Colorado University, a four-year public, liberal arts university with a selection of graduate programs.
Nucla, Naturita & Norwood
The rural and historical towns of Nucla, Naturita and Norwood are part of “The West End,” a region on the west end of Montrose and San Miguel Counties. Together with other towns in the region, they proudly carry the slogan “Many Towns. One Community.”
These three towns embody a Colorado postcard — a slow-paced life among a landscape of dramatic red rock canyons, high desert mesas, wide-open pastureland and the confluence of two river systems. Surrounded by so much wilderness, the outdoor recreational opportunities in Nucla, Naturita and Norwood are endless. Visitors from all over come to camp, fish, hike, bike, hunt, raft and more.
The International Dark-Sky Association designated Norwood a Dark-Sky Community in 2019. In 2021, Nucla and Naturita joined it as a joint Dark-Sky Community. Now, all three of these towns are proud to hold the designation.
Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway • Rimrocker Museum • Hiking & Mountain Biking • OHVing the Rimrocker Trail • Norwood History Museum • Miramonte Reservoir • Lone Cone Peak • Thunder Trails • Shamrock (Y-11) Trail
At night, Ridgway offers a whole new dimension for outdoor adventures. Not only was Ridgway the third Colorado town designated as a Dark Sky Community by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2020, but Top of the Pines, a local recreation area at the foot of the Sneffels Mountain Range, was also designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2021.
The rising moon over the Cimarrons and San Juan peaks is a jaw-dropping sight, even when partially cloudy skies provide a beautiful glowing frame. The entire Ridgway area offers outstanding viewing of Colorado's celestial theater. Chipeta Solar Springs Resort, Orvis Hot Springs, Basecamp 550 and Double G Ranch & Lodge are great places to stay and enjoy stargazing. Top of the Pines and Frontier Park are dark corners of the community and open to the public with wide-open sky views every evening.
Best Places to See the Stars:
Top of the Pines • Frontier Park • Dennis Weaver Memorial Park • Orvis Hot Springs • Chipeta Solar Springs Resort & Spa • Double G Ranch & Lodge • Year-Round, One-Night Itinerary