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Colorado Stargazing Map Sept. 2021

Colorado Stargazing: Experience the Night connects several Colorado locations known for their dark skies and incredible stargazing opportunities. It also highlights dark-sky events and encourages the conservation and preservation of all of Colorado’s natural and cultural resources.

Among the locations below, visitors will find International Dark-Sky Association Designated Communities, areas just starting the designation process and everything in between. Regardless, all of these communities are unified by their high elevation and low humidity, allowing for some of the best stargazing in the world.

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Dark skies timelapse courtsey of Scott Dankof
Westcliffe's Wet Mountains courtesy of Lars Leber
Sangre de Cristo Mountains courtesy of Lars Leber
dilapidated truck in front of the Night skies near Cuchara
Night skies near Cuchara courtesy of Scot Mangold
Shooting stars near La Veta
Shooting stars near La Veta courtesy of Scot Mangold
Westcliffe's Scenic Views
Westcliffe's scenic views courtesy of Scott Dankof
town of silver cliff departure sign - "Thanks for visiting historic silver cliff"
A Silver Cliff farewell courtesy of Skyglow
Night lights in Crestone
Night lights in Crestone courtesy of Peter Ismert
Crestone's dark skies
Crestone's dark skies courtsey of Peter Ismert
Nighttime at the Great Sand Dunes
Nighttime at the Great Sand Dunes courtsey of NPS/Patrick Myers
The moon over Great Sand Dunes
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
Lake City views courtesy of Michael Underwood
Stargazers in Westcliffe courtesy of Mike Pach
Westcliffe stargazers courtesy of Mike Pach
The Milky Way in Gunnison
Milky Way in Gunnison courtesy of Matt Burt
Stars over Nucla, Naturita and Norwood courtesy of Nola Svoboda
Stars over Nucla, Naturita and Norwood courtesy of Nola Svoboda
camping tent at night in westcliffe colorado

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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

Smokey Jack ObservatoryDeWeese ReservoirRosita 

Events:

Virtual Star Party Livestreams from the Smokey Jack Observatory • Private Star Parties

Top Attractions:

Go for a HikeFrontier Pathways Scenic & Historic BywayLocal Art GalleriesMission: WolfSummer Music FestivalsAll Aboard Westcliffe and The Silver Cliff Museum

Photo courtsey of Scott Dankof

night sky in lake city, colorado

Lake City

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, 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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

Windy Point Observation SiteWupperman Campground at Lake San Cristobal • The Slumgullion Center

Events:

Wednesday Stargazing Sessions

Top Attractions:

Alpine Loop Scenic & Historic BywayClimbing a FourteenerHinsdale County Museum100+ Miles of Groomed Winter TrailsFishing

Photo courtesy of Michael Underwood

Night Skies in Creede

Creede

Discover 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 former 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 dark 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, ATVing and mountain biking in the summer, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice-skating in the winter.

Best Places to See the Stars:

The Bachelor Loop Historic TourLove LakePool Table Road

Events:

Headwater Alliance Night Sky Measurement Training • Headwaters Alliance Star Party

Top Attractions:

Creede Historical MuseumUnderground Mining MuseumCreede Repertory TheatreSilver Thread Scenic BywayWheeler Geologic Area

Photo courtesy of Clinton Weaver

night sky in great sand dunes national park

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve features North American’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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

The Park's Main Dune Field

Top Attractions:

Hike & Explore the Various Landscapes & TerrainPhotograph the Various EcosystemsCheck Out the Visitor CenterCamp at the Pinon Flats CampgroundWhen Medano Creek is Flowing, Pack a Picnic & Go Wading

Photo courtsey of NPS/Patrick Myers

night sky in crestone, colorado

Crestone

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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

Baca National Wildlife Refuge • Orient Land Trust • Joyful Journey Hot Springs • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve • Designated in-town locations

Events:

1st Annual Crestone Community Dark Sky Celebration

Top Attractions:

More than 15 spiritual centersHike the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness • Hike to Willow Lake • North Crestone Creek Campground • Baca National Wildlife Refuge • Orient Land Trust • Joyful Journey Hot Springs 

 

Photo courtesy of Peter Ismert

stars at night in la veta, colorado

La Veta

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 combine with the area’s incredible dark 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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

Southern Colorado Astronomical ParkUptop Historic District

Events:

Rocky Mountain Star Stare

Top Attractions:

Art GalleriesFrancisco Fort Museum • Live Music at La Veta Mercantile & Deerprint Wine & BistroWahatoya Lakes State Wildlife AreaFrancisco Center for the Performing Arts

Photo courtesy of Bob Vixie

Night skies in Cuchara

Cuchara

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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

Cuchara Mountain ParkBear Lake CampgroundBlue Lake Campground

Events:

Rocky Mountain Star Stare

Top Attractions:

Cuchara Mountain ParkHighway of Legends Audio TourThe Bear’s Den Mini GolfCuchara River Recreation AreaCordova Pass 

Photo courtesy of Scot Mangold

Night Sky in Gunnison

Gunnison

Incorporated on February 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 Cattleman’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.

Best Places to See the Stars:

Hartman Rocks • Taylor Canyon • Blue Mesa Reservoir • Gunnison Valley Observatory

Events:

A Star is Born (July) • Constellations: Stories in the Sky • Our Marvelous Moon (July) • Extraordinary Exoplanets • A Star is Born (August) • Our Marvelous Moon (August)

Top Attractions:

Hartman Rocks • Curecanti National Recreation Area • Blue Mesa Reservoir • Taylor Canyon • Taylor Park Reservoir • Black Canyon of the Gunnison • Pioneer Museum

Photo courtesy of Matt Burt

Night sky in Nucla, Naturita & Norwood

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. 

Best Places to See the Stars:

Ledges Rockhouse Campground • Pinto Mesa • Naturita Town Park • Hanging Flume Overlook • Wright's Mesa • Miramonte Reservoir

Top Attractions:

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

Photo courtesy of Derick Wilson