Dark sky tourism, also known as astro-tourism, is quickly becoming a popular vacation experience.
We’ll explain what it is and why people love it. We’ll also give you a list of some great destination options. From packing appropriate clothes to comparing Allianz travel insurance with other options, you can follow our tips for the best dark-sky travel experience.
Factors Contributing to Astrotourism Popularity
Dark sky tourism provides a novel experience, especially for people who live in heavily light-polluted cities.
The Desire for New Night Sky Experiences Spurs the Industry
Travelers are always searching for something new. Many people who live in urban areas have never seen the Milky Way or watched a meteor flash across the sky. They may see pictures of the Aurora Borealis and imagine how they’d feel to witness such a site in person.
In a world where 80% of people can’t see the Milky Way from their backyard, astro-tourism allows them to plan a trip to see the wonders of the night sky.
Night Sky Viewing Provides Primal Connection With Nature
There’s something about feeling your smallness when viewing constellations many light years away that creates an experience many describe as overwhelming.
You can get caught up in the fact that what you’re viewing is actually thousands of years into the past. You might also feel how small you are in light of the universe’s enormity and beyond.
Localities Are Focusing on Eliminating Light Pollution
Light pollution is something many people don’t think about. In the past few years, cities and towns have started to address the issue.
The communities surrounding Glacier National park are an example of cities taking action. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) designated Glacier National Park as an International Dark Sky Park. But the parks need the partnership of neighboring cities and towns to reduce light pollution even more.
Kalispell and Whitefish, two of the biggest towns around Glacier, have established night-sky-friendly ordinances to minimize light pollution. Their efforts make Glacier National Park an astro-tourism destination.
Best Places to View the Night Sky
Any location certified as an International Dark Sky Park meets the criteria set forth by the IDA and will provide minimal light pollution for clear sky viewing. The following list can spark your enthusiasm for researching more night sky destinations.
Glacier National Park
As mentioned above, Glacier National Park in Montana has put great effort into ensuring visitors have a clear sky-viewing experience.
Glacier has adopted the motto, “half the park happens after dark”. Visitors can watch the night sky on their own anywhere the sky is visible. The Big Sky Astronomy Club and park Rangers host regular events at Logan Pass. And the Apgar and St. Mary Visitor Centers host nightly star parties where visitors can learn about and observe the sky with telescopes.
Great Basin National Park
Located in Nevada between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, Utah, Great Basin National Park is a dark-sky destination. Thanks to the arid climate and low humidity, visitors have a low chance of cloud cover impeding their viewing plans.
Another activity that sets Great Basin apart is its Star Train. In partnership with the Nevada Northern Railroad, the park service hosts train rides through the town of Ely. The train then travels into the country, where it stops, and passengers disembark to view the night sky through telescopes courtesy of the park service.
The Star Train is popular, so plan and purchase tickets early.
Capitol Reef National Park
Several national parks in Utah are distinguished Dark Sky Parks, and Capitol Reef is one of them. They earned the highest dark sky designations, the gold tier. The atmosphere above Capitol Reef is especially transparent, thanks to the park’s location and climate.
Capitol Reef started a dark sky program for visitors in 2000 and has been developing it since. So, tourists can enjoy nightly educational programs and access to viewing the sky through high-powered telescopes.
Preparing for Astrotourism
There are a couple of steps to help you enjoy your experience to the fullest.
Because astro-tourism is so popular, many programs require reservations that fill up quickly. So ease your travel worries and plan ahead, giving you better chances of obtaining admission to night sky events.
You can also ease your travel anxiety by brushing up on tips to drive safely at night.
If you’re embarking on a trip for which you invested significant assets, you should consider travel insurance. That way, if something happens to delay or cancel your plans, you can recoup some of that investment. Comparing travel insurance policies from top providers like Allianz, AIG, and Travelguard can help you find the coverage right for you at the best price.
Pack Appropriate Clothing
The temperature tends to decrease at night, especially if you’re at high altitudes. For example, if you’re visiting a park at 6,000 feet elevation, it can often be 85 degrees during the day and drop to 50 degrees at night.
You won’t be able to enjoy the night skies as fully if you’re distracted by feeling cold. So, pack blankets and sweatshirts. You might also want to bring a chair or pillow to be more comfortable as you observe the night skies.
With some preparation, you’ll set yourself up for an incredible dark skies trip of a lifetime.
Melanie Musson writes and researches for the insurance comparison site, ExpertInsuranceReviews.com. She’s passionate about travel and helping people understand how travel insurance can protect their travel investment.