Amazing Things

7 national parks with unforgettable nighttime views

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Whether they are deep within the forest or in the wide open plains, many of our national parks are far removed from the bustle of city life. During the day, they can be packed with tourists, but at night, the quiet isolation of these parks is magical — and full of breathtaking sights.

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Star trails zoom over Dante’s View at Death Valley National Park in California. (Photo: youngil_pyun/Flickr)

Death Valley may be a scorcher in the daytime, but the extremely hot temperatures wane at night. This national park is full of wildlife that often will not emerge until after sunset, so an evening stroll is your best bet for spotting animals.

A certified “Gold Tier” International Dark Sky Park, Death Valley has little light pollution — it’s far from the city and the park takes special measures to reduce lighting within the park.

The park is one of the most spectacular vantage points to see the Milky Way, but a full moon also offers an amazing experience.

“Exploring Death Valley by the light of the full moon is like seeing a completely different place as the moon casts dramatic shadows on a once-familiar landscape,” reads the official NPS guide for Death Valley National Park.

Arches National Park, Utah

Photographer John Fowler recommends finding a spot away from other night photographers to get the night sky shot you want. (Photo: John Fowler/Flickr)

With upwards of 50 campsites to choose from, Arches National Park is a must-see evening destination.

In the park’s guide, writer Alicia Lafever likens the views at Arches National Park to a museum filled with invaluable jewels:

At night, the overhead lighting is turned off and the vault is opened. The prized jewels are displayed in the sky in the form of planets, stars and the Milky Way. It is a constant struggle to keep these valuables in Arches’ gallery because they are so fragile. Each decision the park and the local community makes about outdoor lighting affects their future. It’s a big responsibility for each and every one of us to ensure that these jewels remain for all to see.

A storm rolls through Arches National Park at night. (Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

As you enjoy the sound of silence (or perhaps the distant rumble of a thunderstorm), you can thank a 1995 initiative to replace the campgrounds’ power source from noisy diesel generators to a hybrid system that relies more heavily on solar technology.

The park’s intriguing sandstone formations make unique silhouettes against the bright night sky.

Glacier National Park, Montana

The night sky reflects off of Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park. (Photo: Diana Robinson/Flickr)

When it comes to camping, Glacier National Park’s backcountry campgrounds stand out, but be advised: with bears afoot, night hikes are not recommended. Instead, post up and enjoy the cool weather and clear night sky views.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The iconic foliage of Joshua Tree National Park takes on an otherworldly silhouette in this starry sky photo. (Photo: Joshua Tree National Park/Flickr)

In this fascinating park, two deserts collide: the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. The spiky ocotillo plants and cacti dot the landscape alongside Joshua trees, and the desert landscape eventually meets juniper and pine trees at the Little San Bernardino Mountains. These natural landmarks create stunning silhouettes against the night sky, which almost always glows bright with the light of the Milky Way.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The Milky Way reflects in the still waters of Firehole Lake at Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Yellowstone National Park/Flickr)

Yellowstone National Park is well known for its varied geological and natural formations, but the sightseeing doesn’t stop when the sun sets! The park offers more than 1,500 campsites and more than 2,000 rooms in its lodges, not to mention ample backcountry camping opportunities. With so many options, why not spend the night?

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The arches at Canyonlands National Park add intrigue to night sky views. (Photo: Chao Yen/Flickr)

Park staff at Canyonlands National Park recommend staying for several days or a week for backcountry tours. Many of this park’s most amazing landmarks are also stunning at night.

Yosemite National Park, California

The moon shines over Mono Lake in Yosemite National Park. (Photo: Pacheco Photography/Flickr)

Many national parks offer evening tours, but programs at Yosemite National Park go above and beyond. Stargazing tours give lessons about constellations and show visitors the most beautiful nighttime spots. There are also more active programs, like theNight Prowls exploration tour, Full Moon Bike Rides or Full Moon Snowshoe Walks.

Regardless of your activity at Yosemite, the night sky views will captivate you until dawn…

The Milky Way shines bright over Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park. (Photo: snooked123/Flickr)

Anna Norris is an associate editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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