Have you ever gone stargazing in Yellowstone National Park?
If you live in a metropolitan area, or even a rural area outside a city, it’s going to be impossible, or at least very difficult, to see the night sky. It’s as if there are no stars to see, no Milky Way to ponder.
Of course, the stars have never gone away. What’s changed, obviously, is the amount of light at night, from city lights, from streetlights. This phenomenon is called “light pollution.”
Yellowstone benefits from being in a large pocket of relatively unpolluted airspace, far away from urban areas. In other words, when it gets dark, it really gets dark. It’s not a certified Dark Sky Place, but its clarity is unsurpassed compared to, say, the skies above New York City.
The best part about Yellowstone stargazing, and stargazing in general, is all it needs is the right conditions. No equipment needed (though a telescope or a pair of binoculars will help you see things in greater detail) and no literature needed (although if you want to pick out constellations, you should get a star chart). A moonless sky offers the easiest conditions for seeing the night sky. Your eyes will need to adjust to the lack of light, but that only takes ~20 minutes.
Now, if you want to stargaze in Yellowstone, there are a few specific things you’ll need to know and do.
Location, Location, Location
Conceivably, you can stargaze anywhere in Yellowstone National Park; there isn’t one pocket of the Park that’s more lighted or less lighted, at least along the Grand Loop Road. That said, unless you’re camping or in the backcountry overnight, you should pick an area that lets you see the sky but also ensures you aren’t endangering yourself by heading too far out into the dark. Stick to visitor infrastructure.
The Old Faithful Area makes for a great Yellowstone stargazing base. The skies are open; you can sit around Old Faithful or on a bench in the Upper Geyser Basin. The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs also offer stunning vistas of the night sky, but you should be careful getting to and from them after dark. Lake Yellowstone is also a contender for stargazing.
It’s already a given all you need to see the night sky in Yellowstone is yourself, but what about having what you need to stay up late? If you want to see the Milky Way in July in the Northern Hemisphere, for instance, you’ll have to stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. So unless you’re a night owl by habit, you’ll probably need something to make it that late. And unless you brew it yourself—in your room, at a campsite—you’ll need something nice and caffeinated from one of the coffee counters in Yellowstone National Park. The Lake Deli, for instance, serves espresso up to 9 p.m. every night through the summer season.
Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Thankfully, you don’t have to be entirely nocturnal to see the Milky Way throughout the year. As summer progresses into fall, the Milky Way appears earlier and earlier. By the time September rolls around, the Milky Way will be crawling across the sky around 10 p.m. By the middle of October, 8 p.m.
And, even without the Milky Way, there are a bevy of stars to be seen in the night sky, just after dark.
Stars Over Yellowstone
Finally, if you want to experience some group Yellowstone stargazing, the Madison Amphitheater (at Madison Junction) will be offering a few evening programs. On Friday and Saturday (July 17 and 18), beginning at 9:30 p.m., there will be lectures on the possibility of extraterrestrial life and, at 10:30 p.m., collective stargazing from the Madison parking lot.