Whether you’re a newbie or an astrophotographer (that’s a real thing!) whose sole purpose in life is to capture DSOs in the nebulae through equatorial-mounted optical telescopes with extended exposure times, the Grand Canyon State’s the place for you.
If you drive away from the major metro cities in the middle of the state—the light pollution from Phoenix, Mesa and Chandler may be visible up to 200 miles away on hazy nights—you’ll find unpolluted dark skies as far as the eye can see. In fact, with 16 designated communities for the celestially inclined, the state has more certified “Dark Sky Places” than anywhere else in the world. That’s kind of a big deal.
Where are the best places to stargaze in Arizona? While you can get lost in the etherealness of the Milky Way just about anywhere, you’ll want to take a ride to discover the darkest sky for stargazing in summer. So, pack up your Honda Pilot with a cooler, a tent and your telescope, then navigate your way to these popular places to see stars in Arizona.
15 Best Stargazing Spots Near Phoenix, AZ
When’s the best time to see stars in Arizona? Anytime the sky is dark, the stars will be out. However, the best seasons to stargaze in Arizona are spring and summer, specifically April through June/early July. Better hop to it!
1. Tonto National Monument
If you don’t want to travel too far from home to see meteor showers and constellations, definitely check out Tonto to stargaze near Phoenix.
Just 100 miles from the center of Phoenix, Tonto is a surprisingly decent place to stargaze. Light pollution is minimal, even being so close to the hustle and bustle of a big city, thanks to some significant updates made throughout the Monument. Lighting fixtures were retrofitted with special bulbs to reduce artificial light, monitoring stations were set up to collect data, and features were adapted to meet the standards of the International Dark Sky Park project. In doing so, Tonto National Monument was officially declared a Dark Sky Park in 2019.
Visit https://www.nps.gov/tont/index.htm for more information.
2. Four Peaks Wilderness Area
One of the best areas to see stars in Tonto is the Four Peaks Wilderness Area. It’s perhaps the most recognizable landmark in central AZ, yet the region’s trails and camps are relatively unpopular at night, making them quiet stargazing spots.
3. Picketpost Mountain
Nicknamed “The Windmill Site,” Picketpost Mountain is a favorite amongst local astronomy clubs (so you know it’s a good place to see stars). Located in Tonto, near an elegant arboretum, the spot offers dark skies, miles of uninhabited desert, and several towing rock formations that are ideal for astrophotography in Arizona.
4. Sears Kay Ruin
Another quiet, remote spot to see the night sky near Phoenix is Sears Kay Ruin, just northeast of Cave Creek and by Seven Springs.
5. Coconino National Forest (Parsons Trail)
Spend the weekend camping out in Coconino, near Parsons Trail, for day hikes and excellent views of the night sky. Located just outside of Clarkdale, the area is one of the top places in Arizona to camp. It has a unique mix of colorful basalt and sandstone cliffs, which give stargazers the perfect vantage point, too. When the Yawn Fairies pay you a visit, simply take the short trek back to camp for a snooze.
What a great opportunity to break out your Honda Pilot tent! It sleeps 6 people within its 10’x10’ living area, comes with a 6’x6’ rainfly for mud-free entering and exiting, and is directly attached to your Pilot’s liftgate, granting you instant access to the cabin (and its Rear Entertainment System) at any time. Speak with any of our Honda dealerships in Arizona to order a tent for your Honda Pilot.
Note: During monsoon and flood seasons (June-September), the trails can become treacherous. Visit www.fs.usda.gov for more information.
6. Mogollon Rim
During the next meteor shower above Arizona, plan a trip to the Mogollon Rim for a viewing party. Some parts of Mogollon are over 2,000 feet above ground level, giving you wide open views of the darkest sky you’ll ever see. Thanks to numerous horseback trails, lakes, and camping areas, Mogollon also makes for an excellent weekend vacation in Arizona.
7. Aerie Trailhead in Dry Creek
Who needs nature? Set up for an evening of star-seeing in the Aerie Trailhead parking lot within the Dry Creek area of Sedona. You get a full view of the Verde Valley from there, and there is almost no light or people to interfere with your experience. You can also take the Cockscomb Trail, just a few hundred yards from the parking lot, to get a view of the stars from another vantage point.
8. Grand Canyon
You can’t sightsee in Arizona without Grand Canyon stargazing! Camping out here is like a rite of passage for any wanderlusting vacationer traveling through the state.
For a quieter experience under the stars, we recommend the remote camping sites or rentable cabins located along the North Rim. Only 10% of Grand Canyon tourists stay here, so you’ll get some alone-time.
June is a good time to stargaze at the Grand Canyon, as the local astronomy groups host their annual Grand Canyon Star Party event.
9. Bright Angel Point
Located on the North Rim, Bright Angel Point is the place to see the stars. Follow the paved walking trail up to its peak at night, set up your chairs and telescope, and pass the time in solitude.
10. Moran Point
A South Rim attraction, Moran Point, located at Mile Marker 258 on Desert View Drive, offers exciting views of the entire Grand Canyon. Due to its popularity, Moran Point is oftentimes busy with amateur stargazers and tourists.
11. Lipan Point
Just down Desert View Drive from Moran is Lipan Point (Mile Marker 263.5). From the peak, you can view not just the stars, but also the Hance whitewater rapids, Unkar Delta site, and the Grand Canyon Supergroup rock strata.
12. Desert View Watchtower
Although frequently closed, the Desert View Watchtower is every Arizona astrophotographer’s home away from home. From the Observation Deck, you’re treated to one of the most pristine landscape views of the horizon. If you have room for just one more picture, save it for this. (You and your scrapbook will thank us.)
13. Hovatter Airstrip – Arizona Marathon Observing Site
Situated in an abandoned airport (Hovatter Airstrip) about two hours west of Phoenix, this stargazing spot, colloquially named “The Antenna Site,” is out in the middle of nowhere. The Saguaro Astronomy Club frequents the spot, however, so you’ll be in good company.
If you choose to spend a weekend stargazing near Vicksburg, don’t forget to pack the essentials since the area is 100% remote! This includes a good, reliable all-terrain vehicle, like the new Honda Passport with torque-vectoring AWD. Thanks to Passport’s Intelligent Traction Management system and one-touch power moonroof, neither mud nor sand nor wind storms will deter you from enjoying the darkest sky in Arizona.
14. Cochise Stronghold
To really get away from light pollution, take the long trek south, past Tucson, and enjoy the Coronado National Forest. There, you’ll discover a quaint camping area: Cochise Stronghold. It’s surrounded by the Dragoon Mountains and offers several hiking and equestrian trails, a primitive campground, and numerous places to see stars near Tucson.
15. Picacho Peak State Park
In between the big-wigs of Phoenix and Tucson is Picacho Peak. The mountains along the north help to blow some of Phoenix’s light pollution, while the Picacho Peak keeps out the light from Tucson. The result: An unadulterated, snapshot-worthy view of the Milky Way’s core.
Picacho is also a great location if you want to hike or camp. Get more information at azstateparks.com.
The Stars Align at Your Valley Honda Dealers
To find the darkest sky in Arizona, you first need to find a vehicle to get you through the desert. That’s where we step in. At any of our Honda dealerships near Phoenix, you’ll discover excellent deals on the best new Honda vehicles, including the Passport, Pilot and 2021 Honda Ridgeline, which can easily store your telescope in its in-bed trunk.
So, before you head out to see the stars, head into one of our Arizona car dealerships to get a quote on a five-star Honda in Phoenix.