Cindy Richards

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Image of a nighttime landscape with a tree in a field and a starry, nebulous sky.

Don't sleep on these nighttime spectacles and experiences

From total eclipses to swirling auroras, a world of magic awaits behind our dark skies.

When the sun sets, a world of magic emerges.

You’ve heard of chasing the sun. But did you know chasing dark skies can be just as thrilling? Ahead, we dive into a dazzling world of darkness – one characterized by mind-blowing eclipses, certified dark parks and dancing auroras – including where you can catch these captivating sights.

Spectacle of shadows

Incomparable to any dawn or dusk you’ve beheld, a total solar eclipse is a spectacle of shadows and extends far beyond a darkening sky. Peeking out from the edge of a black sun in the moments near totality, you’ll see prominences, ribbons of solar flares located on the sun’s surface that reach millions of miles into space. Venus and Jupiter typically make an appearance as well, along with shadow bands – long, dark bands separated by white spaces reflected on the ground and nearby buildings.

If the thought of witnessing this phenomenon fills you with excitement, we have good news: The next total solar eclipse will come to North America on April 8, 2024. Set to stretch from Texas to Maine, its path includes over 13 eastern states, lasting about five minutes. While not really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you’ll have to wait nine years to see another eclipse of its kind fall over our nation.

Windows to the universe

Some of the most stunning parts of our country reveal their true beauty after sunset. That’s because there are more than 60 dark sky parks, communities and reserves in the U.S., all of which have been certified by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). These include 12 of 63 national parks, such as the Grand Canyon and Big Bend.

To be considered an IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP), an area must offer exceptional views of starry skies and a pristine nocturnal environment unencumbered by light pollution. Visitors can expect sparkling displays of celestial objects that range from constellations and meteors to parts of our very own galaxy. This is particularly enticing when you consider that light pollution makes it impossible for 80% of Americans to see the Milky Way.

Yearning for a peek into the universe? Consider visiting Utah, which has the most IDSPs and places on Earth. Prefer staying on the East Coast? Virginia has more IDSPs than any other state east of the Mississippi River. And if dark parks don’t suffice, elevate your stargazing plans with the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve – the only International Dark Sky Reserve in the country – and its 1,500 square miles of dazzling darkness nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains.

An otherworldly nightscape

Characterized by ethereal hues of green, violet, red and yellow swirling across the evening sky, the aurora borealis is a sight to behold. This natural marvel, born of charged sun particles colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere, is typically best seen from northern locations. But you don’t have to venture into the Arctic for a glimpse. There are a handful of U.S. parks where you can see these mystical lights when conditions are right. These include Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, where you’re most likely to see the lights during autumn, and Minnesota’s Cook County, whose skyscraping mountain peaks offer a breathtaking backdrop for the dancing auroras.

Sources: nationaleclipse.com; nationalgeographic.com; nature.com; space.com; travelquesttours.com; visittheusa.com; visitutah.com