For centuries, people gazing at the sky after sunset could see thousands of vibrant, sparkling stars. But these days, you’ll be lucky if you can view the Big Dipper.
The culprit: electric beams pouring from homes and street lamps, whose brightness obscures the night sky. In the U.S., so-called light pollution has gotten so bad that, by one estimate, 8 out of 10 children born today will never encounter a sky dark enough for them to see the Milky Way.
There is hope, however, in the form of astrotourism, a small but growing industry centered on stargazing in the world’s darkest places (as certified by groups that track light pollution). These remote sites, many of them in national parks, offer stunning views for little more than the cost of a campsite. And the people who run them often work to reduce light pollution in surrounding communities–asking towns to modify their street lamps, for example, or urging residents to draw their blinds.
Although astrotourism may not be as luxurious as some vacations, travelers don’t seem to mind. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) says 38 of its 64 “dark sky” places have been designated since the beginning of 2014 and visits are up across the board. Here’s a look at some of the most noteworthy sites in the U.S.
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HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK
Although not officially an IDA-certified site (yet), the Maui park is widely recognized as a stargazing mecca. It offers several campsites, accessible by trail and car.
CHERRY SPRINGS STATE PARK
Amateur astronomers can rent mini-observatories for $25 per night, but BYOT (bring your own telescope). The park says overall campground usage almost doubled from 2014 to 2015.
COSMIC CAMPGROUND, GILA NATIONAL FOREST
These exceptionally dark 3.5 acres are more than 40 miles from the nearest major light source. The campground recently became the IDA’s first American “sanctuary,” its strictest designation.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
For about $12 per adult entry (kids visit free) and $14 per night per campsite, you can check out one of America’s best nightscapes. The park also hosts night hikes and telescope viewings.
HOVENWEEP NATIONAL MONUMENT
Visitors to the ruins can camp or stargaze near structures like Hovenweep Castle, which was built by Puebloans around 1250.
This appears in the May 30, 2016 issue of TIME.
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