Oh, my stars! These 6 Texas state parks offer stellar stargazing

Stars
Stars (Pixabay)

Like one wildly popular Texas tune goes, the stars at night are big and bright and the prairie sky is wide and high, deep in the heart of Texas. But in Houston and the state’s other big cities? Not so much. Ironically, here in Space city, the solar system’s superior celestial sights elude us and Texas’s famous stars at night remain hidden behind some serious light pollution. Those who want to glimpse a meteor as it streaks across the night sky, gaze in wonder at the Milky Way, pick out a distant planet amid a twinkling sea of stars or simply trace a few familiar constellations, will have to motor a good ways away from as many bright city lights as possible. Basically, you need to find a locale with a low Bortle Scale. What is the Bortle Scale, you ask?

The Bortle Scale is a nine-level numeric scale which rates how well you can see celestial objects in a particular location, taking into account light pollution. The lower the number, the darker the night sky. The scale ranges from one, the darkest skies available on the planet (like Big Bend Ranch State Park), through nine, inner-city skies (like those at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site).

The Texas state parks that offer stellar stargazing opportunities are listed below with brief descriptions from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Suggestion: Crank this tasty Texas beat while you peruse the list.

Big Bend Ranch State Park (Big Bend Country)

Bortle Scale rating: 1

Big Bend Ranch State Park sits in the darkest area of the state. After all, we are on the other side of nowhere. The International Dark-Sky Association designated Big Bend Ranch State Park a gold tier Dark Sky Park in 2018. The best places for stargazing are along River Road, at the West Contrabando Trailhead, Big Hill and the Hoodoos. These spots offer great views, and are accessible by any vehicle.

1900 Sauceda Ranch Road, Marfa, TX 79845, (432) 358-4444

Cooper Breaks State Park (Panhandle Plains)

Bortle Scale rating: 2

The International Dark Sky Association has designated Copper Breaks as an International Dark Sky Park. The park offers monthly star parties April through November, as well as other night sky programs throughout the year.

777 Park Road 62, Quanah, TX 79252-7679, (940) 839-4331

Davis Mountains State Park (Big Bend Country)

Bortle Scale rating: 2

Find the coolest place in a hot state when you camp in mountains one mile high at this CCC-built park. The park is in the Davis Mountains, the most extensive mountain range fully contained in Texas. Motor into a full hookup site (with cable TV), backpack to a high overlook, make camp under the trees, check out the two beautiful wildlife viewing areas, or stop by Indian Lodge, located in the park. While you’re here, visit Fort Davis National Historic Site or attend a star party at the McDonald Observatory.

Texas Hwy. 118 N., Park Rd. 3, Fort Davis 79734, (432) 426-3337

Devils River State Natural Area (Big Bend Country)

Bortle Scale rating: 2

Fed by clear springs flowing from seeps and streams, the Devils River is one of the most pristine rivers in Texas. The state natural area is large, remote and has been named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Visit for day hiking, mountain biking, camping and paddling. All camping and facility stays are by reservation only.

1715 Dolan Creek Rd., Del Rio 78840, (830) 395-2133

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (Hill Country)

Bortle Scale rating: 3

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area mesmerizes with its geology, legends and natural beauty. Its rural dark sky also makes it one of the best public places for stargazing in Central Texas.

The skies here are still dark enough to view the Milky Way, but they need protection from encroaching city lights. We have taken significant steps to minimize nighttime lighting in the park.

Pick any place around the park to marvel at the vastness of our universe. Visit one of the park’s Rock Star Parties to learn about the constellations and see a shooting star.

16710 RR 965, Fredericksburg 78624, (830) 685-3636

South Llano River State Park (Hill Country)

Bortle Scale rating: 3

You’ll find lots to do at South Llano River State Park during the day. But the fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down. The park has a great view of the night sky, including the Milky Way! Check the park’s Events page for star parties and other scheduled events.

1927 Park Rd. 73, Junction 76849, (325) 446-3994

Where to stargaze in and around the Houston area:

Do you want to escape the hubbub of the city, breathe in some fresh air and gander at some of the solar system’s superior celestial sights but don’t have enough energy (or vacation days) to trek out to the middle of nowhere? Here are 4 Houston-area locales offering dark skies, relatively dark skies or a really big telescope ideal for stargazing in an area less than ideal for the practice at large.

More:

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Don’t get caught off guard. Before venturing out, familiarize yourself with adjusted hours and follow guidelines around social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures required by the destinations you visit.


About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.