Stargaze in Your Sleeping Bag: Best National Parks to Enjoy Fall Meteor Showers

couple watching meteor shower
The autumn night sky brings plenty of big opportunity for stargazers in North America. It’s prime-time to get crystal-clear glimpses of meteor showers, constellations, and planets. Meteor shower viewing is especially enjoyable during the fall months, when the Leonids, Taurids, and Geminids light up the night.
If you’re like most Americans and live in areas where a dark sky is elusive, you might want to consider traveling to a National Park to get a clear view of these bright, bewitching shows. When determining where to go to watch a meteor shower, you want to pay close attention to the weather and the recommendations of the International Dark-Sky Association. Of course, getting away from light pollution means, in many cases, getting out of town.
The National Parks of the American West are some of the darkest areas in the country, so they make great spots for viewing meteor showers. Just make sure you consider the weather — snow in Colorado, Alaska, Wyoming, and Idaho can definitely compromise your ability to see these showers in all their glory.

Leonids and Taurids in November

tent during meteor shower
On the mornings of November 17 and 18, the Leonid Meteor Shower — aptly named because it crosses the point of the sky where the constellation Leo lies — will light up the sky. Leonid is active annually and usually peaks around the middle of the month. Viewers can expect to see about 20 meteors per hour when the light show is at its zenith.
Around the same time, peaking on Nov. 10 and 11 in the Northern Hemisphere, the Taurids Meteor Shower will brighten the skies. Unlike Leonids, this shower doesn’t offer a ton of visible meteors or shooting stars, but astronomers don’t recommend missing it if you’re a fan of bright, eye-catching fireballs. Luckily, you can view both the Taurids and Leonids from a variety of points in the Northern Hemisphere.  
  • Canyonlands National Park — Southeast Utah’s Canyonlands National Park is always a popular destination for fall meteor showers. Winters are cold and bitter, but the great thing about this park is that large snowfalls are uncommon, except for at high elevations in the mountains. An average low of 30 degrees Fahrenheit in November is manageable for fall stargazers, so long as you bring your cold-weather gear.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument — Utah is truly one of the meteor-lover’s finest destinations. Natural Bridges National Monument in Lake Powell, Utah was the first international dark-sky park in the world designated by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2007. The National Parks Service reports that in some areas of the park, it’s possible to see up to 15,000 stars throughout the night!
  • Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument — Parashant, which lies just west of Grand Canyon National Park, is one of the most popular places for night sky viewing in Arizona. According to the National Park Service, a combination of high-elevation plateaus, clear air quality, a low population, and cloud-free weather make Parashant a top-notch pick for viewing meteors year-round, especially during the fall and winter when the weather can be unpredictable.


Geminids in December

meteor shower
The Geminids Meteor Shower is a must-watch for winter stargazers. This shower appears to emerge from the Gemini Constellation, hence the name Geminids. This asteroid meteor shower is unique in that it’s not comets that light up the night, but asteroids.
Viewers can expect to see about 120 meteors per hour at Geminids’ peak, which will be on the night of Dec. 13 and the morning of Dec. 14. We recommend migrating to warmer National Parks in Nevada and California to avoid cold, snowy weather and clouds.
  • Death Valley National ParkDeath Valley, which straddles California and Nevada, is another designated international dark-sky park, and for good reason: the stark, desert landscape means there’s less light pollution, making meteor-gazing all the more enjoyable. According to the National Park Service, some of the most popular spots to stargaze within Death Valley include the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Harmony Borax Works.
  • Great Basin National Park — Nevada’s Great Basin National Park is so popular among astronomy fans that it opened the Great Basin Observatory in 2016. It’s one of only two parks in the National Park Service with a deep-space viewing facility. Great Basin is one of the last remaining dark-sky areas within the lower 48, and provides viewers with unspoiled views of the sky unclouded by light pollution.