Austin is well-known for various reasons, including its picturesque outdoor spaces such as Lady Bird Lake, Barton Creek Greenbelt and Zilker Park. However, finding a perfect spot to stargaze can be challenging because of the city and light pollution.
Light pollution is becoming more common in our understanding of the ecosystem and environmental awareness. This kind of pollution doesn’t only affect humans in their night routine but also plants and animals. Plants and animals rely on Earth’s daily cycle of light and darkness to regulate behavior patterns such as reproduction, nutrition, sleep and predator protection.
Fortunately, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department aims to protect our dark skies and even records the night sky brightness in Texas state parks in a database. They use the Bortle scale rating to measure the luminance, ranging from one to nine — one being for very dark skies to nine for bright city skies. Luckily, we’ve compiled a roundup of the best places to go stargazing in Austin and Texas.
Because of the city lights, there aren’t many places to go stargazing in Austin, but there is a program within the 40 acres. The University of Texas at Austin has some fantastic programs for stargazing. For example, if you want to avoid traveling far to stargaze, the university has a program called Star Parties, which are public viewings of the stars and constellations hosted by the Department of Astronomy. On Wednesday nights, the 16-inch reflector telescope at the Physics, Math and Astronomy building is open. On Friday and Saturday nights, the 9-inch refractor at Painter Hall is open.
While Austin may not have the best stargazing opportunities, there are many other places to visit in Texas. Beyond the city lights and light pollution that surrounds the city, there are a number of places where one can enjoy the best of what the dark skies have to offer.
Canyon Of The Eagles Resort has a travel time of about 90 minutes from Austin, and its Bortle scale ranges around three and a half. The 940-acre park is fun for any outdoor experience but hosts three activities centered around the night sky. One is an observatory where visitors have access to two sets of telescopes to observe bright planets, star clusters and distant galaxies. The other two include a movie night under the stars and a special astronomy presentation.
Enchanted Rock is not only great for hiking and climbing but also for stargazing. Located about one hour and 45 minutes away from Austin, the 1,600 acres of nature lead to the perfect escape from the city’s light pollution for ideal stargazing. It’s rated a three on the Bortle scale, and there are multiple events or star parties arranged by park rangers to hike and stargaze.
Lost Maples State Natural Area is also rated a three on the Bortle scale and is about three hours from Austin. The park allows for star parties or solo stargazing. With scenic views of the Hill Country and along the Sabinal River’s border, it makes for a perfect evening.
Lastly, Big Bend National Park is one the best places to go for stargazing not just in the state of Texas but in the whole country. Though it is about a 6- to 7-hour drive from Austin, it may be worth it as it’s rated a one on the Bortle scale. The International Dark-Sky Association also awarded Big Bend the International Dark Sky Park title.
Throughout the year, the Big Bend staff and volunteers provide a variety of night sky educational programs. From star parties to moonlight walks, their programs promote discussions about the importance of night skies. To avoid a big group, Big Bend also encourages solo stargazing and asks visitors to bring a pair of binoculars. Staff recommends setting up your stargazing venture far from a developed area of the park for a night of meteor showers, constellation observing, Milky Way viewing or night sky photography.
While options for stargazing are limited in Austin, the beauty of living in a large state permits Texans to visit many places for a great night of stargazing.