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Dark in the Park: Zion Offers a Glimpse at the Marvelous Night Sky

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In 2021, Zion National Park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park by The National Park Service and the International Dark Sky Association. It joins the other parks of Utah’s Mighty Five to crown the state as the one with more dark sky parks than other location in the world.

Zion National Park is already chalked full of reasons to visit – it’s 229 square miles with awe in every direction, 35 diverse hiking trails, cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor and more species of plants than the Hawaiian Islands. But one must not forget the park at night is also simply awe-inspiring and magical.

Temples and Towers taken from Museum Patio NPS Avery Sloss 1
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Although most people would agree that Zion was already a top destination for stargazing before it received the certification, having it just verifies the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies, which provides casual and professional astronomers and photographers alike views of the stars, planets and galaxies that rival the red cliffs and towering sandstone walls.

Zion’s picturesque backdrops and vibrant colors have made it a place where photographers can be seen practicing their craft around every corner. If you’ve visited before, chances are you’ve either brought your own camera or you’ve stopped and waited patiently for someone who has, allowing them to capture the perfect shot. In fact, the park offers so many awe-inspiring photo ops that the average picture of Zion most likely averages more hearts and thumb-ups than just about any baby photo on social media. (Fact checking not required here.)

Watchman from Parus NPS Avery Sloss 1
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With a tripod and a shutter release remote, capturing a star-filled night sky in Zion is as easy as pressing a button. Let’s be honest, the Mother Nature does most of the work anyways and you’re just there to capture it. However, make sure you’re planning your photoshoot around The Sun and The Moon as moonlight can diminish starry skies. The moonlight sure looks pretty when it hits the canyon walls, but there’s just something about that perfect dark-sky photo that brings an overwhelming feeling of excitement and accomplishment. It’s truly a once in a lifetime view.

So, whether you’re capturing it on camera or simply in your memory, the treasures of the park extend to the night sky. If you’re on the lookout for the perfect viewing location, make sure to find an area with a low horizon and away from ambient light. The Pa’Rus Trail and Human History Museum patio are two highly recommended options, due to the fact that they are in the widest part of the canyon and you won’t find any headlights nearby.

Get an early start and take in the sunset with a picnic, but plan to stay for a while because total darkness won’t occur until 90 minutes after the sun goes down. Just remember to pack-in and pack-out, and leave no trace. Then marvel at the older-than-time show like you won’t see outside of this dark, dark sky.

A Little History

The International Dark Sky Places Program (by the International Dark-Sky Association) was founded in 2001 as a non-regulatory and voluntary program to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. It’s goal is to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. Each International Dark Sky Place follows a rigorous application process that demonstrates robust community support for dark sky certification.

The first National Park Service unit to receive the certification was Utah’s own Natural Bridges National Monument in 2007.