Best Places to Stargaze in Washington Parks

In the great outdoors, the real show begins after the day is done
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in print in the June 2018 issue, as part of the "85 Best Outdoor Adventures" cover story. Click here to subscribe.

If you aren’t mesmerized by the view of the heavens above from Artist Point, perched at 5,000 feet elevation in an otherworldly alpine saddle between two of the Cascades’ most iconic peaks (Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker), you probably aren’t much of a stargazer. For the rest of us, Artist Point, about a two hour's drive east of Bellingham, is like a front-row seat at the Greatest Show Not on Earth. On a clear night when the moon is a sliver or less, it’s a party up there. Bring a snack or drink to share and one of your new astronomy-crazed friends will probably let you look through their telescope. But even if all you have is the naked eye for your views skyward, this ultimate in wide-angle views is as dazzling as anything you could ever see in the “real world” down below.

If you have the luxury of choosing when to stargaze at Artist Point, go for one of the Perseid meteor showers, when you can see between 60 and 200 meteors an hour streaking across the night sky if atmospheric conditions oblige. This annual celestial display will peak in intensity this year over the August 11–12 weekend. But even without such a special show, Ursa Major, Hercules, Pegasus and other constellations visible from the Northern Hemisphere are sure to twinkle down at you, weather willing.

Can’t make it to Artist Point? These remote locations, with convenient campsites, also offer star-bright views.

The sparsely populated Olympic Peninsula is ideal for stargazing, with many areas removed from human-caused light. Pitch a tent at one of more than 150 campsites at Kalaloch Campground, on the southwest coast of the peninsula, and walk down the stairs to the beach to enjoy a starry night. Or head to the Hoh Rain Forest, where—despite its name—summers are relatively dry. Spend the night gazing at the stars from one of the more than 75 first-come, first-served Hoh Campground sites.

During the day, Baker Lake, on the west side of North Cascades National Park and roughly 9 miles from Mount Baker, sparkles, surrounded by mountains scraping a wide-open sky. Spend the night at one of the nine shoreline campsites at Panorama Point Campground to take in a wide-open view of the starry skies.

Just east of Stevens Pass, Lake Wenatchee stands at 1,800 feet above sea level and miles away from civilization. View the stars from one of the 23 lakeside sites at Glacier View Campground.

You’ll travel several miles down a dirt road to reach Mount Rainier National Park's Mowich Lake (via the park's Carbon River entrance) but the payoff is some serious seclusion, making it a perfect place to take in the starlight at one of the handful of campsites here

GETTING THERE
Unless you want to snowshoe or ski your way up, plan to visit Artist Point during the brief summer window (July–September) when the Forest Service plows the road out from under some of the deepest snows in the country. Follow State Route 542 from the forest primeval lowlands around Bellingham for 57 miles as it twists and winds its way up beyond the tree line to the end of the road at Artist Point. Since many backpackers use the parking lot there as their springboard into the lake-studded Mount Baker Wilderness for overnights, no one will stop you from spending the night there as long as you have a Northwest Forest Pass displayed on your dashboard.

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