Glacier After Dark: Night Skies Bring out Stars

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See stars galore in the world's first transboundary dark sky park

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The night sky holds marvels that few people still see, in fact, many people in North America no longer see the stars from their homes because of light pollution. Due to exceptionally dark skies, Glacier National Park in tandem with Waterton Lakes National Park has been recognized as the world’s first transboundary dark skies park. What better place to go to see celestial beauty?

Plan your visit sometime in July, August, or September to attend ranger-led programs. Avoid nights around the full moon as its light obscures the stars. If you find difficulties staying up late, schedule your trip in late August or September when skies turn dark earlier. Then, after dark, discover the night sky bursting with stars and the Milky Way.

Day 1 in Glacier National Park

You’ve been taught to avoid staring directly at the sun. But today is an exception. In Apgar, a ranger operates a special telescope designed for daytime solar viewing. You can look straight at the sun, earth’s nearest star, without fear of damaging your eyes.

Later that night as the sky darkens, drop in to Apgar Visitor Center parking lot. You can look through a giant telescope, and a park astronomer can explain the sights. For more instruction on what to see, bring binoculars.

Plan to stay for one night in nearby lodging at Apgar Village or West Glacier. You can also camp at Fish Creek Campground or Apgar Campground.

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Day 2

Today is about learning in preparation for tomorrow’s adventure. Since you’ll be driving Going-to-the-Sun Road at night, you’ll become familiar with its narrow curves by daylight. Tour the road, stopping at overlooks for photos. Skip Logan Pass as you’ll be back tomorrow.

Check into accommodations at Rising Sun or St. Mary for two nights at cabins, motels, or lodges. You can also camp at Rising Sun or St. Mary.

Then, go to St. Mary Visitor Center shortly after sunset for a free ranger-led astronomy program. “Half the Park Happens After Dark” introduces participants to the current layout in the night sky. You’ll learn the stories behind a few constellations, identify planets, and garner plenty of knowledge about celestial activity to help out tomorrow night.

Day 3

Departing in late afternoon, head back up Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass. You’ll reach the pass when the parking lot begins to thin and crowds disappear.

Hike to Hidden Lake Overlook, eat a sack dinner, and then return to the parking lot by sunset. After dusk, pull out your binoculars to watch stars pop out one by one in your own self-guided stargazing adventure. Scan the night sky for stars, watch satellites, look for planets, and wait. A few hours after dark, the Milky Way spreads out across the sky.

If your travels coincide with a Logan Pass Star Party, pick up a ticket for entry. Multiple astronomers guide sky tours during these ultra-popular events. You’ll get a chance to gaze through giant telescopes at constellations and nebulae overhead.

And the skies? They are so dark that a myriad of stars appear as night waxes on.

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