As fall and winter settle into Montana's Yellowstone Country, the night skies darken earlier, making it an ideal time for stargazing. Here, it's easy to step off the beaten path and find skies unpolluted with city lights and completely ablaze with beautiful constellations, bright planets, and a seemingly endless sky full of stars. Of course, the weather is still warm enough for camping or staying in a Forest Service Cabin, perfect for optimal gazing, but if you prefer a warm bed after your excursion, there are plenty of options to stay in town.
Watching a night sky calculator will help identify the darkest time of night, but you can also time your excursions around the new moon when the stars are most visible.
The region is rural, with plenty of space between towns, making it easy to seek out the stars no matter where you are. But we've got you covered if you're looking for some prime spots.
It's hard to compete with 2.1 million acres of pristine open spaces. Aside from areas with lodging accommodations, you won't find a more remote location in the region, which makes Yellowstone one of the best places to see vast amounts of stars. Most lodging options are open until the beginning of October, but if you opt to camp, Lewis Lake and Madison Campgrounds are open until mid-October. Check out the Park's operating hours, and plan your trip accordingly.
At the end of a day on the lake, there's nothing more peaceful than sitting on the water's edge, listening to the soft waves, and staring at the sky. Hebgen is a large lake with very few houses, so there isn't a lot of development impeding the night skies. There are several campgrounds in our national forests, including, Spring Creek, Lonesomehurst, and Rainbow Point, along with private campgrounds, Madison Arm Resort, and Yellowstone Holiday RV Campground. Both have cabins for rent, generally until the beginning of October. Terra Nova Cabins, across from Kirkwood Marina, are open year-round!
Located at the North entrance to Yellowstone, Gardiner is a quiet little town on the banks of the Yellowstone River. It's not hard to get away from the lights and out into the dark skies; a quick tour in any direction will take you there. You'll find plenty of lodging and dining options, and this time of year, the town is quiet. While there, explore the two hot springs, Chico and Yellowstone Hot Springs, hiking, horseback riding, e-bike tours, fishing, and even whitewater rafting!
Just 18 miles from Bozeman, Hyalite is surrounded by mountains blocking the lights from town. When the Supermoon comes around, this is the spot residents hit for the best views. Palisades Falls, a short, paved, and accessible hike, is stunning at night under the blanket of stars, but you'll have a great view no matter where you go. Two cabins are available for rent, Window Rock Cabin and Maxey Cabin, both in the immediate vicinity. Campgrounds open through the end of September include Hood Creek, Chisolm, and Langohr Campgrounds.
One of the more rural areas of YC, the Shields Valley, is also one of the most beautiful. The skies here seem endless, with the Crazy Mountain Range and miles of open space in the background. You'll find dispersed camping (which essentially means camping outside a campground) at Forest Lake Camping Area. There aren't any amenities or designated camping spots, which says a lot about the free space around you. Crandell Creek Cabin is also available and can accommodate up to six people for larger groups.
If there is one spot that tops all the others for stargazing, the Beartooth Highway is it. Campgrounds range from 7,000- 9,500 ft in elevation, and views from the plateau feel like you are on top of the world. Given the earlier sunsets, it's possible to drive up the highway at night for some special viewing, then head to either Cooke City or Red Lodge to stay. Both towns are quiet, tucked up in the mountains, and offer great lodging and dining options. If you prefer to camp, you'll be in for a real treat, but remember that weather can change rapidly, and you are in bear country, so take all the necessary precautions, such as bringing layers of clothing, storing your food, and carrying bear spray. You can find a list of all the campgrounds, plus other important information here.
For more stargazing tips, go to VisitYellowstoneCountry.com.