Heaven for star buffs: the best campground in Joshua Tree National Park for night-sky viewing, in a place named an International Dark Sky Park, with a full-on observatory just minutes away! White Tank Campground is at 3,800 feet in the eastern part of the park, far from the lights and haze of the Coachella Valley. Hot by day? Of course. But when the desert sun slinks behind the San Bernardino Mountains, the temperature drops quickly and the stars come out to play.
White Tank has 15 first-come, first-served campsites (bring your own firewood and plenty of drinking water) and a stunning geological bonus. As the sun begins to set, take the quick and easy quarter-mile stroll along the Arch Rock Nature Trail to a natural stone arch that even Utah would envy. On the way back, scamper along the many other massive, awe-inspiring rock formations.
As the sky darkens, head 7.6 miles north to Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center, just outside the park’s North Entrance. On certain nights they offer free viewing through their 14-inch telescope, but you can count on an informal gathering of fellow stargazers armed with telescopes virtually every night. See the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, or gaze up at the Milky Way stretching across the sky as meteors streak through the heavens. Staff members and amateur astronomers will happily answer your questions.
Back at White Tank, you’ll surely want to leave the rain fly off your tent and keep an eye out for shooting stars!
BONUS: Go to a Star Party on Saturday (the next one is November 16) at Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center, featuring Jupiter and Saturn.
To reach White Tank Campground, take SR-62 to Twentynine Palms and head south on Utah Trail for 8.5 miles. Turn left on Pinto Basin Rd. and continue another 2.7 miles. Campsites are $15. No reservations. A seven-day pass for the park is $25.
Night sky photos courtesy National Park Service, Joshua Tree National Park.