Your guide to Park to Park in the Dark, Nevada’s first official astronomy route

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Beyond the glittering lights of Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada is among the darkest states in the world. The stars shine extra bright deep in the heart of the Silver State.

In fact, of the 200 communities, parks, and protected areas around the world that are officially certified for their dark skies, two International Dark Sky Places are located in Nevada.

Preserving, protecting, and promoting our dark skies is a priority for the state. A handful of organizations spanning three Nevada counties worked with the DarkSky International program to create the state’s first official astronomy route, Park to Park in the Dark, in 2020. 

The 317-mile Nevada route between California and Utah on US-95 & US-6, known as the “Starry-est Route in America,” naturally lends itself to stargazing, telescope viewing, and astrophotography. 

It’s quite remote, but there are interesting attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities along the way, both day and night. It’s even connected on either end by two International Dark Sky Parks — Death Valley National Park to the west and Great Basin National Park to the east.

If you crave stargazing opportunities as vast as the night sky, read on. Here’s everything you need to know about driving the Park to Park in the Dark astronomy route.

Prepare to go largely off the grid

Park in the Park in the Dark takes you through long stretches of road without any cell service, bathroom facilities, Wi-Fi, or gas stations. While there are some services along the way, they’re limited to five rural towns — Beatty, Goldfield, Tonopah, Ely, and Baker (from West to East).

For those headed straight through from park to park, the drive takes about 5 hours. To take advantage of the official astronomy route, you could feasibly stretch out your journey for many days.

Watch out for wildlife

Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy dark skies. A wide variety of wildlife calls the open land near Highway 6 home. While you might go the entire drive without seeing another living creature, there’s also a chance you’ll see wild horse herds, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, and coyotes.

Drive carefully day and night, and keep your eyes peeled for animals to avoid turning them, or you, into road kill. 

Don’t forget the spare tire

Bringing a spare tire is common sense, but also consider Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong). If your tire blows, there’s a strong chance it will blow in the middle of nowhere, so you better know how to change it.

If you’re a first-timer, hold off on the telescope

Binoculars are an effective tool for viewing the night sky and they’re far less expensive and more portable than a telescope. For some ideas, Space.com recommends these binoculars for 2024.

If you finish the Park to Park journey with a newly-found commitment to pursuing astronomy as a pastime, that’s the time to start shopping for telescopes.

Plan ahead for nighttime

Maybe you want to camp one night and stay in a hotel another night? Just make sure you have a plan before the sun goes down.

All five rural towns along the way provide decent options for lodging (reservations are recommended), as well as places to eat and stargaze in town. Camping is a fantastic alternative to booking a hotel room, especially when it comes to enjoying the night stars. However, don’t try camping in the backcountry unless you have some experience.

For a list of camping sites along the way, visit the Park to Park in the Dark website.

Don’t forget about daytime

You won’t see any stars in the daytime, but you’ll still find plenty to do both in and out of towns like engage in outdoor recreation, visit a ghost town, tour a mine, peruse local art, or ride a steam train. Some other cool daytime activities include rockhounding in Gemfield (five miles from Goldfield), witnessing Nevada’s youngest and potentially active volcanic field (on U.S. 6 near the Lunar Crater Backcountry byway), and exploring the historic, beehive-shaped Ward Charcoal Ovens (near Ely).

Many of these daytime destinations double as stargazing sites.

Schedule your trip during an astronomical event

From the moon, stars, constellations, planets, and star clusters to nebulae, galaxies, meteors, comets, and satellites, there are plenty of gems to ogle in Nevada’s night sky. Now imagine how much more epic it would be if you went during an astronomical event like an equinox, solstice, meteor shower, eclipse, or supermoon. Here are a few astronomical events coming up this year: 

  • June Solstice (June 20): Longest day in the Northern Hemisphere
  • Earth’s Aphelion (July 5): When the point in our planet’s orbit is farthest from the sun
  • Perseid Meteors (August  12-13): one of the year’s most active meteor showers

You can find a full list of 2024 events on the Park to Park in the Dark website.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

The Park to Park in the Dark website is an extremely effective guide for planning out your trip with a printable map, distance chart, list of locations along the way, and more, including a checklist for driving off-pavement in a 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle and a moon chart. You won’t be able to hop online to check it on a whim during your journey, so visit the website ahead of time and print out all the resources you will need.


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Author

  • Aleza Freeman

    Aleza Freeman is a Las Vegas native and award-winning journalist with two decades of experience writing and editing lifestyle, travel, entertainment, and human interest stories in Nevada. Her work has appeared in AARP magazine, Haute Living and Nevada Magazine.

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