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Meteor Showers, also known as shooting stars, can happen at any time during the year. However, there are a few specific meteor showers that put on a show. The best way to watch a meteor shower is away from the city lights, in a clear dark sky. And since we’re all about travel here, I figured we should take a trip just to watch meteor showers. Not only are these the best places in the United States to watch a meteor shower, we have when and how to watch meteor showers.
- What is a Meteor Shower
- How to Watch a Meteor Shower
- What is an international Dark Sky Place?
- 11 best places to Watch a Meteor Shower
- When to watch a Meteor Shower
- Best Time to Watch Meteor Showers
What is a Meteor Shower
First, let’s talk about what a meteor shower is. Plus, why you may want to travel just to get the best view of one.
They are caused by dust and rock particles entering Earth’s atmosphere at extremely high speeds and then vaporizing due to heat energy generated by frictional forces with the air.
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by a comet as it orbits around the Sun. Because comets have an irregular shape and orbit path, their debris fields are also irregularly shaped and have different densities based on how densely packed together the particles are. This means some years will have more meteors than others. It dependson how closely we pass by certain parts of the comet’s orbit path.
The name comes from the fact that they look like they’re coming from the constellation where the radiant lies. For example, if the meteors are coming from the constellation Perseus, then it would be called the Perseid meteor shower.
The best place to see them is in the northern hemisphere because that’s where most comets and asteroids orbit. There are many different kinds of meteor showers that happen at different times during the year, but they’re all exciting!
How to Watch a Meteor Shower
The ideal conditions for watching a meteor shower are clear skies, avoiding light pollution, avoiding city lights, and a dark sky with a new moon. A new moon means that the moon will be directly opposite the sun in the sky. It will be completely dark outside.
The best times to watch a meteor shower are right before dawn or just after dusk (when it’s dark but before it gets too late). If you have an hour or two before bed then this would also be great because it’ll keep you up but won’t make you tired when it’s over.
Make sure you’re checking the weather forecast before you travel too. It would not be wise to travel to Florida to watch your next meteor shower if there is a hurricane on the way. Of course, cloud cover anywhere will impede even bright meteors.
You’ll need some patience too—meteor showers are typically very slow moving and you won’t see many meteors at first! As long as it’s not a full moon (when the light from the moon may outshine the meteors), then there should be plenty of meteors to see.
If you’re traveling to watch a meteor shower, you’ll want some creature comforts to take with you. Many people swear by the zero gravity lounger lawn chair. This has a headrest when you’re leaning back, and tilts back so that you can look up at the stars.
Packing a lawn chair like this may be a little difficult if you’re flying. If you can’t get access to a lawn chair, I’d recommend a sand-free beach towel like the ones from Tesalate. We keep ours in the back of our car for all occasions.
Don’t forget the snacks! If you’re going to be out late, pack a few healthy snacks like these road trip favorites to help keep you up through the night.
Finally, if you’re serious about getting some great photos of the meteor showers, you need a good nighttime camera. This Panasonic 4k digital camera has an incredible point-and-shoot zoom and stellar reviews on Amazon. It’s a good price to get your feet wet with nighttime photography.
What is an international Dark Sky Place?
Since you want the darkest skies, the best places to go are recognized dark sky parks. The International Dark Sky Association designates dark sky places throughout the world.
If you find an international Dark Sky Park, you know you’re getting the darkest spot away from bright lights for viewing meteor showers.
There are differences between dark sky communities, parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and urban night sky places. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the Dark Sky Reserves, a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core, and Dark Sky Sanctuaries, the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.
11 best places to Watch a Meteor Shower
The following places are some of the best spots in North America with good viewing conditions and the best views of the meteor shower.
Death Valley National Park
If you’re looking for the best place to watch a meteor shower in California, Death Valley National Park should be at the top of your list. The park has some of the darkest skies in North America. Plus, if you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, there are plenty of guided day hikes that will take you out into some of the most remote and rugged parts of this large national park. Following the day hikes, try a small group guided tour. This Death Valley Night Tour has sunset and star viewing.
Big Bend national park
Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote parks in America. The night sky here is well known for being some of the darkest and most pristine, making it an ideal place for viewing meteor showers. The park has over 800 miles of paved roads and unpaved backcountry roads, so you can enjoy views that are both remote and accessible. This year, try camping out by Chisos Basin and waking up before dawn to watch as up to 120 meteors per hour streak across the sky.
North Maine Woods
If you’re looking for a place that’s as remote and untouched as possible, then North Maine Woods is your spot. The area is home to over 36,000 acres of forest and lacks any manmade light pollution, making it perfect for star-gazing. You’ll need to get a permit from the Maine Bureau of Parks & Lands if you want to camp here. Don’t forget your sleeping bag!
Within the North Woods of Maine, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument covers an area of approximately 87,500 acres within a larger landscape.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
Another designated dark sky park, this Florida park is home to one of the largest meteor showers on record. Specifically, the Perseid meteor shower peaks annually on August 12th is visible for the entire month of August. For the best naked eye viewing, get there early and find a great spot with an unobstructed view of the sky. Bring snacks and water, but leave your pets at home; no dogs allowed!
Mesa Verde National Park
If you want to see some stunning views of a meteor shower, check out Mesa Verde National Park. Located near Cortez, Colorado this park is home to over 600 acres and more than 4,000 archaeological sites. This is also the perfect spot for viewing our country’s largest annual meteor shower – Lyrids.
Joshua Tree National Park
The Joshua Tree National Park is another great place in California to view meteors. There are many spots in this park where you can hike and camp, making it perfect for night sky viewing. Pack a tent or just a sleeping bag if you don’t want to book lodging, and get ready for one of the best meteor showers of the year.
Central Idaho and Craters of the Moon National Monument
Can you go wrong watching the sky at a monument named for the moon? Central Idaho is home to a Dark Sky Reserve of remote and largely rugged lands in the Sawtooth Mountains. Nearby, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, particularly known for it’s lava fields, offers excellent view options.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
With over 3,000 square miles of land and some of the best stargazing conditions in North America, Great Sand Dunes. This National Park is one of the best places to watch a meteor shower in Colorado. The park sees exceptionally dark skies, which make shooting stars visible even when most other parts of Colorado are cloudy or foggy. The dunes are also located far enough away from civilization that you’re guaranteed an unobstructed view of space. Plus, your views are unobstructed by mountains.
Southern Utah boasts vast national parks of Canyonlands perfect for night skies. Canyonlands National Park is one of the best places in America for viewing meteor showers. The park is open 24 hours, has no artificial lighting, and the weather is usually pleasant. The most optimal time to view meteor showers from there is from October to November when many meteors are seen.
Nearby in Arizona, Rainbow Bridge National Monument preserves one of the tallest and longest natural bridges in the world. Imagine viewing the Milky Way light shows with this as your backdrop.
Big Pine Key
Located on Big Pine Key, Florida is one of the best places in America to watch a meteor shower. With an annual event of 120 shooting stars per hour, this location is one of the most popular locations for stargazers. Additionally, the Florida Keys offer some great ocean views and an array of accommodations including hotels, inns, resorts, and RV parks.
From the Dark Sky website, “Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a federally designated wilderness management area located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. It is over 1 million acres in size and filled with rocky cliffs and crags, canyons, towering rock formations, and thousands of lakes and streams with rocky shores and sandy beaches surrounded by forests. Within its boundaries are 2,000 designated campsites, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails, and a spectacular view of the night sky.”
For those looking for a more private experience, head out of town about 20 miles to Aitkin County’s Moose Hill where you’ll find Firefly Nights, which includes professional astronomers guiding visitors through astronomy topics and even letting them use telescopes.
Finally, here are dozens and dozens more areas that are certified International Dark Sky Parks, many of them in the United States. While some of these areas above are preserves and sanctuaries, you’re guaranteed an incredible showing at any of the parks listed here. Is there one near you?
When to watch a Meteor Shower
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Best Time to Watch Meteor Showers
The best meteor showers of the year include the Perseids (in August), the Orionids (in October), the Lyrid meteor shower (in April), and the Geminids (in December). These annual meteor showers have a range of dates that vary by one to two days each year. be sure to check the ideal times for the peak night of viewing. The American Meteor Society has a shower calendar each year that lists peak days for both the northern and southern hemisphere.