We’ve all looked at the night sky and have been amazed by the beauty of the universe—even moreso when you add the chance to see a meteor shower or the aurora borealis. There’s something intoxicating about stargazing, allowing us to feel both small compared to the universe and important for being a part of it.
For as long as humanity has been around, the stars have played an important part in defining us and giving us a direction, so it is little wonder that many of us are drawn to the stars. Yet from most of our yards and neighborhoods, light pollution blocks the majority of the view, giving us only the smallest of glimpses into the glittering heavens. This can be frustrating and discouraging, but it doesn’t need to be.
Despite the reputation for gloomy skies, stargazing around the greater Seattle area is actually quite good, thanks to quick access to high alpine areas, as well as a few places set up for locals to see the stars with experts. There are ample opportunities to check out the wonders of the universe.
Plan a perfect stargazing adventure
First, check to see if there’s a star party in your area—the Seattle Astronomical Society-led events are a great chance to look at the sky with an experienced astronomer. Next, check the weather for where you’ll be going, not just your neighborhood. The National Weather Service website is your best bet for accurate, up-to-date forecasts. Then check the timing of your trip for gorgeous extras: The Space and Weather Prediction Center can tell you if you have a shot at seeing the northern lights, and the American Meteor Society has a meteor shower calendar. You’ll also want to know if you have a chance to see amazing views of the ever-impressive Milky Way.
It’s not just city light pollution that can affect your view. Give your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the darkness, so keep off the phones and avoid looking at any lights. A bright moon will reduce your chance of seeing anything more than the brightest stars.
Want to take night sky pictures? If you want to take pictures of what you see, you’ll need more than an iPhone or Galaxy. You’ll need a camera with at the very least adjustable ISO capabilities and a tripod. Read through these night sky photography tips from Digital Photography School to get the perfect shot.
In and around Seattle
Theodor Jacobsen Observatory
Did you know that you can stay in Seattle and have access to a fantastic observatory with a telescope? The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory is the second-oldest structure on the University of Washington Campus, and is perfect for those hoping to get into stargazing and learn about the night sky.
Talks are held at the observatory two Tuesdays each month, and if the weather is good enough, the dome of the observatory will open for viewing celestial objects through the telescope. Reservations are needed to head inside the observatory at these events, but additional telescopes will be set up outside along with different exhibits and activities with no reservation needed.
One of the best places to see the stars, meteor showers and even auroras in Seattle is Alki Beach. You’ll experience less light pollution looking north into the Puget Sound and west to the Olympic Mountains, away from the tall buildings and iconic view into downtown Seattle. A good rule of thumb is the closer you are to the Alki Beach volleyball courts, the better viewing will be.
While you’ll still have less of the night sky visible than you would if you left the metropolitan area, the chances of you seeing shooting stars and satellites is much better than they are at any of the other city beaches. It’s one of the first places to check out if you’re in town and want to see the universe above.
Just outside the city
Battle Point Park
A short ferry ride away, Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island is a fantastic place for all ages interested in gazing at the night sky. What makes this place so good is that not only does it have good views with limited light pollution, it also is the home to the Battle Point Astronomical Association. The group hosts multiple events each month, and is an excellent way to learn about astronomy, go to star parties, and even learn how to find the perfect telescope for you. Even if the group isn’t at the park, though, Battle Point is close enough to be well worth the stargazing adventure.
Those hoping to be rewarded with stunning skies after a drive into the mountains don’t want to miss stargazing at Kachess Lake. Far from the powerful light pollution of King County, the lake is not just tranquil and gorgeous—this destination atop Snoqualmie Pass offers a large sky to enjoy.
Stargazing spots in the mountains can be tricky, as the peaks often block the views of lower angled events. Lake Kachess is big enough to give you plenty of sights in every direction, making it an instant favorite. A good starting point for those heading up for the first time is the campground, as it has the easiest access.
Covington Community Park
Out toward Maple Valley, southeast of Seattle, the Covington Community Park is a fun spot to look up and see the universe expand. This spot is recommended by the Seattle Astronomical Society and is even one of the places where they hold their star parties. Thanks to its somewhat remote location, you’ll have some great views during moonless nights of meteor showers and the constellations. What makes this even better is that you’ll be able to get here by transit. Not bad at all.
The absolute best spots for stargazing
The Sunrise region of Mount Rainier National Park is a great place to see the night sky. In fact, many consider it to be one of the best locations in all of Washington State. Chances are, if you’ve seen a night sky picture from Mount Rainier, it was from the Sunrise area. While the drive to get here is two hours from Seattle, once you are in the parking area, you’ll be able to see a nearly unobstructed view (thanks, Mount Rainier) of the entire night sky. The area is incredibly popular for stargazing enthusiasts, and for good reason—the Milky Way, a chance to see northern lights, and nearly zero light pollution, just the headlamps of climbers on Mount Rainier. When visiting here, please remember to limit the use of flashlights and the lights of your car.
Lake Wenatchee State Park
If you are already in the Leavenworth area and want to see the night sky, head to Lake Wenatchee State Park. While not quite worth the two hour drive from Seattle on a whim, those already in the region will be rewarded with shimmering stars against the waters of the lake. You’ll have next to no light pollution here, giving you a year round wonderland of stargazing enjoyment. Your best views are found from the beach area of the park, giving you a view to the northwest. On rare nights, the northern lights here can be downright incredible.
If you enjoy remoteness and limited light pollution, a night adventure to Mount Rainier’s Mowich Lake may be perfect. Seasonally accessible, this location even has a campground to give you maximum enjoyment. On a good night at Mowich, you’ll be able to see the northern lights, the Milky Way and endless satellite passings. This destination is definitely for the adventurous, as the road to reach the lake can be quite rough.
For those looking for a similar experience to Mowich Lake out on the Olympic Peninsula, the seasonally open Deer Park region of Olympic National Park is without a doubt one of the best stargazing destinations in the region. While the lights of Port Angeles, Sequim and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada do slightly impact the views, the area is high enough above them that they have little impact. This is a great place for meteor showers and northern lights, but it’s quite a drive from Seattle.
Not quite as stunning as Sunrise, Mount Rainier’s Paradise region is a good place to have some impressive stargazing experiences. With barely any lights around, your eyes will adjust quickly to the darkness, giving fantastic glimpses deep into the universe. The only downside of Paradise is that the majestic mountain we all know and love actually blocks some of the sky. That shouldn’t stop a trip here, though. During the right season, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way and maybe a tiny bit of the northern lights. Another advantage to Paradise is that the area is open longer during the year than Sunrise, making it a worthwhile destination in the spring and fall months.