While the “stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas”, that doesn’t mean that we can view them easily from our own backyard here in Austin. The glow of so much artificial light from homes and businesses means the skies are simply not dark enough for us to see that beautiful star show. But luckily, you don’t have to travel too far from the city to find some perfect spots for stargazing — and there are several local star parties that share their giant telescopes with us, too.
— Dark Skies Program & Bortle Scale Ratings: As you begin thinking about where to take the kids to see the stars, take note that the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has partnered with the McDonald Observatory, the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) and local astronomy groups to promote awareness about light pollution with star parties, self-guided constellation tours and education programs. Click here to view their calendar of special stargazing events for families.
Additionally, you can view the list of Texas State Parks’ Bortle Rating — an indicator of how well you can see celestial objects, taking into account light pollution and sky glow. This list is organized by regional area, and is very helpful as you plan where you’d like to go on your stargazing quest.
Top Spots for Stargazing Around Austin:
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is just about an hour and a half from Austin. It’s a favorite for hiking and camping and for marveling at its natural beauty. Its rural dark sky also makes it one of the best public places for stargazing in Central Texas, and in fact, it has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. Click here to learn more about star gazing events in Enchanted Rock. You can even visit one of the park’s Rock Star Parties to learn about the constellations and see a shooting star. (Please take note that Enchanted Rock does have several closure dates through December for hunting season. Check for updates here.)
Inks Lake State Park
Another favorite spot for camping, Inks Lake, is just a little over an hour away from Austin, and a great spot for dark skies, as well as fishing, swimming, hiking and weekend getaways. Consider hiking Pecan Flats, a self-guided 3.3-mile trail that is good for the whole family. You can also rent paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks at the park store. There’s plenty of daytime activities to keep you busy before you settle into your camp to view the stars before bedtime. Click here to view the Inks Lake website for information about visiting this park.
About three house west of Austin, Lost Maples is well known for being one of the best places in the state to see the fall foliage. But it is spectacular year-round for hiking, sightseeing, bird watching and a great spot for photography. Lost Maple’s Bortle Scale rating is 3, and perfect for stargazing. Click here to read detailed info about viewing the stars in Lost Maples.
Garner State Park
About three hours from Austin on the Frio River, Garner State Park is a great place for a relaxing weekend. You can camp, study nature, picnic, canoe, fish, play miniature golf, geocache and ride bikes. The Scenic Hill Country terrain offers lots to see and do and certainly boasts dark night skies. Click here for more info and for a listing of special events.
Blanco State Park
Another popular spot for camping, Blanco State Park, offers swimming, picnicking, hiking, nature study, boating and fishing. The park hosts a semi-annual educational event where visitors have the opportunity to learn about astronomy and gaze at the stars, planets and galaxies through different telescopes. Click here to read more about Blanco State Park, and click here to view their upcoming calendar of events.
South Llano River State Park
This popular summer spot to float, paddle and fish the South Llano River, it also offers a great place to camp, hike, bike, geocache, and marvel at the stars, as it is noted as is an International Dark Sky Park. Interestingly, the park is home to one of the largest turkey roosts in Central Texas (roosting from Oct. 1 through March 31 with day use area is only open from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. during these months, so that humans don’t disturb the roosting turkeys). But during the rest of the year, it’s a great place to stargaze. Click here to view stargazing info, and click here to find out about upcoming events.
–> Star Parties In & Around Austin:
UT Star Parties:
While UT is in session, the Department of Astronomy sponsors free Wednesday night public star parties on the top roof of Robert Lee Moore Hall. They also offer free Friday and Saturday star viewings at the Painter Hall Telescope. All ages are welcome, but younger children must be under adult supervision at all times. Click here for more info.
Fountainwood Observatory at Southwestern University:
Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX has a large reflecting telescope used by faculty and students for research. They offer free monthly public programs during the academic year. Click here for the schedule of events.
Austin Community College Star Parties:
Enjoy hands-on exhibits for the kids, telescopes for night sky viewing and public talks by ACC professors. These events are free and open to the public. Click here to view the schedule of events.
Eagle Eye Observatory at Canyon of the Eagles:
The Observatory in Burnet, TX is operated several nights a week, weather permitting, and is always complimentary to Canyon of the Eagles Resort guests. Public Star Parties, hosted monthly by the Austin Astronomical Society, feature additional astronomical equipment from the Society’s private collection. Learn more and view the schedule here.
Westcave Preserve Star Parties:
Take a tour of the night skies at Westcave Preserve, a dark sky location convenient to the Austin area. Star Party nights are an ideal opportunity to enjoy an evening gazing at the stars through a high-quality telescope with local astronomers on hand to answer questions. Registration is required for these events are there is a fee. Note that the tend to fill up quickly in advance. Click here for schedule of upcoming events.
–> Planetariums Around Austin:
Want an all-weather, indoor option for learning about the night sky? Check out one of these local planetariums for star shows: