Bright Eyes, Dark Skies
Blankets of stars fill the night skies at these parks.
The stars at night are truly big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. The state’s darkest skies are in West Texas due to the region’s low humidity and the lack of air and light pollution, though some are scattered through the Hill Country and Panhandle.
Each site has a Bortle rating, which indicates night sky clarity in regard to light pollution and sky glow. The scale ranges from 1 to 9, with lower numbers indicating darker skies.
Pick a place, pack up some lawn chairs or a blanket and get ready for an astounding night of stargazing.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK and BIG BEND RANCH STATE PARK • Bortle score: 1-2
The national park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2012 and has the darkest skies of any national park in the continental United States. The state park earned dark sky designation in 2018. Big Bend is one of the largest areas of protected night sky in the United States.
COPPER BREAKS STATE PARK • Bortle score: 2
Named for the copper found in the area, this North Texas park offers exceptional night skies. It was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2014, one of the earliest in Texas. Copper Breaks offers monthly star parties from April through November.
DAVIS MOUNTAINS STATE PARK (Pictured above) • Bortle Score: 2
Though it has yet to be designated as a dark park, the Davis Mountains are still a perfect place to gaze at the blanket of stars above. The world-famous McDonald Observatory is nearby, and many surrounding communities have lighting ordinances in place to avoid light pollution.
DEVILS RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA • Bortle score: 2
With a pristine river flowing through it, this natural area sits next door to the middle of nowhere. Located in southwest Texas, it’s one of the darkest and most ecologically fragile sites in the world. In 2019, Devils River was named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, the first and only one in Texas.
ENCHANTED ROCK STATE NATURAL AREA • Bortle score: 3
Best known for its enormous pink dome, Enchanted Rock is also great for stargazing. In the Hill Country near Fredericksburg, it was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2014, another of the earliest in Texas. The park hosts star parties and has taken steps to minimize park lighting.
SOUTH LLANO RIVER STATE PARK • Bortle score: 3
This 2,600-acre park stretches across the Edwards Plateau of the Hill Country, just outside Junction. In 2017, the International Dark-Sky Association designated the park as an International Dark Sky Park, making it the third Texas state park to earn the designation.
Earl Nottingham | TPWD