The stars at night are big and bright, but that doesn’t mean you can always see them from our ambient-light-filled Austin. From bars and restaurants to homes and businesses, Austin has a lot to offer, but that radiant fun comes at a price: light pollution makes it hard to see the stars.
Luckily, you don’t have to travel too far from the city to find the perfect spot for stargazing. Next week, the Perseid meteor shower is expected to reach its peak for the year. This meteor shower is a dazzling light show of hundreds of shooting stars, and NASA expects it to be exceptional in 2016. With this event on the horizon (or rather above it!), we wanted to take a look at some of the best stargazing spots in and around the Austin area.
1/ Enchanted Rock
Located just an hour and a half west of Austin, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is well known for its beautiful views of Texas Hill Country, fascinating geology and intriguing folklore. However, it’s also an excellent spot to escape the big city lights. In fact, Enchanted Rock has been named an official International Dark Sky Park. This means it has met the International Dark Sky Association’s standards for sky quality and darkness.
Camp out under the stars and try your luck at recognizing constellations. If you time it right, you may even see a couple of planets. While the park usually closes for non-campers at night, tonight on August 12, there will be special nighttime hikes to the summit of Enchanted Rock to watch the Perseid meteor shower. You must be in the park by 10 p.m. to participate.
2/ Inks Lake State Park
Inks Lake State Park, a little over an hour’s drive west of Austin, is another good option when you want to try your hand at amateur astronomy. Offering camping, fishing, swimming and hiking, Inks Lake is a wonderful day trip or weekend spot year-round. It’s also just far enough from Austin to provide true darkness to would-be stargazers.
Inks Lake offers events to capitalize on this, including Night Sky Parties with telescopes (the next one is August 12) and Starry Sky Night Hikes (the next one is on August 20). These events are free with park admission ($6 daily) and open to the public.
3/ Garner State Park
If you’re willing to travel a little farther afield in your search for dark skies, Garner State Park along the Frio River might be just what you’re looking for. A three-hour drive southwest of Austin, Garner is a popular spot for whiling away a summer weekend camping, or staying in the park’s cabins or screened shelters.
Garner is hosting a Summer Skyfest on August 12 from 8-11 p.m. to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The event will include a ranger talk explaining some of the brightest stars and constellations in view, as well as the importance of the Dark Skies Preservation movement. Summer Skyfest is free with park admission ($7) and open to the public.
4/ UT Star Parties
You won’t be escaping the light pollution, but in terms of convenience it’s hard to beat the weekly star parties offered every Wednesday by The University of Texas Department of Astronomy. Right in the heart of Austin, the parties are held on the roof of Robert Lee Moore Hall and are free and open to the public. Not only can you take advantage of UT’s telescopes, but you can also get your burning astronomical questions answered. The other telescope on campus is located at Painter Hall and is open for public viewings every Friday and Saturday from 9:30 to 10 p.m.
These are a few great options for stargazing, but once you get outside Austin’s immediate orbit of ambient light there are many more! You can look for unilluminated locales near you with this Dark Skies Map.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What are some of your favorite places to view stars in the Austin area?
Susan grew up in Texas, but took a circuitous route to settling in Austin–by way of Arkansas and New York. She loves hiking, gardening and spending far too much money on various preserved things at Central Market.