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The Best Star Parties in the World

I wrote this article to illustrate just how many incredible star parties are happening all over the world each year. From stargazing with the naked eye, to deep sky astrophotography through a telescope, a star party is the best way for amateur astronomy enthusiasts to get to know our night sky on a deeper level, together.

I have not attended all of the star parties listed in this article, not even close. But I would love to attend as many as possible over the coming years, as a star party is the perfect excuse to travel to some of the darkest places in the world. No matter what the landscape is, there is one thing that all of these star parties have in common, dark skies

Best Star Parties in the World

The images in the montage above feature some of the many star parties held in North America each year. The collage above contains images found on the following star party websites: The Nebraska Star Party, the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, the Rocky Mountain Star Stare, the Maine Astronomy Retreat, and the Jasper Dark Sky Festival

I’ve spent countless hours researching and planning which star party I would like to attend next. As an amateur astrophotographer, visiting new star parties around the world is the perfect way to add an element of astronomy to our next trip.

The Best Star Parties in the World

Over the years, I have attended a number of star parties to observe and photograph the night sky with others. A star party typically takes place at a dark sky location, free of light pollution. 

To take advantage of these conditions, I usually bring visual astronomy equipment, such as a Dobsonian Telescope, to observe faint deep sky objects in the night sky through the eyepiece. Most star parties will have a large number of Dobsonian reflector telescopes on the field, as they are the most affordable telescope type in terms of price-per-aperture.

Astrophotography is also very popular at star parties, and offers a great chance for amateur astrophotographers to share ideas and give photography tips and advice. 

Star parties are often held in some of the best places for Milky Way photography. This is because the location of a star party is usually chosen due to it’s low view of the horizon, and the fact that many of them take place in the summer months when the Milky Way core is at it’s highest position in the sky.

The Milky Way

The core of the Milky Way as seen from the Cherry Springs Star Party in the USA.

A star party offers a great chance to explore the night sky from a favorable location, while spending time with friends and family. I’ve made many new friends at star parties, and these relationships have lasted many years.

These nights are some of the most memorable moments of my life, but what exactly is a star party anyway? If you are new to astronomy, you have likely never been to a star party, and are wondering what goes on at one. 

What is a Star Party?

A star party is a gathering of amateur astronomers and astrophotographers who’s goal is to observe, photograph, and appreciate the night sky. A star party may revolve around a particular celestial event such as a lunar eclipse, meteor shower, or during the new moon phase of Milky Way season. This is why so many of the star parties in North America take place during prime-time Milky Way season, from June-Auges

best star parties

The Cherry Springs Star Party in Pennsylvania, USA. (CSSP on Facebook)

Local star parties may take place on a single night with a small group, but larger star parties can last up to a week or longer. Some of the largest star parties in the world can attract thousands of participants. 

Many astronomy clubs around the world will have monthly star parties during the warmer months. A dark site away from light pollution is one of the most important reasons a site is chosen to host a star party, but not the only one. Some star parties are held in locations of high elevation (such as the Southern Skies Star Party in Blovia) to get above unpredictable weather patterns. 

Star party participants are encouraged to bring observing instruments like telescopes and binoculars to spend the night viewing astronomical objects. This includes the planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and even comets.

It is not uncommon for large, annual star parties to host lectures, swap-meets, and raffles. Some star parties will include vendor booths selling a wide assortment of astronomy equipment as well.

Star Party Videos

Here are some incredible star party videos I’ve rounded up on YouTube. This is a great way to get a feel for the locations these events are held at, and the activities available. The first one, is one that I shot at the Cherry Springs Star Party in Pennsylvania USA in 2019.

Cherry Springs Star Party.

 

Acadia Night Sky Festival.

Nebraska Star Party.

Top 10 Star Parties (Infographic)

The following image is an infographic shared in an issue of BBC Sky at Night magazine. I can’t confirm that all of these star parties are still active, but there are few that I recognize and plan to personally attend in the future (Winter Star Party, and Texas Star Party). 

Top 10 Star Parties

Click the image for a larger version of the infographic created by BBC Sky at Night Magazine

List of Top 10 Star Parties in the World 

The following list of top 10 star parties were originally selected by BBC Sky at Night Magazine (click here for a high-resolution PDF) in the May 2007 issue. I know that there are many more incredible star parties taking place all over the world that are not included on this list such as the Cherry Springs Star Party in the USA. 

  1. Grand Canyon Star Party
  2. Texas Star Party
  3. Starfest
  4. Winter Star Party
  5. Southern Skies Star Party
  6. Equinox Star Party
  7. Kielder Star Camp
  8. Swiss Star Party
  9. Queensland Astrofest
  10. South Pacific Star Party

Queensland Astrofest

The Milky Way as seen from the Queensland Astrofest. Osamu Yamishita.

The Cherry Springs Star Party

The following videos aims to encapsulate the experience I had at the Cherry Springs Star Party in Pennsylvania, USA. One of the highlights of this trip was the opportunity to observe the Omega Nebula through the eyepiece of a 36″ Dobsonian telescope. A telescope with a 3-foot mirror does an impressive job of collecting light to reveal the faint details of a deep sky object! 

Cherry Springs State Park also hosts the Black Forest Star Party, that usually takes place later on in the year then the Cherry Springs Star Party. The Black Forest Star Party is usually held in September, when the nights are longer (and colder). Not only does this time of year offer longer nights, but also new astronomical objects in the night sky.

The fall targets such as the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus are on full display, along with amazing winter targets such as the Orion Nebula late into at night. 

What Makes a Star Party so Special?

For me, a star party is about the excitement of the journey. They Always Include an element of travel, which is a breath of fresh air from the day-to-day scenery. How many times have you polar aligned your telescope mount in the backyard? Well, it’s time you experience this routine under a new sky.

Traveling to star parties is a great way to see new parts of the world that you may have not been otherwise. What a perfect excuse for a road trip! Pack up all of your astronomy and camping gear and hit the road.

There are annual star parties across Canada and the United States, with one common trait – dark skies. Here is a list of some of the most popular summer star parties in North America:

Star Parties in North America

As you’re about to see, the majority of these star parties take place in the Summer months across the USA and Canada. Each one of the star parties listed below has been running for several years, and is currently still hosting events as of 2019. If you would like to feature a star party in your area that I have not listed here, please send me an email via the contact form on this website. 

Star Party Name Location Date
Winter Star Party Florida, USA February
Southern Star Star Party North Carolina, USA April
Texas Star Party Texas, USA May
Michiana Star Party Michigan, USA May
RTMC Astronomy Expo California, USA May
Bootleg Star Party Illinois, USA June
Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival Utah, USA June
Cherry Springs Star Party Pennsylvania, USA June
Grand Canyon Star Party Arizona, USA June
Rocky Mountain Star Stare Colorado, USA June
Wisconsin Observers Weekend Wisconsin, USA June
New Moon in June Star Party Ontario, CAN June
Gateway to the Universe Star Party Ontario, CAN July
Nebraska Star Party Nebraska, USA July
StarFest Ontario, CAN July
Maine Astronomy Retreat Maine, USA July
Saskatchewan Summer Star Party Saskatchewan, CAN Aug
Oregon Star Party Oregon, USA Aug
Almost Heaven Star Party West Virginia, USA Aug
Iowa Star Party Iowa, USA Aug
Northern Nights Star Festival Minnesota, USA Aug
Acadia Night Sky Festival Maine, USA Sept
Black Forest Star Party Pennsylvania, USA Sept
Alberta Star Party Alberta, CAN Sept
Okie-Tex Star Party Oklahoma, USA Sept
Hidden Hollow Star Party Ohio, USA Sept
Connecticut Star Party Connecticut, USA Sept
Enchanted Skies Star Party New Mexico, USA Oct
Jasper Dark Sky Festival Alberta, CAN Oct