The Cherry Springs Star Party has become an increasingly popular destination for stargazers along the east coast, for good reason. Now that the word is out about the pristine skies of Cherry Springs, the event sells out quicker every year.
It is held at a state park between Coudersport and Galeton in Potter County, Pennsylvania during the new moon in June.
It takes place on the overnight observing field at Cherry Springs State Park, which sits at 2,300 ft. elevation. The field offers great views of the core of the Milky Way and a 360-degree view of the night sky.
Cherry Springs State Park is an International Dark Sky Park and one of the darkest locations on the east coast. Its dark skies are protected by the undeveloped forest around the park and the shielded lights from the nearby communities.
Since this is the closest Dark Sky Park to us, we try to attend this star party every year. It takes us roughly 4 hours to get there and it’s well worth the drive for the Bortle 2 skies.
Arriving at Cherry Springs Star Party
Registration for Cherry Springs typically opens in March and has sold out quickly the last few years. At the time of writing this post, registration is just over $55 USD per person. That includes camping on the overnight observing field for the duration of the star party, access to power for your gear, and a great lineup of scheduled talks and activities.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with your digital tickets. It’s a good idea to print those out and bring them with you to the star party for checking in at the front gate upon arrival.
The star party typically runs from Thursday – Sunday. If you decide to show up early (or stay later), you will be required to pay the state park fees for the extra days that you decide to stay.
When you arrive, you get a package with a schedule of events, star party rules, and a ticket for the raffle.
Camping at the Cherry Springs Star Party (2022)
Where to Stay for the Cherry Springs Star Party
As mentioned in other star party posts, it’s always easier to camp on-site at the star party. This is one of the locations that we can drive to and therefore, we love camping on the field with our camper, Voyager 1.
There are three areas available for stargazing, though only one is associated with the star party.
- Overnight Astronomy Observation Field: this is where the star party is held. Your registration includes access to this field for excellent overnight viewing. White light is prohibited in this area and only dim, red lights can be used.
- Night Sky Public Viewing Area: this operates like a drop-in/short-term stargazing experience and is located across the road from the overnight observation field. Lighting restrictions are not enforced here, though, for your own observing experience, you may want to have a red filter or cover for your flashlight to preserve your night vision.
- Rustic Campground: also across the road from the observing field, there is a campground for overnight stargazing for casual stargazers. Because there are no lighting restrictions, this area is not recommended for serious stargazers.
Please note, there are no showers on site. If you are camping, and need access to showers, there are some available at Lyman Run State Park (6 miles away) for a small fee.
In addition to the options above, some people opt to set up their equipment on the star party observing field and stay off site at a nearby hotel. If you choose this option, be sure to park your vehicle across the road in the public parking area before dark. The gates close at dusk and there will be no in or out on the observing field.
Meals and Food Options
If you are camping, consider that open flames are not permitted on the field. This will impact what you pack for food. If you have a cooler with food, there are nearby options to buy ice (like the Cherry Springs Country Store). Be mindful of bears in the area and be sure to store your food and cooler in your vehicle.
There is also a food vendor on site. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in addition to their late-night hours until 2 a.m. for coffee and light snacks. Like the rest of the star party, the food vendor tent will be decorated with red lights.
The town of Coudersport is also a 21-minute drive and has additional food options. There are other (smaller) options available in the immediate vicinity of the park.
Events at Cherry Springs Star Party
There are two days (Friday/Saturday) packed with activities at the star party, including:
- Speakers: there are multiple speakers throughout Friday/Saturday. You can check the schedule for times, topics and speaker bios.
- Gear Swap: bring your old gear to swap or sell at the event. Check the schedule for when this event takes place.
- Raffle: there is a door prize raffle with tons of prizes. Be sure to get your ticket when you register and check the schedule for the deadline for submitting your ticket(s). Like most raffles, you must be present to win.
In addition to the onsite activities, there are other nearby attractions, such as other state parks and an Ice Mine.
What to Bring
In addition to your gear, you are going to want to make sure you are prepared for the cool weather.
As mentioned, Cherry Springs State Park is located on a mountain, which means the weather is generally cooler and can get very damp. Even though the event is held in June, you will want to make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes, including warm footwear and a heavy jacket.
It also helps to have things like blankets, lawn chairs, binoculars, and tarps or telescope covers for your equipment.
Unspoiled Dark Skies
On a particularly incredible night at Cherry Springs (during the Black Forest Star Party in the fall), I was able to see the Triangulum Galaxy with my naked eye.
The timing of the Cherry Springs Star Party in June means that it is the perfect time to watch the Milky Way core rising above the southeastern horizon.
Milky Way photography and nightscape photography are popular choices at this event. It is also a great location to take a timelapse of the night sky with a sea of red lights below.
The Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party.
One of the most enjoyable experiences at Cherry Springs is simply lying down in a zero-gravity chair and looking up.
You do not need a telescope to enjoy the skies at Cherry Springs, your naked eye will reveal countless stars and even bright nebulae when your eyes have adapted to the darkness.
While at the Cherry Springs Star Party, we like to take advantage of the dark skies and shoot unfiltered, often going after something in the core of the Milky Way.
It is wise to take advantage of the dark, new moon skies of the Cherry Springs Star Party, and capture a deep-sky object that is not possible to shoot from home.
This means that narrowband imaging is not a practical choice, as this type of astrophotography can be done successfully in areas with heavy light pollution.
Instead, focus on more challenging broadband targets such as dark nebulae, or reflection nebulae that require dark skies and plenty of exposure time to capture.
We have shot a variety of targets from this location, including:
- Trifid Nebula
- Lagoon Nebula
- Western Veil Nebula
- Eastern Veil Nebula
- Blue Horsehead Nebula
- Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex
Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex taken by Ashley at Cherry Springs (2022).
When taking pictures from this park, I usually take exposures of about 2 minutes long depending on the target I am shooting.
With quality dark skies like this, an integration of 1-hour will provide a healthy signal-to-noise ratio, with an incredibly clean image.
A typical deep-sky project from this location includes 2-3 hours of total exposure time, using exposures between 90-120 seconds each.
The Blue Horsehead Nebula taken by Trevor at Cherry Springs (2022).
Rules at Cherry Springs
Like most star parties, there are rules for ensuring that everyone enjoys their star party experience. Below are the rules for the Cherry Springs Star Party.
- No Driving after sunset: the front gate to the observing field will close at dusk and reopen at dawn. Always follow the posted speed limit when driving in the park.
- No campfires: no open flames allowed on the overnight observing field.
- No white light: Dim red lights only after sunset, no white light allowed after dark. This includes interior and exterior lighting for cars, tents and RVs, and electronics.
- Electric pedestals on the field are for powering astronomical equipment, computers and small appliances only.
Cherry Spring Star Party Impressions
The folks at the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg throw a great star party. It is always really well organized, with plenty of communication and signage leading up to and at the event. Staff are around throughout the duration of the star party and are always very welcoming.
It is also a prime location for capturing the core of the Milky Way with great views of many of the summer constellations and deep-sky objects.
After coming for many years, this has become one of our favorite star parties. We love that we can enjoy the full star party experience camping on the field in our camper and get the chance to meet many new (and often repeat) astrophotographers and visual astronomers. It’s a great place to ‘geek out’ and talk shop about astronomy.