It may seem counterintuitive, but winter is the best time for stargazing in Colorado. That’s because the air is colder and drier, which means less humidity that can reduce contrast and clarity. The long nights ensure that stars appear early and stick around in the sky.
The number one enemy of stargazers any time of the year, though, is light pollution. Luckily, there are several spots around the state that are perfect for taking in an unobstructed night sky.
1. Chimney Rock National Monument: Located in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado, Chimney Rock is the nation’s newest national monument (President Obama gave the designation in September 2012). Spread out your sleeping bag on more than 5,000 acres of high dessert terrain, and take in the striking rock formations that frame the night sky.
2. Gunnison Valley Observatory: At an altitude of 7,700 feet and with virtually no light pollution, the star-watching conditions are nearly perfect here. It’s also home to the largest public telescope in Colorado. Volunteers run the whole operation, and encourage visitors to use the observatory’s powerful telescopes.
3. The UFO Watchtower: Local legend has it that the San Luis Valley near Alamosa is a hotbed for extraterrestrial activity. Not only can you see plenty of stars, you might just see a flying saucer.
4. Horsetooth Reservoir: Hike up to Horsetooth Rock for a dazzling view of Fort Collins on one side and the night sky framed by the bizarre rock formations at the reservoir on the other.
5. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: There is some light pollution here, but it’s close to Denver, and the wide stairs of the amphitheatre make a perfect spot for bundling up with a loved one and taking in the winter constellations (and Denver twinkling in the distance).
If you go: Bring a flashlight to help find your way in the dark. A thermos of coffee or hot chocolate will help keep you warm on chilly nights. Once you’ve reached your viewing location, allow eyes to adjust for at least five minutes. Bring a big blanket or a reclining lawn chair with a sleeping bag to snuggle in.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock.