Looking for stargazing spots near Washington DC
May 24, 2013 5:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to have access to a car for 24 hours starting this Sunday afternoon, and I'd like to get away from city and suburban lights that night to (hopefully, clouds permitting) see some undiluted night sky. Any recommendations for safe places to do that near the NoVA/Washington DC area?

I'm hoping not to have to drive for more than about an hour in one direction from where I live in Northern VA (though time really isn't that much of a factor, I'm happy to stretch that)...I'm just looking for a good, safe place to park for a little while that's available after dark and isn't just adjacent to a mall or something. The more rural the better, stopping short at off-roading into the forest (but again, safety is a factor).
posted by doctornecessiter to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
head out west for about on hour - take 495 to 267 towards purcelville - maybe stop along route 7 and hike up to Raven Rocks -- check out hikingupward.org

or go to Harpers Ferry.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 6:06 AM on May 24, 2013

I'd head west on 66 into Fauquier or Warren County - anything south along the 95 corridor is going to be just extensions of DC sprawl. Someplace like Linden or Markham would be within 100 miles, and it should be plenty dark enough to see at least some stars.

(hey friend!)
posted by timetoevolve at 6:09 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's Sky Meadows State Park, but YMMV as to how late they're open until. We go there for the Smithsonian's Saturday Star Party, and it's a great place for skygazing.
posted by evoque at 6:40 AM on May 24, 2013

Sky Meadows was my first thought.
posted by COD at 7:10 AM on May 24, 2013

It's definitely more than one hour, but you could head up near Spruce Knob, WV (marked by the "S" on this light pollution map).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:39 AM on May 24, 2013

If you are willing to make a 5-6 hour drive, which you may well not be, the darkest and best spot you will find near DC is in New River Gorge National River, on the New River in WV. You'll see it as one of the few nearly fully dark spots in the mid-Atlantic region on the Dark Sky Finder. You can see some truly intense views of the sky from there. This is also near a radio quiet zone where a series of radio telescopes are mounted. It's remarkably remote, considering that it's not all that far away from urban sprawl.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:02 AM on May 24, 2013

There's going to be a triple conjunction on Sunday evening, so hopefully you get to check that out. Best time is 30-60 minutes after the sun sets.
posted by k8lin at 9:49 AM on May 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the responses!

I ended up driving out to Skyline Drive near Luray, which worked out great, except for all of the cloud-cover that particular night. It's about an hour southwest of Arlington.

The entrances to the Drive have booths with rangers in them to take your entrance fee...But there was (and still is) some confusion on my part about whether you can get access to the Drive once it's dark...I called the park -- it's part of Shenandoah National Park -- before I drove out there, and the people in the office said that a ranger would be stationed at the entrance until about 7:30 that night, but they kind of made it sound like if I made it there after that that I could just drive in, that there wouldn't be a closed gate or anything...You might to call them and ask for more clarity on that, it would certainly help you schedule the trip out there better than I was able to.

To be safe I made sure to get out there when there was a ranger stationed, so I paid the entrance fee then did the drive fairly slowly and made some long stops at scenic pull-offs (of which there are tons) to kill time until it got darker. By the time I neared the next exit from the Drive it was totally dark, and there were great views and relatively little light pollution. I met some other people out there who are from Luray who said that they go up there for any celestial event...It's got to be one of the best places in the area for that. I really should have asked them about being able to drive in when there's no one at the entrance.

The bottom line: it's a safe place with amazing sky view that you're allowed to be in after dark, just be sure to check on the timing of your arrival.
posted by doctornecessiter at 8:57 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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