A stargazing destination for little kids around Seattle?
May 14, 2014 11:19 PM   Subscribe

My kids (3 & 5) both love to hear about space and space travel. But living in Seattle means they rarely see any stars. In the spring and summer it's light past their bedtime. In the fall and winter it's often cloudy, and when it isn't, there's tons of light pollution. I want to take them on a trip where they can see the night sky in all its glory.

We already enjoy going on weekend adventures where we rent a house or cabin and go on easy hikes during the day. My thinking is that maybe there's someplace on the other side of the Cascades, far from the marine layer of the coast and into the desert, where we could go next winter on a moonless weekend. (Ideally the kids will have their fill and still get to bed by 8 or at most 9 PM.)

But, like the little engine that could, I've never been over the mountain and have no idea what's over there. (And getting through the passes in winter might be a little tricky, no?) Maybe there are other good spots as well if we headed north, or to the islands, though I imagine it would be mistier that way. Ideal travel time would be 3 hours or less.

What are some good destinations?
posted by rouftop to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a map of light pollution.

I live in California, so I can't recommend specific places near you. But I did make a similar outing last February with a friend. We drove to the darkest spot within 3 hours of here, which was away from the coast, on a weekend with a new moon (so you can see more stars). The stars were pretty great, but IT WAS FREAKING COLD. You'll see better stars if you're further inland and at higher elevation, but both those things can make it pretty uncomfortable to stand around staring out into space (get it?) for any amount of time. So I'd suggest going wherever you go a little closer to the equinox - September or October.
posted by aubilenon at 11:41 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh my goodness, I urge you to avail yourself of the riches that await you on the other side of the mountains. I had only ever really understood the Milky Way intellectually until I spent some time camping at Steamboat Rock State Park where the spectacle of the unfolding arms of our galaxy literally lit up the sky above me. Combine this with the utterly astounding geography of the Scablands and you have a destination that will fill your whole family with wonder.
posted by macinchik at 12:09 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lake Quinault? Kalaloch? Long Beach? East of the mountains will also offer great opportunities, but on a clear night, you can see plenty on the west side if you get away from all the people, and each of these places offers other things to do.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 12:32 AM on May 15, 2014

I have a also used the light pollution map with GREAT success, although I do not live exactly in your area.

If you get it together, PLEASE FIND A PLACE TO CAMP AND SEE THE SKY FROM MAY 23rd to the morning of May 25th....

You will see a meteor shower PLUS a comet. We on the West Coast of the US are hoping:))

I'm trying to organize a similar trip for those dates just now... Best of luck....
posted by jbenben at 12:42 AM on May 15, 2014

Blewett Pass on US 97 is a bit of a secret. It runs North to South between I-90 and Route 2. At the peak it is 4102 ft.

There are trees but your lack of field of view is compensated by the lack of light pollution and the elevation.

Take a northbound left from just before you get to Ellensburg on the 90 from the west [there is a shortcut from cle elum too, a little complicated though] or a southbound right from just east of Peshastin if you are taking the 2.

There are private campgrounds on 97 and it's beautiful. Make a loop of it and stop for ice cream in Leavenworth.
posted by vapidave at 12:47 AM on May 15, 2014

Bainbridge Island has a wonderful working observatory (and the park its located in isn't bad for stargazing either). It's close and well worth a visit. Otherwise, I would second Leavenworth.
posted by desert_laundry at 3:05 AM on May 15, 2014

> And getting through the passes in winter might be a little tricky, no?

Snoqualmie Pass is usually open. How about a trip to Suncadia, near Cle Elum? I bet it's great for star-gazing, and it has hikes and a pool and s'mores and other things kids that age would like.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:47 AM on May 15, 2014

If you're interested in a day (night?) trip, go to exit 38 off I-90. It's a short walk to the Iron Horse trail. Head east for around 1/4 mile on the wide, gentle path- it's a "rail-to-trail" conversion. You will get to a large bridge that's great for star gazing.
posted by shrabster at 7:26 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure you don't book it around the time of a full moon. That'll wash out the star just as much as city lights. The week coming up to the new moon and few days after it is probably your best bet.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:57 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, wow. When I was a kid a friend's dad took us on an overnight to Camano Island. We laid on the ground and watched the satellites orbit the earth and I still think about it 20 years later. Awesome.
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:30 AM on May 15, 2014

Goldendale Washington has a public observatory. It's a few hours from Seattle, roughly due south of Yakima near the Columbia River. In my experience, it's easier to drive south, then east, with the benefit of taking you past Mt. St. Helens.

By having an observatory, that means that local stargazers benefit from City of Goldendale and Klickitat County laws to reduce light pollution. It's imperfect, but it helps.

Getting your fill of stargazing could be challenging at 9PM in the summer, so you may want to push at least 1 hour, possibly with some compensatory napping. (Napping is its own compensation, of course.)
posted by Sunburnt at 10:42 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

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