Seeking optimal meteor-viewing camping trip around Boston
August 11, 2016 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm reconsidering my plan to camp overnight and watch the Perseids on Friday night at the Boston harbor islands, because it will be rainy/cloudy. Where could my friends and I go instead?

I've assembled a group to come camping with me, and I'd like to keep that part of my plan if possible. My preferences are: no more than an hour and a half of driving from Boston, will have camping available on short notice for 4 or 5 tents, low light pollution, enough space clear of trees to look up at the sky, and a clear forecast for Friday night. Does this exist?
posted by rivenwanderer to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Perseids are peaking tonight (technically early morning) anyway, Friday won't be as dense and it's going to be hard to find a place within an hour and a half of Boston that's less likely to be cloudy than the harbor islands. Why not just go to the islands anyway and have a great time? (Disclaimer: I used to work on Lovell's and your post is making me unreasonably jealous.)
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:37 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

As far as I can tell, the forecast for most of the New England region is for clouds and rain through the weekend.

That said, you might want to look into campgrounds, both WMNF and private, around the Waterville Valley area. It's just over your distance limit, maybe 1:45 or so from Boston, but they often have last-minute reservations available, especially if the weather isn't looking good.

I have a place to stay up in Lebanon, NH and was hoping to get a good shower but I just don't think it's going to happen this year due to weather. At least there will be another one next year. It was cloudy for the Venus transit a couple years back and the next one isn't for another hundred years. Astronomy is funny that way.
posted by bondcliff at 7:42 AM on August 11, 2016

Best answer: The entire northeast, including Boston, is experiencing hot humid conditions with a chance of thunderstorms with heavy rain each day and night into the weekend. The chance for Boston is around 30% Friday night. So there is a better chance that it won't rain. Moreover, the forecast is the same for the entire northeast, so unless you want to get on an airplane a fly to the desert, there is no better place to go. Given the extreme heat/humidity expected, I think spending the night camped on an island removed from the heat of the urban core sounds like a great idea. And if the sky is even partly cloudy, you will see something.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:48 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might be able to take the ferry over to Provincetown and camp on Cape Cod somewhere. Here are a few options that I found after a bit of digging:
  • I did some stargazing at Ballston Beach, Truro (one of the darkest spots on the Cape according to this map) on Tuesday night, with my wife and her family. It was a couple of nights before the peak of the shower, the moon was still up, and we had about 30–40% cloud cover; but we still saw about 20 meteors in the hour we were there. The downside, though, is that you can't camp there.
  • It does appear to be legal to camp at Race Point with the purchase of a $75 permit. This would be quite close to Provincetown, an advantage if you're taking the ferry over. However, the lights will be brighter there and it may be booked.
  • This campground advertises itself as within walking distance of Head of the Meadow Beach, which was another spot I considered for our stargazing on Tuesday. The National Seashore section of this beach is officially closed from midnight-6 AM, but the other section operated by the town of Truro does not appear to have any such restrictions.
The downside to all of these options, of course, is that you're trying to get a place to stay on Cape Cod in the high season with 24 hours notice. It might be possible, but you'll probably have to dedicate some time to it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:50 AM on August 11, 2016

Oh, and the current weather forecast for Truro & Provincetown does not call for thunderstorms overnight (unlikely the forecast for the Harbour Islands.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:52 AM on August 11, 2016

This is the NWS forecast for Provincetown for Friday night: "A chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly between 8pm and 1am. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 73. Southwest wind 14 to 17 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible." Again, in this type of weather pattern, it is impossible to predict exactly where a thunderstorm will pop up. The one thing that would make one place potentially better than another (in the absence of thunderstorms), is light pollution. A place on the outer Cape would probably be darker for better viewing than the harbor islands, I would think.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2016

It's true. Except for maaaaybe Outer Brewster, the harbor islands do not get very dark at night. They are only a few miles from downtown Boston, which is by far the brightest thing in Massachusetts, and are surrounded on three sides by the city and its immediate suburbs. Having spent a couple of summers living and working out there, I can attest to this personally. They have many, many great things going for them but dark skies are not one of them.

Again, Outer Brewster (and to some extent the other public outer islands: Calf, Green, Great Brewster, and Middle Brewster) gets a bit darker, but I've spent a few nights out there and never been particularly impressed by the stars. And getting to to those islands is tough; you need your own small boat to do it, and the seas can be rough in the outer harbor. Every time I've done it it's been by kayak. Also at certain times of year you may get attacked by hordes of angry bird mommas if you attempt a landing.

Also, stay away from Outer Brewster! It's mine, all mine I tell you!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:41 AM on August 11, 2016

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