Dark skies in western Washington
August 30, 2007 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find some truly dark skies in western Washington state?

My fondest childhood memory is sitting out on my relatives' farm in who-knows-where-South Dakota, staring up at a surrealistically bright Milky Way. These days I live in the Seattle area and it's a pretty rare sight to see more than a few stars.

But I now have 9 days of vacation, a week of what appears to be good weather, and a willingness to drive 6+ hours to get to a good place to see the night sky as I remember it (or something close). What are some actual locations (i.e. names, places, parks, whatever) with great stargazing? I'm also willing to do a strenuous hike if that's needed - pretty much anything is in. Bonus points if I can camp out in a bivy sack in said location.

Pre-emptive: The Dark Sky Finder applet is next to worthless - without roads or any other information about how to get there, all it really does it tell me that it's bright where I am (which I already knew).
posted by 0xFCAF to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ask your local astronomy club/read their websites/fora. They'll know.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:58 PM on August 30, 2007

just outside of Richland, WA
posted by seawallrunner at 10:05 PM on August 30, 2007

My dad owns property out in the boonies west of Chehalis, where at night, you can see a lot of stars. It's about here. As you can see on the map, it's far from most big cities. It's a very nice drive off I-5, though there isn't anything to do once you get there except look at stars. (And drink.) Enjoy!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:07 PM on August 30, 2007

Lake Ozette is way out there, any place on the west side of the Olympic peninsula looks dark at night. Sequim has the best weather though.
posted by hortense at 10:09 PM on August 30, 2007

There is a great campsite near the Gorge in George that might be perfect for what you're hoping to see. It's usually a place people go to rock climb, as there are these massive quartzite formations there, so there are generally enough people camping out around there that you'll have some company should you feel like chatting (but you can easily find a site away from everybody else if you don't). It's the desert so the sky is pretty clear, the vegetation is sparse and there are wineries all over the place (whee!). Remember to bring along a good amount of water.

Drive as if you intend to see a show at the Gorge, but take the little dirt road to the left just before you drive into the parking lot. Ask the guys at REI where this is; they should know.

Also, make sure there isn't a show out there the night(s) you go. That would screw everything up.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:37 AM on August 31, 2007

You said Western Washington, but anywhere east of the mountains is going to be much better for viewing. You might consider Twisp or other locations in the Methow Valley if highway 2 is convenient for you. Otherwise, anywhere outside of the "metropolises" of the east side of the state is going to be heaven compared to western Washington.

The higher your elevation, too, the better the viewing will be.

If you live in Seattle, say, getting to a good dark spot on the westside is probably about as far a drive as heading east. The far Pacific coast would be good, assuming the weather cooperates, and perhaps the San Juans. Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia all produce huge washes, plus the often stagnent air of Puget Sound is all going to work against you.
posted by maxwelton at 3:51 AM on August 31, 2007

I stayed a few nights on Lummi Island and was highly impressed with the number of viewable stars. Not much else going on but the night sky was magnificent.
posted by snez at 4:01 AM on August 31, 2007

Let's get you some independence with this.

1. Download and install WorldWind, then Land Lights, which is that popular Earth at night picture.
2. Start WorldWind up and activate the Layer Manager (View/Layer Manager) and click on "Boundaries".
3. Find Washington and zoom in to where you live. You zoom in by holding down both mouse buttons and moving the mouse up. To zoom out do the same but move the mouse down. The boundaries will appear slowly as they download and you zoom in so don't rush.
4. Now turn on the Land Lights layer, and zoom some place far away from the lights. Center that section on the screen. You may find the cross hairs useful for this: View> Show Cross Hairs.
5. To identify where the area is turn off the Land Lights layer, and turn on the Images/USGS Imagery/USGS Topo Maps layer. You'll have to wait for it to download and may need to zoom in to activate the layer, but eventually you can see the town names as well as parks in the area and the like. Just don't move the map while you are doing this, it needs to stay centered on the spot you choose.
posted by jwells at 6:43 AM on August 31, 2007

lol... or use this via this blue FPP yesterday.
posted by jwells at 7:51 AM on August 31, 2007

i once slept in the back of my pickup truck near crescent lake on the olympic penninsula, and it was staggeringly dark and wonderfully star-filled. i think most places out on the penninsula would work for skywatching.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:19 PM on August 31, 2007

Be sure to find a place to view the northern lights. It's possible in Washington if you find the right spot. Also, the best time to view them is in September.

While I was researching a good place to see the lights, I found that site from the FPP. It looks like the highest elevation, highest latitude, lowest local light, nearest to me (Bellingham), and easiest to get to, would be something like a park near Baker.
posted by philomathoholic at 5:23 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

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