Your guide to STELLAR stargazing in Texas!

October 12, 2023

Discover destinations for the best stargazing in Texas!

Milky Way stargazing at Big Bend National Park in Texas 
Texas is full of awe-inspiring natural spaces where you can really enjoy nature's beauty. And there is no better way to do just that than laying back and looking at the stars at night. In fact, the state has many wide-open spaces away from urban areas that are ideal for Texas stargazing.

But there are some things you should know if you want to have the best experience possible. If you’ve been wondering where you can see the Milky Way in Texas, wonder no more! We’re diving deep into when and where to have the best stargazing experience in Texas.

Best Time for Texas Stargazing

In Texas, you can enjoy stargazing year-round. However, the best time to go for the ultimate stargazing experience is during the Milky Way season, which lasts from February to October. The best time to go is between midnight and 5 a.m. on nights with a new moon.

Due to the earth’s rotation, the Milky Way will be easiest to see the week before or just after a new moon. It will be in a different part of the sky, depending on the time of year.

Around the winter solstice, it usually appears right after the setting sun in the western sky. Around the summer solstice, the Milky Way is usually visible in the southwestern sky.

The Bortle Scale

Whether you're looking for the best stargazing spots in Texas or anywhere else in the world, it's helpful to have some way to rank locations. The Bortle Scale, invented by John E. Bortle, is a way to do just that. 

In short, the Bortle Scale measures the brightness of the sky in a particular location. It assigns a value from 1 to 9 that roughly quantifies the ability to see stars, planets, and other celestial bodies given the light pollution present.

A class 9 site is incredibly bright, like the sky you might find in the middle of a major city. Very few stars are visible, if any. A class 1 site, however, is about as free from light pollution as it gets. From such sites, the full majesty of space is on display, including constellations, stars, planets, and even the beautiful bands of the Milky Way. 

Top 15 Places for Stargazing in Texas

As the song says, the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas! And we’ve put together a list of our top 15 places to see those beautiful stars in the Lone Star State.

1. Big Bend National Park

If you’re looking for the best stargazing in Texas, look no further than Big Bend National Park. On a clear night, you can see nearly 2,000 stars, compared to the few hundred you might see in the city.

Big Bend is ranked a gold-tier destination by the International Dark Sky Association, a designation shared by only 13 other parks worldwide. It’s also ranked number 4 on the top 7 spots in the world to stargaze.

The best spots for stargazing inside the park are the Hot Springs Canyon Trail and the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. Both of these trails have vistas with unobstructed views of the sky. If you're staying at the Marathon Motel, north of the park, there’s a high-powered telescope on site for visitors to use to see the stars up close.

2. Big Bend Ranch Natural Area

Big Bend Ranch Natural Area is located northwest along the border of Big Bend National Park. It’s a Class 1 park on the Bortle Scale, making it one of the best places to stargaze in Texas, especially if you want to see the Milky Way.

During the day, you can enjoy horseback riding, hiking, cycling, and more before spending the night under the stars. They also have organized group stargazing events if you prefer to have a guide along the way.

3. Enchanted Rock State Park

Enchanted Rock State Park is arguably one of the best places in Central Texas to stargaze. Located an hour and a half west of Austin in Fredericksburg, TX, it’s a designated International Dark Sky Park, which means its ideal for stargazing.

Enchanted Rock State Park features a distinctive 425-foot high pink granite formation at its center that’s estimated to be one billion years old. It's easy to get lost in the natural beauty while gazing at the stars over this legendary focal point.

4. Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is another great spot to stargaze in Texas. The park regularly hosts star parties, moon gazing, full moon hikes, and other fun events that allow you to soak in the night sky.

The park features onsite astronomy binoculars, two 4-inch telescopes, and a 10-inch telescope. With this equipment, visitors are able to see more than just a couple of constellations.

One of the most iconic places to stargaze within the park is around the park’s famous Lighthouse Formation. On a dark, moonless night, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way just above the formation.

5. Canyon of the Eagles Resort

Located in Burnet, TX, Canyon of the Eagles Resort is a nature-based resort where you can enjoy the unspoiled Texas Hill Country. This 940-acre park is far from the big city light pollution, offering the ideal setting for stargazing.

The resort has an observatory on site—the Eagle Eye Observatory—with multiple telescopes that offer beautiful views of planets, galaxies, and nebulas. The observatory is staffed by a dedicated astronomer who is knowledgeable and ready to tell you all about what you’re looking at up there.

6. McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory is a must-stop for Texas stargazers. Just two hours north of Big Bend National Park in Fort Davis, this observatory is hosted by the University of Texas Astronomy Department.

McDonald Observatory features high-powered telescopes that allow you to look deep into the night sky and see stars up close. This location hosts daily tours, weekly star parties, and special viewing nights.

7. Dripping Springs

Often called the Gateway to the Hill Country, Dripping Springs is serious about preserving the beauty of the night sky. Located about 25 miles from Austin, the city has gone to great lengths to keep the sky clear of light pollution by passing smart lighting ordinances in 2011 to regulate night lighting.

Dripping Springs became the first community in Texas and the sixth in the world to earn the Dark-Sky Community certification. You can stargaze here year-round or visit the city for the Texas Night Sky Festival, which happens every March.

8. Brazos Bend State Park

Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, TX is another popular stargazing spot in Texas. Located just 45 miles from downtown Houston, this area does experience light pollution from the large city. However, the George Observatory is still a great spot to view the stars, given that it has one of the largest telescopes in the United States.

The 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope is regularly available for public use, offering beautiful views of the solar system. In addition to seeing the Milky Way, observatory visitors have seen Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s cloud belts, bright meteors, and a total moon eclipse.

9. Inks Lake State Park

Just an hour northwest of Austin, you’ll find Inks Lake State Park, a beautiful nature park with great spots for stargazing.

Hosted by the Austin Astronomical Society, the park features Star Parties, events where visitors can use the high-powered telescopes or their own equipment to peer at the night sky. These parties offer guided tours of the stars and constellations.

10. Resaca de la Palma State Park

Located in Brownsville, TX, Resaca de la Palma State Park is well known for being a birdwatcher’s paradise because it's home to one of the largest variety of bird species. But did you know it’s also a great place for stargazing?

Resaca de la Palma State Park is far removed from the light pollution of nearby towns, making it ideal for seeing the stars. The Nompuewenu Observatory hosts events like Astronomy in the Park and other educational programming that’s fit for the whole family.

11. Devils River State Natural Area

If you’re looking for the darkest place in Texas, you’ll find it at Devils River State Natural Area in Del Rio, TX. In fact, it’s recognized as one of the darkest places in the world! And it’s been designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Since the area is located in a remote area of Southwest Texas, the night skies are almost completely light pollution-free. Check out the Dark Sky Viewing Area in the park for the best views, where you can peacefully sit and look at the stars.

12. Matagorda Island

About an hour north of Corpus Christi, Matagorda Island offers 38 miles of shoreline and bayside marshes in the heart of Texas' Gulf Coast. These are only accessible by ferry or private boat, making it the perfect place to peacefully gaze at the night sky without feeling too crowded.

The island itself doesn’t have electricity or motorized vehicles to disrupt your experience. It is a truly isolated and quiet place for stargazing. You can camp on the island for a night or two and head to the beach when the sun goes down to see the stars.

13. Pedernales Falls State Park

Just 30 miles from Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park is a beautiful natural space, featuring the Pedernales River and plenty of cascading waterfalls. By day, you can swim, camp, hike, bike, and horseback ride, and by night, you’ll get unparalleled views of the stars.

The park’s Star Theatre hosts monthly events called Stories in the Stars where visitors can hear the legends behind seasonal constellations while getting unobstructed views of the night sky.

14. South Llano River State Park

Ever imagined stargazing next to a wild turkey? South Llano River State Park features two miles of beautiful riverfront. The spring-fed river attracts a large variety of wildlife and wild bird species. In fact, the park is known for its turkey roost, which is one of the largest in central Texas.

View the breathtaking stars as part of a star party or other astronomy program. It’s a great way to get the opportunity to look through a powerful telescope and get help from experts identifying objects in the night sky.

15. Rafes Urban Astronomy Center

Operated by the University of North Texas, the Rafes Urban Astronomy Center is open to the public on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Located less than an hour from Dallas in Denton, TX, this is a convenient spot to see the stars for those who live in the city.

During these public star parties, you’ll get the opportunity to use the center’s powerful telescopes and learn more about what you’re seeing in the night sky from the center staff and students.

Stargazing at McDonald Observatory in Texas 

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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