Crater Lake, The Milky Way (of which we are part of) and airglow – photo by John H. Moore from
Come on – go outside, get your head out of your phone and look UP! (unless you’re using the Google star finder app)

Crater Lake National Park is listed by the National Park Service’s Dark Sky Team as among the top 10 dark sky locations in the National Park System.

If you are curious enough to stay outdoors after dark, there’s a real treat in store by looking up and experiencing the wonders of the other half of this great national park.


Star gazing at Crater Lake is best on nights without clouds or a full moon. On such an evening, the stars are too numerous to count. They appear so bright, that one might be tempted to lay down, and take off one’s shirt to get a “star tan.” Venus and the Milky Way appear to cast a shadow. By full moon, the light intensity is such that colors are discernible to the unaided eye.

The beauty of the night sky at Crater Lake is largely due to its isolation and the extensive amount of land surrounding the caldera that is preserved in a natural state.  Along with large tracts of wilderness comes a virtual absence of artificial lights allowing the pupil of the human eye to widen and become receptive to distant stars, some of which are thousands to millions of light years away. At Crater Lake there is no light pollution from nearby settlements and cities. There is no light pollution from night advertisement and local traffic.

At Crater Lake, the transparency of the night sky is enhanced by the summer climate. The humidity of the air and the frequency of cloud cover is low in the High Cascades of South-Central Oregon. The views of the night from the 7,000′ elevation at Rim Village are optimum because of the low density of tree cover and the unobstructed view of the horizon is all directions created by the pre-historic collapse of Mt. Mazama.

What to View and When

Major celestial bodies and events to view throughout the year and where to view them

It is best to go outside before sunset and get acquainted with the names of the surrounding peaks. Across the caldera is the distant Matterhorn-shaped summit of Mt. Thielsen. This is the general direction of north. Thus, with your back towards the caldera and Mt. Thielsen, you are looking in the general direction of due south. Cloudcap and Mt. Scott are in the East, Garfield Peak is in the South East, and the Watchman is in the West. Llao Rock is in the Northwest. The Wineglass is in the Northeast.

After sunset, the first stars

Once sunset occurs, look for a bright star. If the bright star is in the west, it’s most likely the planet Venus, the second from the sun. A view in mounted binoculars or a small telescope will usually reveal that, like the early moon, it is crescent-shaped.

Within a few minutes, as dusk darkens, the next stars to look for are Vega, high in the sky above Garfield Peak and Arcturus in the West. These two bright stars will be followed by Deneb and Altair.

Vega, Deneb and Altair make up the three stars of the summer triangle. They are each in different constellations, however. As the minutes pass, as it gets much darker, the Milky Way can be seen emerging from the South Eastern Horizon through Deneb and between Vega and Altair.

Look up across the caldera, the stars in the handle and bowl of the Big Dipper (the most visible portions of Ursa Majoris) are now visible. The form an arc that points to Arcturus.

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