Your Guide to Stargazing in Nebraska

Nebraska features plenty of wide-open spaces with limited light pollution that make it the perfect destination for stargazing. Looking to plan your own Nebraska stargazing adventure? We’ve come up with everything you need to know – including a list of parks and recreation areas across the state with dark skies perfect for viewing, stargazing tips and tricks and a packing list.

Stars/Milky Way over Merritt Reservoir
Stars/Milky Way over Merritt Reservoir. Photo Credit: Nebraskaland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

You can find great spots to stargaze all throughout the state, but if you need help deciding where to go, check out this list of Nebraska State Parks and State Recreation Areas with dark skies perfect for stargazing in each region.

Stars over Calamus Reservoir SRA
Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Nebraskaland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Tips for the best stargazing experience

  • Make your trip around the new moon! Night skies will appear darkest and stars brightest around the new moon each month. If you can’t coordinate your trip to coincide with the new moon, aim for just before or just after. Check a lunar calendar to see when the new moons will occur throughout the year.
  • While you can stargaze anytime of the year, autumn, winter and spring are preferred by many astronomers. Although summer is the warmest for nighttime activities, it has the fewest number of dark hours and can often be unreliable weather wise.
  • Check the forecast at your destination a day or two before you depart. Rain and cloud cover has a big impact on your ability to see the stars. Clear Sky Charts are a great tool to check the forecast for astronomical observing conditions.
  • The best places to stargaze are those with limited light pollution. Use a light pollution map to find the darkest place near you or check out one of the spots listed by region above!

Nebraska Star Party
Nebraska Star Party at Merritt Reservoir. 

Stargazing packing list

  • Red-light flashlight. The best way to see in the dark is to let yourself slowly acclimate by relaxing in perfect darkness. If you must use white light illumination (like a cell phone), it will take fully 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to readjust! Using a low intensity red or green light helps preserve your night vision and shortens the recovery time dramatically. 
  • Binoculars. Stargazing under pristine dark skies doesn’t require any visual aids, but binoculars can enhance the experience by giving you a closer look at certain deep space objects. Although they won’t be able to compete with telescopes, they are a more cost-conscious option for beginners. 
  • Planisphere. A planisphere is a great learning tool for beginners to recognize stars and constellations. More information on using a planisphere here.
  • Warm clothes. Even if you’re stargazing in the summer months, temperatures drop at night. Blankets. These can serve as your extra layer or as ground cover so you can sprawl out on the ground more comfortably.
  • Fully reclining chairs or ground pads. If you’re willing to make the investment, portable reclining chairs or cots are choice for viewing and comfort. Ground pads or sleeping pads work just fine too, but you may want to bring a neck pillow for extra support.
  • Warm beverage. Keep warm and/or caffeinated during a long night of observing. 
  • Water. Stay hydrated, friends.

Scotts Bluff National Monument
Scotts Bluff National Monument