In Canada, you can find areas of dark sky preserved by both Parks Canada and Alberta’s Provincial Parks. Dark sky preserves ensure limited to no light pollution within an area to help nocturnal wildlife and ecosystems thrive; one added bonus is that we can see the best of Alberta’s northern dark skies: stars-possibly a shooting star- Northern Lights, or bright full moons. An Alberta stargazing adventure can easily be made into a day trip at Provincial and National Park day-use areas, or some observatories; or you can choose from one of many campsites and comfort camping opportunities in Alberta.
All you really need is a dark sky and a comfortable place to sit or lay back and enjoy the show. Follow dark sky etiquettes when you are visiting the area.
FYI: Any place with a dark sky designation will have educational programs by local RASC chapters/Parks Canada/Alberta Parks and/or measures in place to protect the “dark skies.” There is no need to travel to places listed below to see meteor showers or Aurora as you can stargaze at any place dark enough to see stars brightly. Check the darkskyfinder (or here) and visit parks near you coloured green, blue, grey, and black to see meteor showers and northern lights.
Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve
Cypress Hills Dark-Sky Preserve encompasses over 97,800 acres with Cypress Hills Centre Block, Cypress Hills West Block, Cypress Hills West Block and Fort Walsh National Historic Site, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Enjoy constellations and the array of stars in the intensely black night sky after a day of exploring Cypress Hills!
The Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve is one of many in the province, and covers the Cypress Hills Provincial Park area, which provides many options for camping, comfort camping, or late-night visits. Elkwater Lake, nestled between the hills and near highway 41, provides multiple options for both overnight camping and day use, so you can spend the night after stargazing.
Spruce Coulee Campground
Located closer to the Saskatchewan border, the Spruce Coulee Campground offers a more rugged overnight camping experience, but with that comes a better dark-sky experience. There is a beach on the small Spruce Coulee Lake, as well as a boat launch, so you can sit lakeside to stargaze, or right on the lake. The sites are tent-only, and are spacious and treed-in.
Lakeland Dark Sky Preserve
Lakeland Provincial Park east of Lac La Biche is fabulous for a trip to enjoy nature. Enjoy a remote dark sky experience as the park is home to Alberta’s only lake canoe circuit that will take you along Jackson, Kinnaird, Blackett and McGuffin Lakes. Set up camps along the shore and experience nature at its finest as you explore the circuit 38 kilometres in length.
Touchwood Lake in Lakeland Provincial Recreation Area is a perfect camping destination for stargazers and outdoor enthusiasts. The campground opens on June 1st and offers washrooms, firewood for sale, a lookout pier, and boat launch.
This Lakeland campground also opens June 1st and can provide beautiful early spring stars and skies. Enjoy the beauty of the lake by day, and the wonder of the aurora or strands of endless stars by night.
Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve
The closest Dark Sky Preserve to a Big City of Canada and the Alberta Capital, Beaver Hills Dark-Sky Preserve encloses both Elk Island National Park and Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area. A wilderness enthusiasts’ destination with abundant wildlife, 170 km of maintained walking, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian, nordic skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding trails, this area is Edmonton’s “darkest” secret.
Miquelon Lake Provincial Park
The Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve covers a large expanse of central Alberta sky, and Miquelon Lake Provincial Park is just one of three places you can stop to stargaze. The Miquelon Lake Day Use area is a great place to park and sit around a campfire for the night.
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area is the second of the parks under Beaver Hills and its large size provides many different options around the lake for setting up for a night under the stars. There are several staging areas where you can easily set up your telescopes or your lawn chairs, and the Parks website provides maps for each staging/day use area.
- Blackfoot Lake Staging Area Day Use
- Central Staging Area Day Use
- Islet Lake Staging Area Day Use
- Waskahegan Staging Area Day Use
Elk Island National Park
Elk Island national park is the final of the three parks under Beaver Hills and is preserved by Parks Canada. Head to Astotin Lake within the park for excellent star gazing lakeside or fireside and consider sleeping under the stars too. You can either camp at the national park or head to the nearby Elk Island Retreat, where you can rent out geodomes, which allow you to sleep under the stars while keeping you protected from the elements.
Observatory at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park
This Observatory is run by the U of A Augustana Campus, and houses a large telescope, and rooms to rent for research projects or functions. Outside the main building are picnic benches and firepits so you can bring your household out here for an evening of stargazing. Miquelon Lake Provincial Park is located under the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, so your stargazing is completely uninterrupted from light pollution.
Jasper Dark Sky Preserve
This Mountain National Park of Canada with one of the best scenic roads that winds through rugged landscapes dotted with glaciers hugging the steep cliffs is a dream destination when sun is high in the sky. When darkness descends, ethereal constellations backdropped against the majestic Rockies are celebrated every year during Jasper Dark Sky Festival!
No matter where in Jasper National Park you decide to gaze at the stars, you’re likely to see quite a nighttime show. But if you head to Jasper’s Planetarium, you can go on guided tours in the park that protects 11000 km2 of guaranteed darkness and gaze at the stars with the largest, most powerful telescopes in the Rockies! The Planetarium’s website also provides clear sky charts and an aurora radar.
Jasper Planetarium – Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, 1 Old Lodge Road
This clear blue and glacier-fed lake provides a stunning backdrop and reflective surface for the starry skies above. The picturesque lake is only a 20-minute drive outside the Jasper townsite where you can park at the Medicine Lake viewpoint or continue your drive around the lake to the Jacques Lake Trailhead.
Pyramid Lake and Island
The scenic drive into the Pyramid Lake Resort area (especially during sundown) can reveal a ton of wildlife who sit on the edge of the townsite: you could see elk, moose, or deer. The lake itself is large with an island in the middle, accessed by a boardwalk bridge over the lake. All areas are available to stargazers, and you’ll find benches and picnic tables which dot the trails surrounding the lake.
RASC Observatory at TWOSE Grounds
This free RASC Observatory on the Telus World of Science Edmonton grounds is at Edmonton’s Coronation Park, and is open to the public during clear sky nights and when the temperatures are above -10 degrees Celsius (including wind chill). When open, you are free to observe the night sky through a powerful telescope. You’ll be able to experience the night sky from a close-up view like never before.
University of Alberta Observatory
The observatory is operated by the Department of Physics at the University of Alberta. It is located on the roof of the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS). This is a short drive for anyone in the Capital Region area of Edmonton. When the Observatory is open, you are free to gather and see what you can see in the night sky. The observatory regularly holds free public lectures during the evening observing hours and solar observing during noon.
Bon Accord (Dark Sky Community)
The rural community of Bon Accord just north of Edmonton received the designation of a Dark Sky Community because of the local efforts made to preserve natural light while diminishing artificial light usage. You can visit the community on a clear night to catch a glimpse of starry skies and endless constellations or even spectacular northern lights.
Rothney Astrophysical Observatory
For stargazers in the Calgary and Foothills area, you can stargaze under the dark skies next to the U of C’s Observatory. The observatory regularly holds an open house once a month (non-covid days), Milky Way Nights dedicated to solely observing the night sky and programs for the public during special astronomy event days like meteor showers.
Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area
Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area is open 4am-11pm daily, and you can book yourself either a dusk or a dawn stargazing hike. This nocturnal preserve is also a conservation area, so you can do some wildlife spotting during your visit as well. It is possible you’ll spot an owl or two! The entire Foothills M.D. has strict light pollution bylaws, which help ensure the surrounding areas stay dark as well.
Big Sky Observatory
The Big Sky Observatory is about half-way between Calgary and Lethbridge, and close to High River. Join for public events at the observatory or park and set up a comfy place to stargaze at the Willow Creeks Provincial Park, or the Little Bow Provincial Park, each located on either side of the observatory. These areas provide a quick escape from both Calgary and Lethbridge.
Old Man River Observatory
The southern Alberta skies provide numerous opportunities close to Lethbridge for stargazing. The Old Man River Observatory, run by the Lethbridge Astronomical Society, has an outdoor viewing platform equipped with two different telescopes to help enhance your view of the stars. And if you happen to come by when the Observatory is closed, the surrounding Popson Park offers benches and picnic sites.
Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Preserve
In turning the Wood Buffalo area into a Dark Sky preserve in 2013, Parks Canada enriched the lives of over a dozen owl species, and other nocturnal animals while also creating the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. Visit Alberta side of the National Park at Fort Chipewyan to enjoy the darkest of skies. Dr. Roberta Bondar Northern Observatory is near the town of Fort Smith (in Northwest Territories) and has public spaces equipped for stargazing with lay-back benches and rooftop areas. Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Astronomical Society also holds the annual Dark Sky Festival every August (in NT).