Nature serves up magnificent displays of celestial eye candy, every day! But those in the cities often miss sighting these sparkling diamonds because of glaring city lights! This article lists designated parks that preserve the darkest of Canadian skies! Visit these places during days nearer to the new moon or during a celestial event for a sight to behold!
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has designated 20 light-restricted protected areas under three different categories: Dark-Sky Preserves, Urban Star Park, Nocturnal Preserve, classified based on the amount of artificial lighting visible in the area and astronomy education activities in place at the area.
There are two International Dark Sky Association designated sites in Canada.
1. McDonald Park Dark-Sky Park, Fraser Valley
Sumas Mountain blocks all the artificial light directed towards this little known park located between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
Over Night Stay: None!
2. Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park, Oak Bay
Located on the Oak Bay waterfront, this star gazing park is a spot to enjoy leisurely walks along the rocky shore! If you are visiting the area, you can also go for Oak Bay Walk of the Inner Planets Trail and explore Oak Bay. Cattle Point is one of the two Urban Star Parks in Canada (where the skies are still usable for astronomy)
Overnight Stay: None!
Educational Events: RASC Victotria holds monthly astronomy events in the Park!
1. 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 kms of maintained walking, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian, nordic skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding trails, this area is Edmonton’s darkest secret.
Overnight Stay: Camping at Elk Island National Park.
Educational Events: Host site of the Star Party by RASC Edmonton.
2. Jasper National Park
This Mountain National Park of Canada with one of the best scenic road 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, etherial constellations backdropped against majestic Rockies is celebrated every year during Jasper Dark Sky Festival!
Over Night Stay: Campsites, lodges and Resorts in the National Park.
Educational Events: Dark Sky Festival, Star Gazing Sessions at Jasper Sky Tram, Jasper Planetarium
3. Wood Buffalo National Park, AB/NT
With an area of 44,807 km2, the largest Canadian National Park is also the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. See nesting grounds of Whooping Cranes, Peregrine Falcon, Wood Bison, World’s Largest Beaver Dam before settling in for the night to see Milky Way spilling across the sky!
Overnight Stay: Campgrounds in the Park and Accommodations (hotel, campground, and bed & breakfasts) in Fort Chipewyan and Fort Smith (NT)
Educational Programs: Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival in August at Fort Smith, NT.
4. Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area
This conservation area near Calgary is a Nocturnal Preserve (primary focus is to protect the nighttime environment), where artificial lighting is controlled and the reduction of light pollution from neighbouring places is reduced!
Overnight Stay: Not allowed. Trails are open from 4:00 am to 11:00 pm seven days a week.
5. Bon Accord, Alberta
Festival: Annual Equinox Festival.
Education: A Dark Sky Park Project in Progress.
1. 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!
Overnight: Campgrounds and Various Accomodations.
Educational Events: Host site of the Annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, and Public star gazing spring though fall at Cypress Hills Dark Sky Observatory.
2. Grasslands National Park
The darkest Dark-Sky Preserve in Canada, this National Park protecting mixed grass prairie ecosystem, is where you can get away from the cacophony that is the bane of city life! The West and East Block covers over 729 square kilometres providing one with sparkling nightscapes to gaze upon! Participate in the annual Sleep-Under-the-Stars Party.
Overnight: Campgrounds and Various Accommodations in Val Marie.
Educational Events: Various guided astronomy programs by RASC.
3. Old Man on His Back Ranch
The first Noctural Preserve in all of Canada is the finest example of Nature Conservancy of Canada’s work in preserving grasslands of Saskatchewan! Explore this glorious Saskatchewan land through which herds of bison roam! The OMB visitor center is open weekends from the May long weekend to the end of September each year, when the interpreter is available to greet visitors and lead tours. When night falls, spot the Big Dipper or enjoy a meteor a shower!
1. Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve
Located only two hours drive from Toronto, this crown land (meaning Canadians can camp for free for 21 days at a stretch) in Muskoka was designated as a Dark Sky Preserve in 1999. During the day discover this first Dark Sky Preserve of Canada that contains bedrock and wetlands with-in its 4,700-acre through hiking or snowmobiling(winter). If you want to see Andromeda near Toronto using binoculars, this is the place to go!
Overnight: No developed campsites. Follow Ontario rules on camping on crown land.
2. Point Pelee National Park
One of Canada’s smallest national parks, Point Pelee National Park is a well known birding destination – with rare birds visiting the park during spring and fall migration, a beacon in Monarch butterfly conservation and home to a rich and diverse natural ecosystem. To experience the dark sky in Point Pelee, join for RASC programs held once a month when Point Pelee National Park remains open until midnight for visitors.
Education: Monthly nightsky viewing programs by members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
3. Gordon’s Park, Manitoulin Island
Designated a Dark-Sky Preserve in November 2008, Gordon’s Park is a privately owned Park located in Manitoulin Island. Experience a 360 degree view of the night sky! The park is open for observing from May to September annually. Enjoy Aurora on an active night during your stay of enjoying the treasures of Manitoulin Island!
Overnight Stay: Various options including bed and breakfast and a rustic wilderness cabin located in the interior of the Dark Sky Preserve.
Educational Programs: Public astronomy outreach programs on Thursday nights during the months of July & August.
4. Blue Water Outdoor Education Centre, Wiarton
Canada’s 15th Dark Sky Preserve, Blue Water Outdoor Education Centre is the site of E.S. Fox Observatory that is equipped with a 28-inch Webster reflecting telescope and a 10-inch SCT on a GOTO mount.
Overnight Stay: None!
Educational Programs: Various sky viewing programs round the year.
5. The Dark Sky Preserve – North Frontenac
Located at 5816 Road 506, south of Plevna, and two hours from Ottawa is the Dark Sky Observation Pad of North Frontenac. This is the first municipality in Canada to receive Dark Sky Preserve Designation. The Observation Pad has many amenities including accessible washroom enabling any budding astronomer enjoy the nightly feast served up by the skies!
Overnight Stay: None on site, but accommodations available in North Frontenac.
Educational Programs: Various programs monthly.
These two spectacular National Parks in Ontario, are great getaways to escape the hustle and bustle of the most populous part of Canada! Experience phenomenal night skies away from the glow of city lights, during your spectacular vacation in one of Canada’s busiest National Park.
Overnight Stay: Many options including campgrounds and hotels.
Educational Programs: Dark Skies Weekend by Parks Canada: The Bluewater Astronomical Society provides opportunities for night sky viewing and more throughout the weekend.
Though not a designated Dark Sky Community, Municipality of the Northern Bruce Peninsula also holds various programs in association with the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, and Bruce Peninsula Environmental Group.
Mont-Mégantic International Dark-Sky Preserve
Located at the entrance of the Parc national du Mont-Mégantic, Mount Mégantic is about 250 km from Quebec City and Montreal. The Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve (MMIDSR) is the first International Dark Sky Reserve certified by International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Enjoy the memorable starry sky of Mont Mégantic and participate the various astronomy related activities at ASTROLab.
Overnight Stay: Various Campsites in the park.
Educational Programs: Various guided programs by the park, Astronomy evenings at the ASTROLab on select days programs at public observatory, and the Astronomy Festival.
Kejimkujik National Park
An idyllic escape in Nova Scotia’s Seaside, this pristine and protected coastal estuary is the only Dark Sky Preserve in the Maritime Province. Discover Mi’kmaw cultural perspectives of the night sky through the guidance of Parks Canada Interpreters and Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Astronomers at this Dark Sky Preserve, designated a in 2010. No binoculars, you rent a dark sky kit for ~$5 a day which has Binoculars (Celestron 8X42 mm), Star finder, Red light, Games for children, and Stargazing references. You can also visit the the Sky Circle and gaze at brilliant celestial bodies through an on-site telescope.
Over Night Stay: Various camping options in the park.
Educational programs: Interpretation activities at select times of the year.
1. Kouchibouguac National Park
Stretching along the Acadian Coast, New Brunswick’s dark sky ocean paradise protects golden sand dunes, has stargazing programs even in winter! Have a night out exploring the park on snowhoes to Middle Kouchibouguac and enjoy a guided winter sky observation with astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Overnight Stay: Various camping and accommodations in the park.
Educational Programs: Various programs on astronomy and other dark sky themes.
2. Mount Carleton Provincial Park
Protecting more than 42,000 acres of pristine wilderness, Mount Carleton Provincial Park is only Dark Sky Preserve designated Provincial Park in Atlantic Canada. Mount Carleton Provincial Park is also the largest provincial park in New Brunswick and home to the highest peak in Maritimes (Mount Carleton).
Overnight Stay: Various camping and accommodations in the park (Late Spring to Fall)
3. Fundy National Park
Experience the wonders of the night sky at the site of the world’s highest tides. Settle in for the night of Milky Way Madness after a day out at Dickson Falls Trail, or a walk on the ocean floor.
Overnight Stay: Various camping and accommodations in the park.
Educational Programs: Guided star gazing that inludes a look through the park’s tracking telescope.
4. Irving Nature Park, Saint John
The only other designated Urban Star Park, located near Saint John, yet far away from its snazzy lights, Irving Nature Park is place where you point your telescope to find Saturn’s rings! Created by J.D. Irving Limited, the 600 acre Irving Nature Park protects various ecosystems of the Southern New Brunswick coastline.
Overnight Stay: None on site.
Educational Programs: Regular night viewing programs during summer & fall by RASC, New Brunswick.