The best time to enjoy a night full of stargazing in any city is, of course, during the summer. But especially here in Western New York, where a snowstorm can strike as early as October and as late as May some years, we know we need to take advantage of the beautiful summer nights while we can.
Stargazing itself is a super versatile summer activity. Whether you want to spend some time under the stars with your family or need a super romantic date idea, stargazing is a fun, free activity that you can do almost anywhere.
For the top stargazing spots around Western New York that come highly recommended by locals, check out our guide below, complete with tips on how to get started!
Is there anything Letchworth doesn’t have? One of the many New York State parks open past 8pm or later, Letchworth State Park is just about an hour and a half drive from downtown Buffalo and well out of the way of any major light pollution. The park offers tons of camping and hiking options, plus plenty of open space to take in the night sky.
Allegany State Park is not only one of the largest state parks in New York— it’s also one of the most remote places to stargaze. Locals recommend setting up at the southern end of the park near Quaker Lake, where much of the Milky Way can be seen on clear nights.
The park is generally only open until dusk, so we recommend booking a cabin or campsite for the full astronomical experience.
Heading in the complete opposite direction, Golden Hill State Park is located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. It’s open year round, with multiple overnight camping options (haven’t you always wanted to sleep in a yurt or a historic, possibly haunted lighthouse?) that allow visitors to see incredible views of the stars over the lake at night.
Olcott Beach in Olcott, NY is another highly recommended stargazing option on Lake Ontario, but since it’s closed this year due to COVID-19, you’ll have to keep it on your radar for next summer!
By day, Beaver Meadow Audubon Center is a scenic nature reserve bursting with wildlife and hiking trails to explore. But by night, it’s one of the best places to take in a starry night sky. Feel free to venture in on your own, or join the Buffalo Astronomical Association that runs out of the park’s observatory to learn more about astronomy in a group setting.
According to the light pollution map of Buffalo, Hamburg is right on the cusp of the dense light that’s centered around the city, so it’s a pretty good stargazing option if you’re looking to stay a little closer to home. Enjoy the landscape of Eighteen Mile Creek Park while the sun sets, and you’ll have a front row seat for the starry skies to come.
The Penn Dixie Site also frequently holds stargazing events in Hamburg, though they’re on pause at the moment due to COVID-19.
Often described as “one of Western New York’s best kept secrets,” the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is located just south of Medina and spans over a whopping 10,000 acres of land. With wildlife conservation at the forefront of the park’s efforts, visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, and bird watching during the day, and stay for some exceptional stargazing in the open fields at night.
If you’re up for a bit of adventure (and by a bit of adventure we really mean a bit of a drive), head down to Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, which is just under 3 hours from the city of Buffalo. Known as “the darkest spot east of the Mississippi River,” the park is located in the woods of northern Pennsylvania near the New York State border and is open 24 hours a day for exploring.
Whether you just take a quick one-night road trip or spend the entire weekend camping in the park, you’re sure to be blown away by the amount of stars you’ll be able to see.
Stargazing Tips from the Pros
Now that we’ve got our locations covered, here’s what stargazing experts and enthusiasts alike recommend for an excellent experience:
- If you don’t go with one of the above locations, be sure to pick a dark area with a convenient parking spot. If you plan to leave your car, bring a blanket or chair for maximum comfort.
- If you do find yourself in a more light-polluted area, try to find an elevated spot so surrounding buildings don’t obstruct your view as much.
- Check the weather, visibility, and temperature before you go. A sky with less moonlight and no heavy clouds is specifically optimal for star-viewing.
- Bring binoculars and/or a telescope if you have them for a wider view of the whole sky.
- Download a stargazing app to learn more about the constellations and the stories behind them. Proceed to wow your date, friends, or family with what you’ve learned. 😉