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WTA's Dark Places Digest

WTA has collected some options for locations all over the state that allow you to see a shooting star without planning a backpacking trip.

When a meteor shower falls on a weeknight, it can be hard to think of a place far enough away from light pollution that you can see celestial activity but still be home in time for work the next day.

WTA has collected locations all over the state that allow you to see a shooting star without planning a backpacking trip. Don't forget to double-check the time, set an alarm (or two), and pack the hot cocoa.

For those of you who can spend the night, or are willing to wake up super early, we have included a few state park locations that make for nice close-in camping options. Remember that night hiking can be a unique experience, so there are some special considerations:

  • Bring a headlamp or a flashlight for each person in your group.
  • Save your eyes (and your companions) from light blindness by using the red setting on your headlamp or flashlight. Don't have a red light? Just tape some red saran wrap over the light.
  • Go somewhere you feel comfortable navigating in the dark.
  • Let someone know your itinerary. Tell your contact where you're going, how long you plan to be gone, and a return time.
  • Dress warmly and bring blankets.
  • Brush up on your nighttime photography skills

Central Washington

Steamboat Rock State Park

Location: Central Washington--Grand Coulee 
Length: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 650 feet

Why Go: The starry skies at Steamboat Rock are absolutely astounding. If you can, make this one an overnight -- the stars here are some of the brightest in the state, and the sounds of a desert at night are hypnotically relaxing.

Steamboat Rock State Park. Photo by KristenSF.
Steamboat Rock State Park. Photo by KristenSF.

Know what to expect: In case this is a longer drive for you, double-check that you have everything you might want for the evening, including a Discover Pass.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Umtanum Creek Canyon

Location: Central Washington--Yakima
Length: 6.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 700 feet

Why Go: A local favorite, the steep walls of Umtanum Canyon make a great screen for light pollution from the cities on the plateau. You don't have to hike all the way into the canyon to take advantage of the night sky. Amble a little ways in and look up.

Umtanum Creek Canyon. Photo by TrailsEqualsHappiness.jpeg
Umtanum Creek Canyon. Photo by trip report TrailsEqualsHappiness. 

Know what to expect: Rattlesnakes linger in brush, regardless of the hour, particularly when canyons have been warmed by the sun all day. Step carefully as you hike, and remember to do a thorough tick check when you get home.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Puget Sound

Illahee State Park

Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Kitsap Peninsula
Length: 0.5 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: minimal 

Why Go: This is a great destination for a family overnight. Because the trail is 0.5 mile, everyone will be able to enjoy a nice walk with plenty of time to stop along the beach or at the playground. 

Illahee State Park beach. Photo by cathartes.
Illahee State Park beach. Photo by cathartes. 

Know what to expect: Reserve one of the 23 campsites ahead of time. If you're just visiting for the day, you will need a Discover Pass to park in the parking area. If you're visiting without a car and plan to camp, there are two hiker/biker sites. The park has all the amenities including ADA accessible restrooms and showers. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Mount Constitution

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- San Juan Islands 
Mileage: 6.7 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet

Why Go: As the highest point on Orcas Island, Mount Constitution offers unparalleled views over Puget Sound. It's great for hikers of all abilities; gung-ho hikers can make the exhilarating push to the top, while more easy-going folks can drive to the summit.

Mount Constitution. Photo by Lauren Leakey.jpg
View from the summit of Mount Constitution. Photo by Lauren Leakey. 

Know what to expect: Because it's in a state park, hikers who want to take advantage of Mount Constitution as a night hike will have to camp, so be sure to have a Discover Pass and a campsite picked out. Of course, you can take off as early as you like if you've got to get to school or work.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Southwest Washington

Goldendale observatory State Park 

Location: Southwest Washington -- Columbia River Gorge
Mileage: minimal
Elevation Gain: minimal 

Why Go: The observatory at Goldendale offers a fantastic place to get breathtaking views of the night sky. And with access to one end of the Klickitat Rail Trail, you can wander off to nature to enjoy the starry skies with your own eyes after getting your fill from the telescope at the observatory.

goldendale observatory bernt rostad
The observatory at Goldendale is an excellent spot to keep your eye on the sky. Photos: Bernt Rostad and Lijuan Guo

Know what to expect: The observatory is a popular location during celestial events, so be prepared to share the space with other star-lovers. If you want to enjoy the meteor shower more privately, try accessing the trail at the Lyle trailhead.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


Silver Lake

Location: South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens 
Length: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 100 feet

Why Go: The boardwalk of the Silver Lake trail at Seaquest State Park is flat with high guardrails, so it's ADA-accessible and perfect for kids. You'll zigzag out over the shallow waters of Silver Lake, and on clear, calm nights you might even be able to see reflections of zooming comets in the still water around you.

Silver Lake at Seaquest State Park. Photo by Liz M.
Silver Lake at Seaquest State Park. Photo by Liz M. 

Know what to expect: As with most state parks, Seaquest does close after dusk, but for those who don't want to reserve a campsite, it's possible to get a great view of the night sky by pulling off of highway 504 in a safe turnout and looking up.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Olympic Peninsula

Kalaloch - Third Beach

Location: Olympics -- Pacific Coast
Length: 3.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 280 feet

Why Go: Meteor showers on the Olympic Peninsula are an otherworldly spectacle. Plus, the hike in is minimal -- the beach is about 100 feet from where you park your car, and the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula is a great spot to avoid light pollution.

Third Beach at sunset. Photo by jeffdill.
Third Beach at sunset. Photo by jeffdill. 

Know what to expect: The ocean can be unpredictable at any hour of the day or night, so grab a tide table before heading out, keep little ones close at hand, and be aware of waves and crashing surf.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Dungeness Recreation Area

Location: Olympic Peninsula--Northern Coast
Length: 3.0 miles of trails
Elevation Gain: minimal 

Why Go: Situated on the bluff above the Strait of Juan De Fuca, this area boasts 67 campsites in addition to the scenic, mile-long bluff trail and excellent birdwatching.

Dungeness Recreation Area. Photo by WalkieTalkie.jpeg
Trail along the bluffs. Photo by trip reporter WalkieTalkie. 

Know what to expect: This park is managed by Clallam County Parks. There is no fee for day use, but you must reserve and pay to stay in a campground overnight. Amenities include hiker/biker sites, ADA accessible restrooms and showers. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Northwest Washington

Artist Ridge - Huntoon Point

Location: North Cascades -- Mount Baker Area 
Length: 1.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Why Go: On summer days, Artist Point can be a crowded madhouse of hikers trying to make the most of summer in this alpine location. Evenings can be crowded too -- the expansive skies and gorgeous views aren't exactly a secret -- but with a vista like this, how could anyone resist?

Artist Point. Photo by Meg Carlson..jpg
Huntoon Point at dusk. Photo by Meg Carlson. 

Know what to expect: Because snow sticks around here for so long, it's possible that the summer trail won't be open for some early-season meteor showers. Be prepared if you plan to take the winter route, or better yet, hang out in the parking lot and make friends with your fellow celestial observers.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Samish Overlook

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Bellingham Area 
Length: 6.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1900 feet

Why Go: You can't camp at Oyster Dome, but luckily Samish Overlook offers views nearly as good as those from Oyster Dome itself. Go, snap some pics, and be back in time for bed.

Oyster Dome. Photo by PNWExplorer.jpeg
Photo by PNWExplorer.

Know what to expect: The trail to Oyster Dome has been improved recently, but it's steep, and there are lots of junctions with other trails. If you do decide to hike, go with a headlamp or a flashlight (one per person in your party) and take your time. Consult a map when you come to junctions to be sure you're on the right trail.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Eastern Washington

Harts Pass

Location: North Cascades--Pasayten 
Length: 28.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: Various 

Why Go: The Pasayten is renowned for hugely expansive views and relatively easy hikes to access them. Harts Pass is one of the easiest -- you can drive to it! Once you're in the pass, you can pull off the road and wander onto the PCT for a while, or simply step out of your car and look up.

Harts Pass at dusk. Photo by LghtChsr_MtnLvr.
Harts Pass at dusk. Photo by LghtChsr_MtnLvr.

Know what to expect: The road to Harts Pass can be a little nerve-wracking for people who haven't ventured that way before. Check road conditions BEFORE heading up the pass. Try giving it a test run in the daylight, and be sure to keep your eyes out for animals who might cross the road in front of your car.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


  • Check out more locations: Didn't see a spot that works for you listed above? See what our facebook community had to say about where they go to lie beneath the stars.