Dark Sky Sites Near LA

The mountains and deserts surrounding Los Angeles, and, in general, the dark sky areas of the Southwest US have some of the best observing in the country because of dry air, generally clear skies, and lots of places to get a little altitude above sea level. The Milky Way stretches brilliantly across the sky in the summer and winter seasons, and for several hours after evening twilight or before dawn, you can often see the Zodiacal Light, a faint band of light stretching away from the sunset or sunrise position high into the night sky. (The Zodiacal Light is sunlight reflecting off dust in the plane of the solar system.)

For best observing of the desert night sky, and to observe the deep sky wonders -- nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters -- with your telescope or binoculars, pick a weekend or day near the new moon time of the month (when there is no moon in the night sky), or between the third quarter moon and new moon (when the moon rises after midnight). Many regular calendars show the moon's phases or see the calendar page. Prepare to dress warmly; it is often far colder out there at night than Southern Californians expect.

Locations in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains are intermediate between the city skies and the dark desert skies. You can just barely see the Milky Way, and the brighter deep sky objects are beginning to look interesting in a telescope. Try Charlton Flats - Chilao in the San Gabriels or Mullholland at Kanan Dume in the Santa Monicas.

You have to drive two to three hours away from Los Angeles to really get away from the city lights. Some good places to go are Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, and Red Rock Canyon State Park (near Mojave), and Anza Borego State Park (NE of San Diego). In Death Valley and Anza Borego the higher areas of the parks have better viewing than the parts near or below sea level. Of course, if you are rough and ready, there are hundreds of places you can just pull off on dirt roads in the desert.

From late spring through early fall hundreds of amateur astronomers gather in the parking lot on Mt. Pinos on the new moon weekends. This site is a paved parking lot at about 7500 feet, reached by a paved road, about two hours from Los Angeles. Don't go there looking for solitude; the parking lot can be quite crowded on the July and August new moon weekends -- sort of a folk astronomy event. Both most of the people are friendly and happy to let you look through their telescopes, and it's a good place to go to see many different kinds of telescopes in action.

Mt. Pinos is reached by heading north on I-5. Just pass the town of Gorman, before the long descent out of the mountains, turn off at the Frazier Park exit and follow the signs.

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