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16 amazing dark sky preserves around the world that protect the night sky

Star trails in the Dark Sky Reserve, over Valentia Island, County Kerry, Ireland.
(Image: © Stephen Power/Alamy)

Like many aspects of planet Earth, our view of the night sky suffers from pollution effects. Emissions from industry along with stray light from outdoor lamps makes it difficult for people in many regions to enjoy the starry view to its fullest.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is working to preserve the night sky for its cultural and scientific value, and to do that it has worked with countries to create dark sky preserves around the world. Here's a look at those 16 certified international dark sky reserves and where they are.

Alpes Azur Mercantour (France)

Mountain peaks on a starry night background in Mercantour National Park, France (Image credit: Getty)

The gentle climate and renowned biodiversity in Mercantour National Park in France makes it a popular dark sky preserve among astronomy enthusiasts, according to the IDA. One of the first mountain observatories, Mont Mounier was established here at the end of the 19th century. In between gazing at the stars, you can enjoy the mountain views and close proximity to the coast.

Learn more about Mercantour National Park

Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand)

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

In the 1908s, local officials began to more aggressively control outdoor lighting in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand, not only to protect the sky, but also to conserve energy and protect wildlife, according to the IDA. The Māori, who are indigenous residents in this region, use the night sky for navigation and also have a wealth of astronomy and star cultural lore that is culturally important. Helping to keep the sky unpolluted the Māori is therefore one of the reasons IDA is glad to preserve this area's dark skies.

Learn more about the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales)

Vibrant Milky Way over landscape of medieval castle ruins at Brecon Beacons National Park, in Wales. (Image credit: Getty)

Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales is so isolated that sheep outnumber people 30 to 1, according to IDA. Nevertheless, the community of roughly 33,000 residents has been working hard to make 100 percent of their lighting conducive to preserving the dark skies. It's a big win for astronomy enthusiasts, as there used to be a lot of lighting that washed out astronomy views, according to the IDA.

Learn more about Brecon Beacons National Park.

Central Idaho (United States)

Stanley Lake in Stanley, Idaho, with the Milky Way in the background. (Image credit: Getty)

If you're looking for a wilderness experience similar to what our ancestors had, Stanley Lake in central Idaho is one of the few places that not only is lacking in electricity, but also mobile phone service, IDA says. The rugged terrain in the region has made it difficult to put in infrastructure,which has left  behind some truly dark skies for visitors. During the day, there are also opportunities for hiking, backpacking and horseback riding.

Learn more about Central Idaho dark sky preserve.

Cévennes National Park (France)

 A starry sky over Pise Lake in Cévennes, France. (Image credit: Getty)

While much of France has urbanized over the centuries, Cévennes remains uniquely sparse thanks to the mountainous terrain in this region. There is no lack of people — some 71,000 inhabitants within 250 villages — but the region is mostly made up of farmland, with nearby activities including mountain biking, fishing, hiking and spelunking (cave exploring). Local authorities have also done their best to preserve the sky views, IDA says.

Learn more about the Cévennes National Park dark sky preserve.

Cranborne Chase (England)

Cranborne Chase Knowlton Church in Dorset, U.K. (Image credit: Julian Elliott/Getty)

The newly designated dark sky preserve of Cranborne Chase in Dorset, U.K. features a (from 2019) chalk formation, sharp hills and numerous clays and gravels, IDA says. The interesting landscape adds to the beauty of the night sky, which is preserved between the counties Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. Adjacent to this reserve is Salisbury Plain, home to the famous Stonehenge monument.

Learn more about the Cranborne Chase dark sky preserve.

Exmoor National Park (England)

Starry nightscape over Exmoor National Park Mountain Landscape in Devon, U.K. (Image credit: Arthur Cauty/Shutterstock)

If you're looking for a dark sky reserve within a short drive of urban centers, Exmoor National Park in Devon, U.K. offers exceptional skies and accessibility at the same time. History buffs can also visit Bronze Age burial mounds or a deserted medieval settlement in the region, IDA says.

Learn more about the Exmoor National Park.

Kerry (Ireland)

Star trails in the Dark Sky Reserve, over Valentia Island, County Kerry, Ireland. (Image credit: Stephen Power/Alamy)

If you're taken aback by the dark sky views in County Kerry, a barren region in Ireland, know that you are not alone. Neolithic inhabitants of the region built stone monuments nearly 6,000 years ago to keep track of the sun, moon and stars, and some of the Ogham-language inscriptions in the region might describe celestial observations, the IDA says.

Learn more about Ireland's Kerry dark sky preserve.

Mont-Mégantic (Québec)

Mont-Mégantic's astronomical observatory. (Image credit: Alamy)

Mont-Mégantic, which is near the large city of Sherbrooke in Quebec, has some unique features to it for visitors, including an observatory. The 34 municipalities in this region have agreed to outdoor lighting regulations to control the spread of light pollution, which IDA says would be a good model for other interested urban areas who wish to follow suit.

Learn more about Mont-Mégantic dark sky preserve.

Moore's Reserve (South Downs, England)

The Milky Way over the landscape of the Seven Sisters cliffs in South Downs National Park, on the English coast. (Image credit: Getty)

"It is remarkable that any relatively dark areas remain between London and the south coast of England," IDA says about South Downs National Park on the English coast, which lies only 60 miles (100 km) from the greater London area. 

The park has been able to keep its dark skies even with 108,000 residents and a highly urbanized center within a reasonable driving distance. In fact, nearly 10 million people live within a two-hour driving distance of this park. The dark sky reserve has been named the Moore's Reserve in honor of local astronomer Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012) to honor his contributions to the field.

Learn about the South Downs National Park Moore's reserve here.

NamibRand Nature Reserve (Namibia)

A camping site at the NamibRand Nature Reserve. (Image credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty)

The NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia represents one of the largest private nature reserves on the continent. While also providing a shelter for the local ecology and wildlife, the reserve's mandate has more recently expanded to include protecting the night skies. Schoolchildren are among the visitors who commonly sleep in "open air" units to see the sky overhead, IDA says.

Pic du Midi (France)

The Pic du Midi observatory at night. (Image credit: Christophe Lehenaff/Getty)

The Pic du Midi, a popular mountainous reserve in the French Pyrenees, attracts roughly 1.5 million visitors per year, largely on the back of its IDA designation as a dark-sky zone, IDA says. (The zone also encompasses a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site and a French national park.) The nearby University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour is currently conducting scientific study of the sky to best preserve it for future generations.

Rhön (Germany)

The Rhön Mountains is one of the few spots in Germany where it is easy to capture the Milky Way in an image.  (Image credit: Boris Jordan/Getty)

The Rhön Mountains in Germany, or the "land of endless horizons" as the mountainous region is often called, is sandwiched between the populous states of Hesse, Bavaria and Thuringia. The core zone has some more populated regions surrounding the area, which work to make sure their outdoor lighting doesn't interfere with the pristine night views, according to IDA.

River Murray (Australia)

Milky Way over the Murray River in Victoria, Australia. (Image credit: John White/Getty)

The Murray River reserve in Victoria, Australia was originally put into place to protect the endangered southern hairy-nosed wombat, but astronomy was added into the area's mandate (in part) to recognize that the core region is exceptionally dark, IDA says. Local regulations restrict development in the park to structures that will assist with conservation management, and only a "few rough tracks" represent available facilities within the park boundaries.

Snowdonia National Park (Wales)

The Milky Way over the countryside around Llyn Ogwen in Snowdonia National Park (Image credit: Matt Gibson/Getty)

This mountainous region Snowdonia National Park in Wales has,  traditionally, had few humans settle within its boundaries. This has allowed us modern-day people the opportunity to experience the dark skies, IDA says. What also makes this site interesting is its sheer size, with 810 square miles (2100 square kilometers) sprawling across about a tenth of the land area of Wales.

Westhavelland (Germany)

Westhavelland is one of the darkest zones in highly populated Germany. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Just 45 miles (70 km) from Berlin, Westhavelland, a dark sky reserve in Germany, features a sparse population, stunning wetland and a beautiful night sky on clear nights. Local officials are working to push their "astrotourism" efforts with public outreach, a communications program and an annual WestHavelländer AstroTreff star party, IDA says.

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  • Shecoda
    Loved your article. Dark skies are amazing, so many stars that can't be seen near lighted areas.

    I am curious though. How did you miss the Grand Canyon which is a designated dark sky area?
    Reply