The Best Places to See the Stars and Meteors Near DC
Time to get out of the city and look up
Happy August recess! If you’re not already out of town or have plans to head out of town, you may need some last-minute inspiration for an escape. A short drive to enjoy the annual Perseid meteor shower should be on your docket. The meteor shower should (“should” because of weather; no one controls clouds) be most visible the night of August 12 into August 13 (specifically 4 a.m. on August 13), which is convenient it’s also a weekend. We’ve rounded up a few of the best options for viewing the meteor show in and near DC. Whether you want to see the show and camp like an expert, sleep in a campground next to your car or commingle with like-minded astronomers, there’s an option for everyone.
For the Person Who Wants to Sleep in Their Own Bed: Turner Farm Park Observatory
Observatories have pretty great views of the sky. Along with the Analemma Society, Turner Farm Park Observatory is hosting a viewing event on August 12 from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. It’s not at peak visibility, but when there are upwards of 100 meteors per hour, you should still be able to see enough space debris to make the experience satisfying. If the weather doesn’t cooperate this year, you may want to add this annual event to your Google Calendar.
For the Experienced Camper: Sky Meadows State Park
This park, a little more than an hour from DC, is designated as an International Dark Sky Park. The Virginia state park offers primitive camping, meaning no drive-up sites and less light pollution from your neighbors. For $20 ($25 for non-Virginia residents), you’re allowed to pitch a tent and stare at the shower. As of this writing, campsites that allow reservations are all taken, but there is walk-in honor camping available. If you’re considering Sky Meadows, you may want to arrive 12 hours before the peak shower; check in begins at 4 p.m.
For the Casual Camper: Shenandoah National Park
If you’ve considered traveling to catch the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, you’ve probably considered Shenandoah. This is a reasonable strategy because the views are fantastic, and they’re also hosting the Night Sky Festival with more than three dozen astronomy-related events on August 11, 12 and 13. Similar to Sky Meadows, every reserve-in-advance campsite has been booked, but there’s no shortage of day-of availability at Lewis Mountain, Loft Mountain and Mathews Arm. If you’re going this route, you may want to sign up to the NPS alert system; on weekends, they send out twice-daily updates on campsite availability. If you can’t find a campsite and are comfortable driving mountains in the dead of night, you’re still good at Shenandoah. Skyline Drive is open 24/7.
For the Person Who Doesn’t Want to Stay Up: Rock Creek Park Nature Center
Suffering from Women’s World Cup fatigue? Would you rather learn about meteor showers than see a meteor shower? Most importantly: don’t want to leave the city? The Rock Creek Park Nature Center hosts a Night Sky Planetarium Program on weekend afternoons. Spend 30 minutes learning about the sky from a park ranger in the only planetarium in the National Park system.
If you’d like to stay in DC without checking in with a ranger, just consult the light pollution map and set your own coordinates.
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