Only in the darkness can you see the light. Such is the thinking behind the International Dark Sky Places program, which educates communities about responsibly curbing light pollution to protect and preserve the night sky. The program was created by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), which recently recognized its first two certified Dark Sky Places in Oregon. Luckily enough, both just happen to be right outside of Bend.
But whether certified or not, Central Oregon has ample opportunity for any Bendite to find their spot. So, bundle up, mark your calendars for the next meteor shower (hint: the Quadrantids peak in early January) and read on for four of our favorite spots to catch a glimpse of the stars this winter.
Guided Astronomy by the Experts
Designated as the state’s first International Dark Sky Place by IDA, the Oregon Observatory in Sunriver boasts the largest fleet of publicly accessible telescopes in the country. Visitors can attend one-hour viewing sessions throughout the week with staff astronomers who are ready to assist and educate. $20 per person; reservations required. For a full schedule and details, see snco.org/events.
Prineville Reservoir State Park was named Oregon’s second Dark Sky Place and the first Oregon state park to receive the title in Spring 2021. To earn the designation, park staff replaced harsh outdoor lighting with softer yellow and red lights to minimize light pollution around facilities. Those in the know can bring their own gear to day-use or overnight camping locations and simply point their eyes up to be amazed. Find information at stateparks.oregon.gov.
IPAs and the Milky Way
Aptly named the Hopservatory, the Worthy Garden Club Observatory aims to inspire visitors to take care of the planet by showcasing its beauty. Conveniently located inside the brewery, the Hopservatory allows astronomy buffs to grab dinner and beers beforehand and see the stars through a telecsope for a nightcap. A $5 donation is suggested to enter. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. on a first-come basis. No reservations are required (and no beer allowed near the telescopes). Learn more at worthygardenclub.com/hopservatory.
Stars while on the Move
For those who simply can’t sit still long enough to look at the stars, why not do it while moving? Some of the best winter stargazing happens away from it all in the wilderness. Grab the skinny skis and cross-country your way through the national forest at one of several sno-parks along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway. Mainstays such as Virginia Meissner Sno-Park can be busy during daylight hours but thin to a fraction of the crowd at night. As a bonus, between star-filled laps, you can warm yourself by the fire in one of the wood-stocked warming huts. Free. See meissnernordic.org.