Nothing compares to the moment you first see, with your naked eye, the billions of stars that makes up the Milky Way. The reality is that less than 500 stars are visible in urban areas. This means, further from city lights, the greater the view. In rural Eastern Montana you may see as many as 15,000 stars at night, making it your perfect stargazing destination.
1. Medicine Rocks State Park |Ekalaka, MT | (406) 377-6256
As the only Montana location designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, Medicine Rocks State Park is the darkest of the dark sky destinations. An IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary is public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.
This state park is nestled along the rolling prairies of Montana’s eastern edge, between Ekalaka and Baker. Here, you’ll find sandstone rock formations rising out of the earth throughout the grounds. The formations have been weathered over hundreds of years to give them a “Swiss-cheese” look. If you look close enough, you’ll also find inscriptions in the rocks that date back centuries.
To view the night skies at this state park, set up for the night at one of its 12 primitive sites available or attend a dark sky event hosted by either Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks or Carter County Museum.
2. Makoshika State Park |Glendive, MT | (406) 377-6256
Montana’s largest state park begins at the south end of Glendive, and it extends as far as the eye can see past the horizon, encompassing over 11,000 acres of breathtaking landscapes and rugged badlands. In addition to the pine and juniper studded badlands formations, the park’s visitor information center also houses the fossil remains of such dinosaurs as tyrannosaurus and triceratops.
Reserve a campsite to stay in the park during the dark hours – you can even reserve their specialty teepee campsite for a unique experience. The real treasure of Makoshika is watching the day turn into night, just before sunset during the “golden-hour,” colors of the sandstone come to life and the moving shadows transform the landscape.
Don’t miss hiking around this park to see all its natural wonders including hoodoos, spires, mesas, a natural bridge and illustrious overlooks.
3. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area | Fort Smith, Montana | (406) 666-2333
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is best known for its 71-mile-long lake bordered by towering 1,000-foot canyon walls, a paradise for any boater and fisherman. Its remote location straddles the Montana-Wyoming border. Set up camp at a boat-in-only site along the lake or hop out of the water and head back toward Fort Smith to Afterbay Campground for breathtaking night skies.
During the day don’t miss out on seasonal kayak tours offered by the National Park Service.
*Note: Land on either side of the road to Ok-A-Beh Marina, or the “top” of the canyon, is private property and not accessible.
4. Acton Recreation Area | Broadview, MT | (406) 896-5013
Located just 25 minutes northwest of Billings, Acton Recreation Area is a perfect location if you’re wanting to stay close to accommodations in Billings but need to go far enough out of town to get away from the city lights. Its tall ponderosa pine trees set against sandstone and shale make a truly stunning backdrop for stargazing. During the day, this area is popular among mountain bikers with challenging trails like Owl-Be-Back, Rollercoaster and Fire Road.
Insider Tip: Acton Rec Area is operated by Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is open year-round, provided roads are clear, and supports camping, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and hunting (in season) with vault toilets and interpretive kiosk.
Did you know stargazing is a year-round activity? In fact, some of the best stargazing is done on crisp, cold nights when the skies are exceptionally clear. For help planning your stargazing adventure and a complete listing of stargazing destinations and events throughout Eastern Montana visit Montana Trail to the Stars.