NASHVILLE, Tenn. Tennessee is known for its natural beauty, from the Great Smoky Mountains to the vast plains along the Mississippi River. And at night, the state’s natural beauty takes on a whole new level of wonder as the stars light up the sky. With so many wide-open spaces and perfectly dark skies, Tennessee is an ideal place to stargaze. To help travelers find the best spots, we've compiled a list of 10 places to stargaze in Tennessee.
The one thing stargazers need is a clear sky and minimal light pollution — and Great Smoky Mountains National Park delivers on all accounts, with the nearest large cities 40 to 100 miles away. Once crowds are gone for the day, the traffic dies down and the sun sets, the U.S.’s most visited national park becomes an entirely different world and the light show in the sky starts. Newfound Gap Trailhead in Townsend is a favorite spot for stargazers, providing unobstructed views 6,000-feet above sea level.
Designated as an International Dark Sky Association International Dark Sky Park, the Obed Wild & Scenic River National Park in Wartburg reconnects life and nature by emphasizing the value of quiet, solitude and even darkness in our often-noisy world. To qualify as an International Dark Sky Park, Obed demonstrated exceptional dark-sky conditions, and a strong commitment to preserving the park’s night sky resource. Since 2013, the park has offered year-round astronomy and dark sky interpretive programs, supported by a collaboration with local amateur astronomers from the ORION Astronomy Club in Oak Ridge and the Knoxville Observers in Knoxville.
Spend the night under the stars at this beautiful, 1,200-acre state park near Chattanooga. The park closes at 10 p.m. ET, so if you want to see the “late show,” reserve one of the 128 RV campsites or 21 primitive tent-only campsites. Harrison Bay State Park’s position on the eastern bank allows you to watch the sunset out over Chickamauga Lake before stargazing.
Set atop one of Nashville’s tallest peaks, Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is a Tennessee astronomical treasure. Surrounded by scenic Radnor Lake State Park and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Dyer’s powerful telescopes have pointed toward the sky since 1953. Throughout the year, the observatory offers many activities such as summer camps, workshops, Telescope Nights, tours, and special lectures with world-class scientists.
Located in Kingsport, Bays Mountain Park is a 3,550-acre nature preserve and the largest city-owned park in the state of Tennessee. It’s also home to a state-of-the-art planetarium theater — the only one of its kind in the western hemisphere — with over 7,000 projected stars and high-tech projectors. Bays Mountain Park also boasts two observatory structures housing a number of telescopes that include lensed refractors and mirrored reflectors that offer a window into the stars. The Bays Mountain Astronomy Club and planetarium staff use all of these telescopes at various times through the year to show the public astronomical sights in nighttime skies.
Located on the eastern side of the Cumberland Plateau, Fall Creek Falls State Park is beautiful 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Once you’re there, it’s easy to see why it’s one of Tennessee’s most visited state parks. When the sun’s out, hike to several gorgeous waterfalls and cascades. And when it gets dark, the night sky shimmers and shines with the light of billions of stars. Check the park’s events page for upcoming star parties, which allow visitors to get even closer to the galaxy around us.
In 2015, Pickett CCC Memorial State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area earned the Silver-tier International Dark Sky Park designation — the first state park in the Southeast to earn this recognition. The astronomy field at the Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area's parking lot on Highway 154 is available for the public to use for stargazing year-round. Additionally, Pickett CCC Memorial State Park has dedicated astronomy weekends, which are a great way to observe distant galaxies, planets, exploding stars through telescopes, discuss the night sky and spatial relationships in the solar system.
The wonders of constellations, planets, black holes and space travel all come to vivid life at the Sharpe Planetarium in Memphis. The attraction’s AutoZone Dome features an almost 4,000-square foot screen (the largest in Memphis), immersing astronomy fans of all ages in a totally new level of sight, sound and comfort. Using the latest planetarium technology to project star fields, visual images and patterns on a domed ceiling, the experience is augmented by a superb sound system.
The stars shine bright over the mighty Mississippi River in the 12,539-acre Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, located 18 miles north of downtown Memphis. The Park is a favorite spot for kayakers and canoers, some of whom combine their love of aquatic adventure and astronomy during nighttime floats.
70 miles east of Nashville, Edgar Evins State Park draws stargazers from across the South. An observation tower at the Visitor Center offers a spectacular view of Center Hill Lake and the surrounding hillside. The tower is perfect for stargazers to search for clear horizons with wide expansive views. If you’re looking to capture the awesome night sky beauty here, the Park even offer classes on nighttime photography. Check the schedule for upcoming events.