5 Keys to Observing the Night Sky at Olympic National Park
According to the National Parks Service website, two of the best locations for observing the night sky are right here on the Olympic Peninsula. Kalaloch Third Beach and Spruce Railroad at Lake Crescent offer some of the nation’s most incredible views.
Kalaloch Third Beach is just about 100 feet from the parking area, so it’s an easy hike for almost anyone. Located on the West Coast of the peninsula, this is a prime spot for observing the night sky. Because there’s so little light pollution, that makes this is an incredible family-friendly location for watching meteor showers. The round-trip hike at Spruce Railroad is a decent 8 miles, though it is a flat one. You’ll wind through lush forest and even have access to several small, quiet beaches along the way. The best vantage point for observing the night sky is from the bridge that spans Devil’s Punchbowl, right at the 4-mile mark.
Hurricane Ridge Telescope Viewing
This summer, for the seventh year in a row, you can take part in free public telescope viewing at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, just 18 miles from Port Angeles. Fun fact: the telescoping guide uses two homemade Dobsonian telescopes named Ursa Minor and Draco. This year’s visitors observing the night sky from Hurricane Ridge can expect to see Saturn and her moons, globular cluster M13, planetary nebula M57 (a.k.a. The Ring Nebula), galaxy M31 (a.k.a. The Andromeda Galaxy)–and much more. Check the Olympic Telescope website for tentative 2016 dates (the program and the Full Moon Hikes will be cancelled if there’s cloud cover. However, there were more than 35 viewings in 2015, so chances are good.) For cancellation due to clouds, visitors can call the Hurricane Ridge Road Hotline on the day of the program after 3 p.m. (360) 565-3131.
Ask a Park Ranger
The National Parks Service mandate from the Organic Act of 1916 is to conserve scenery–and that includes what you can see while observing the night sky. As light increasingly brightens the night sky, National Parks are often some of the last dark skies in the country. A park ranger can not only connect you with the plants, animals, and geology of a park, but also guide you through the night sky.
Stargazing Tips from the NPS
Don’t forget about what’s on the ground while you’re observing the night sky. National parks are great places to get to know the animals that are nocturnal.
What looks like a faint cloud is the light from millions and millions of distant stars, aka, the Milky Way. The best time to view the Milky Way is in summer and fall evening skies.
If the full moon is up, the Milky Way will be hard to see. Try going for a night hike instead! Let your eyes adjust to the moonlight and keep your flashlight turned off (but available for safety if you need it).
Enhancing Your Observation Experience
Conquer Your Fears: Most people are a bit uncomfortable in the dark. Try walking outside in a very dark area while keeping your flashlight in your pocket.
Make a Night Vision Friendly Flashlight: By covering your flashlight with red cellophane or a red filter, you can prevent it from disrupting your night vision. Small flashlights work better.
Go for a Moonlit Hike: The full moon provides ample light to see in most places. Let your eyes fully adjust. Be safe. A full moon hike will be a memorable experience.
Awaken Your Nocturnal Senses: Find a comfortable spot and look around. Allow your eyes 20 minutes to adjust, and you may be surprised how well you can see by starlight. Do objects appear farther? Listen. Do sounds seem louder at night?
Of course, observing the night sky over the mountaintops and the water is possible right here at the George Washington Inn. We hope you’ll choose our top-rated B&B for your next Olympic Peninsula getaway! Photo Credit: SKY2014 / Thinkstock