CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia is full of exceptional beauty with its mountains, rivers, and greenery, and if you look up at the nighttime sky, it is just as beautiful. There are several places across the Mountain State that provide wonderful views of the stars, the moon, the Milky Way and more.
If you are an astronomy lover or you are just looking for a nighttime adventure, here are some places to go stargazing in West Virginia!
1. West Virginia’s Dark Sky Parks
West Virginia is home to three official Dark Sky Parks designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA): Watoga State Park, Calvin Price State Forest, and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. The parks were given official Dark Sky status in Oct. 2021.
Note: Stargazers should notify park headquarters if planning to enter any state park or forest after 10 p.m.
Watoga State Park
Watoga State Park in Pocahontas County is West Virginia’s largest state park filled with many recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, fishing, boating …. and stargazing!
The state parks system says that even on a cloudy night in Watoga, there are beautiful views of the stars. The secluded mountains of Pocahontas County are sparsely populated, so there is almost no light pollution. This makes for the perfect stargazing conditions! On a clear night during a full moon, visitors can see stars for miles. Stargazers may also catch a glimpse of the Milky Way crest over the horizon at certain times of the year.
The overlook at the Ann Bailey Trailhead has a spectacular view of an endless sky, according to the state parks system.
The state parks system also recommends heading down to Watoga Lake to see the stars reflect on the water’s surface for a jaw-dropping experience. In fact, Watoga’s name is derived from the Cherokee word for starry waters! Another option is to stay at one of Watoga’s various campsites and sleep under the stars.
Calvin Price State Forest
Calvin Price State Forest, which borders Watoga State Park, is among the darkest locations in the eastern United States. The forest’s over 9,000 acres of mixed hardwood and pine span across eastern Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties.
The forest’s dark, remote location creates the perfect stargazing experience!
Calvin Price is mostly undeveloped and therefore relies on Watoga State Park for lodging. Watoga also organizes Dark Sky programming and activities for Calvin Price.
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Located in the Greenbrier Valley, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park is a historical site that is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail.
The Pocahontas County Visitors and Convention Bureau says the park’s lookout tower is where one can see spectacular views of the stars, planets and constellations after sundown. To access the tower, park at its base and climb the inner staircase.
Droop Mountain also partners with Watoga State Park for Dark Sky events over the summer, including a night hike to Briary Knob and a Star Party at the tower.
2. Calhoun County Park
Calhoun County Park near Grantsville is among a limited number of locations east of the Mississippi River where stargazers can see the Milky Way and other night sky views. Stargazers can venture into the park and set up a telescope to view Sagitarrius, the Flaming Star Nebula, the Cepheus Constellation, and more.
With complete nighttime darkness in many areas of Calhoun County, the park is also home to Dark Skies Parties. Officials with the park are advocating for it to be designated as an official Dark Sky Park by the IDSA.
To view a Clear Sky Chart or Star map for Calhoun County Park, click here.
3. Camp Virgil Tate
The Breezy Point Observatory at Camp Virgil Tate is where the Kanawha Valley Astronomical Society meets each month to observe the stars. Features of the observatory include a rolling roof, a 16″ F-4.5 Newtonian Reflector Telescope, and a concrete pad to set up additional telescopes. The observatory also has a star atlas and other materials as well as a collection of eyepieces and filters. Breezy Point is Class 4 on the Bortle Scale.
The Astronomical Society meets at 7 p.m. on the third Friday of each month (weather permitting) at the Boone Maxwell Lodge at Camp Virgil Tate. A membership costs $25 and is open to anyone 18 years or older. To learn more, visit the Astronomical Society’s website.
Occasionally, the club opens the observatory to the public for unique events such as Star Parties and other activities.
Note: Camp Virgil Tate is a county 4-H camp that is not open at all times. An Astronomical Society club member must be present when anyone is using the observatory.
4. Summers County, WV
Photographer Gary Wendell travels throughout West Virginia to capture the wild, wonderful nature in the state. This summer, he decided to try the art of astrophotography and captured amazing shots in Southern West Virginia. Wendell says two good stargazing spots in Summers County are Bluestone Lake and Sandstone Falls. Below are photos showing stunning views of the night sky at the two locations!
5. Green Bank Observatory
The Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia is tucked away from light and sound pollution in the National Quiet Zone. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) tracks radio signals from stars, so there is no access to WiFi, cell service or 4G in the area.
According to the GBO website, the GBT is the world’s premiere single-dish radio telescope operating at a meter to millimeter wavelength. GBO is also home to the world’s largest polar-aligned telescope standing at 140 feet tall.
Every August, GBO has a Star Party where visitors can view the night sky through optical telescopes. GBO also offers educational overnight visits, Scout Badge Weekends, tours and community events. To learn more about GBO events, click here.
Bonus: Nighttime ziplining
Another way to view the moon and stars is by going ziplining at night. Two options for nighttime ziplining in West Virginia are the Night Zipline Tours at ACE Adventure Resort and the MoonTrek Course at Adventures on the Gorge.