Denver boasts a high elevation (over 5,000 feet), as well as incredible natural landscapes including high plains, mountains, forests, rivers, plateaus, and mesas. It’s the perfect place for getting in touch with nature.
However, Denver is a capital city, and the abundance of city lights obscure the twinkling stars. This is also known as light pollution. For this reason, there are only a couple of Denver spots where you can actually make out the beautiful stars. Don’t worry though, Colorado is filled with incredible stargazing spots within driving distance of Denver.
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STARGAZING CLOSE TO DENVER
Below are some incredible spots where you can stargaze near the city of Denver. If you want to stay fairly central without missing the chance to admire the heavens, the three places below will be right up your alley.
Just a mile west of Denver Central near the city of Golden, Lookout Mountain is a foothill on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the largest mountain system in America. Head to Lookout Mountain Park and you’ll be greeted by over 60 acres of lush, evergreen wilderness that’s made this beautiful park famous for its beautiful natural scenery.
When it comes to pretty stargazing spots, there are plenty of options available to you in Lookout Mountain Park. Visitors use the grounds for hiking, cycling, and mountain biking, so the choice is yours.
There is the North Table Mountain Trail, a challenging hiking option for the fairly fit that will show you panoramic views of Golden. Or try the popular (and less difficult) Clear Creek Trail, which will take you past a charming creek and meandering through stunning forest trees.
Alternatively, you can drive along Lookout Mountain Road on your way to the park for a scenic journey right from your car. This is a super popular route along a scenic byway called the Lariat Loop, a 4.6-mile switchback with a 2000 foot elevation gain.
You’ll see an impressive view of the Front Range as you weave through the mountains. And, weather permitting, spot some breathtaking stars and constellations up in the sky.
Located in Observatory Park in Denver, Chamberlin Observatory is an astronomical observatory that’s been operating for over 120 years! This spot is a part of the University of Denver, which owns and operates the observatory with the help of the Denver Astronomical Society (DAS).
The observatory is home to a 20-inch refracting telescope which, if you’re not familiar, can spot four of Jupiter’s moons and reveal Saturn’s ring. Head to the Chamberlin Observatory for DAS public nights to see the observatory dome open up, revealing the incredible Denver night sky above. And yes, you can look through that powerful 20-inch telescope, too!
Public nights are every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 pm in the winter or 7:30 pm in the summer. Make sure you register on the DAS website as there is limited space available. Seats cost $4 per adult and $3 per child.
Open houses take place once a month and all you have to pay is a $2 donation fee for entrance. You can look through the telescope on open house nights as well. Or take a tour of the observatory to marvel at the intriguing architecture.
RED ROCKS PARK & AMPHITHEATER
This spectacular open-air amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, is just ten miles outside of Denver (about a twenty-minute drive). Amazingly, this famous amphitheater is built right into the rock structure. You’ll see huge sandstone walls which make up the walls of the building.
The amphitheater has a capacity for 9,000 people, believe it or not, making it a breathtaking destination for any traveler. But if you’re making a visit to see the stars, make sure you go on a day when there are no scheduled shows. The amphitheater hosts regular live music acts which aren’t good days to stargaze.
Being so close to the city, there is some light pollution. However Red Rocks is still a wonderful place to see the stars overall. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll see scattered across the heavens.
Luckily, admission is free on event-free days, making this a wonderful budget-friendly way to stargaze. On these days, the amphitheater is open daily from 7 am to 7 pm. Keep in mind that these hours are subject to change during the winter months.
MORE STARGAZING NEAR DENVER | DAY TRIP OPTIONS
If you don’t mind taking a road trip out of the city, the drive is well worth it to gaze upon the magnificent Colorado sky from these exceptional spots, some of which are renowned for their views. Read on for more stargazing spots outside of Denver.
The 2.5-hour drive from Denver to Westcliffe may be long, but this tiny town is worth every minute of it. If you’re wondering how small the town is, the Westcliff population is under one thousand people! Its setting is largely rural, making it fertile ground for stargazing adventures. In fact, this is one of the best places to stargaze in Colorado.
Interestingly, Westcliffe is part of the International Dark Sky Community. This essentially means that the town has minimal light pollution as it is nestled away from the bright glow of the city. Of all the towns in this community, Westcliffe has the highest elevation gain. This makes the town perfect for milky way stargazing.
So, you’ve arrived in Westcliffe. Now what? Make your way to Smokey Jack Observatory near downtown Westcliffe. Smokey Jack has an outstanding retractable roof for you to view the stars from, as well as a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope to look through.
There are free Dark Sky Parties hosted at the observatory every year, so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events. Alternatively, you can book a private star party (how cool does that sound?) or a virtual star party for you and a group of friends or family.
GOLDEN GATE CANYON STATE PARK
Aspen groves, wide-open fields, and a panoramic overlook spot – Golden Gate Canyon has it all. This spot is only a 45-minute drive from Denver, making it a great option if you don’t have the time to go all the way to Westcliffe.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a popular place for hiking and camping, so you can make a fantastic road trip out of your visit if you’d like. Traveling on the main road towards the entrance, you’ll see the Panorama Point Overlook and a breathtaking view. So be sure to pull over there to take some exceptional photographs for your travel journal.
The park is open daily from 5 am to 10 pm, and the cost per vehicle is $10 for the entire day.
GUANELLA PASS SCENIC BYWAY
You couldn’t ask for a more scenic drive than the one along Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. The drive will take you just over an hour, passing the majestic Mount Bierstadt, the historic town of Georgetown, Arapaho National Forest, and Pike National Forest. You’ll then reach the Guanella Pass Summit, which has an elevation of over 10,000 feet.
Once you reach the end of the pass, you’ll see two parking lots where you can pull over, recline your seat, and enjoy the amazing view. Another great thing about this stargazing location is that it’s kid-friendly! As long as your little ones can bear with the hour-long drive. Bring along some road snacks and toys and this is bound to be a fun trip for both kids and parents.
ECHO LAKE STATE PARK
Echo Lake Park is just an hour’s drive from Denver and is a great place for stargazing, hiking, camping, and fishing. You could have a wonderful day trip here and catch some fish in the afternoon. You can also go boating here during the day. Or simply set up a picnic anywhere in the vast 15-acre park. Then wait until sundown to see the gorgeous Colorado scenery at night!
There are numerous hiking trails that go around the lake, most of which will take you to Cathedral Ledge State Park, which offers an extraordinary view of the Saco River Valley.
The park is open every day from 9 am to 8 pm. And entrance costs $4 per adult and $2 per child. This is a must-see destination in Colorado, as the reflection of the stars on the lake will blow you away. Paired with a campfire and some good company, a trip to Echo Lake will definitely be one for the books.
If you are planning a trip to Echo Lake, the state park is particularly beautiful in September and October. The autumn colors are exceptional in the day! Which will make for a great picnic setting before nightfall when you can bring out the telescopes for stargazing.
ENJOY STARGAZING IN DENVER!
Featured photo credit: Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash