Utah’s Canyonlands becomes newest dark sky park

America's darkest stretch of land gets another International Dark-Sky Park after National Park Service officials complete a sustained effort to make their lights night-sky friendly.
By | Published: August 31, 2015 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The ‘Doll House’ in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.
Photo by Dan Duriscoe / NPS.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has granted Gold-Tier International Dark-Sky Park status to Canyonlands National Park, an honor reserved for the darkest of dark skies and the most stunning of starscapes.

“It is truly a pleasure to recognize efforts at Canyonlands to expand the reach of dark skies protections across the Colorado Plateau,” IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend said. “The Park’s achievement helps bring the awe-inspiring experience of an authentically dark, natural night to over half a million visitors a year.”

Canyonlands was established in 1964 and provides many opportunities to both view superlative scenery from perspectives above the Green and Colorado rivers and to descend into the midst of these scenic landscapes to experience remote wildness and solitude. The stunning scenery of Canyonlands doesn’t end when the sun sets. The Milky Way stretching across the park’s incredibly dark night sky is a sight many visitors will never forget.

Efforts to protect darkness in Canyonlands began several years ago with a focused effort to revamp and replace park lighting with night-sky friendly bulbs and fixtures. Nearly 100 percent of park lights are now ‘night sky friendly’. Darkness is also recognized in park management documents that clearly state the value of night skies and the park’s commitment to protecting them.

Visitors from all over the world attend programs at the Island in the Sky and Needles districts where rangers use storytelling and telescopes to introduce the wonders of the universe to people who might not be able to see the stars where they live. In many parks, astronomy events are the most popular ranger-led programs, and ‘astrotourism’ enhances overnight and year-round economic benefits to nearby communities.

The National Park Service (NPS) jointly manages Canyonlands National Park with Hovenweep National Monument, which became an International Dark Sky Park in 2014, and Natural Bridges National Monument, named the world’s first International Dark Sky Park in 2007. These three park sites in southeast Utah work together to provide special protection to some of the darkest skies in the United States.

Canyonlands is a member of the growing Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative. Established in 2012, America’s first Dark Sky Cooperative links communities, tribes, businesses, state agencies, federal agencies, and citizens in a collaborative effort to celebrate the view of the cosmos, minimize the impact of outdoor lighting, and ultimately restore natural darkness to the area. The Dark Sky Cooperative encourages community-based, landscape-scale approaches to conservation to solve today’s land management challenges.

“Canyonlands represents the NPS dedication to lead the way in protecting natural darkness as a precious resource on the Colorado Plateau,” notes Nate Ament, Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Coordinator.

Canyonlands joins other IDA Dark Sky Places already designated on the Colorado Plateau, including Flagstaff, AZ; Hovenweep National Monument, UT/CO; Natural Bridges National Monument, UT; Capitol Reef National Park, UT; Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, AZ; and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, NM.

As a newly designated International Dark Sky Park, Canyonlands remains committed to mitigating light pollution within park boundaries and showcasing the dark night skies to visitors. On September 18, Canyonlands and the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks group will host a public ceremony and astronomy event at Island in the Sky.