Dark sky parks in Wisconsin

Visit the darkest place in Wisconsin

Where is the darkest place in Wisconsin to see the night sky? Well, when you get out into the countryside away from the lights of the city, and look up into the night sky, you’ll notice there’s an entire cosmos up there that is barely visible through the glaring light of the urban sprawl. There are few places far enough from light pollution to experience the stars like that.

On the Bortle scale, which measures the brightness of the night sky, a rural night sky only rates as a class 3. For reference, a city sky is a class 8.

But there are a few places in Wisconsin that are perfect for amateur astronomers, astrophotographers, and casual stargazing enthusiasts that rank low enough on the Bortle scale to get a clear view of the Milky Way and the distant galaxies beyond.

One of those is even dark enough to be the only officially designated Dark Sky Place in Wisconsin.

What is a Dark Sky Place?

A Dark Sky Place is any location that has met the requirements and certifications to become an officially designated International Dark Sky Place by the International Dark Sky Association, a group seeking to preserve the nightscape by reducing light pollution. The organization views the night sky as a “shared heritage benefitting all living things.”

“Until recently, for all of human history, our ancestors experienced a sky brimming with stars,” the Dark Sky website says, “a night sky that inspired science, religion, philosophy, art and literature, including some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets.

“The natural night sky is our common and universal heritage, yet it’s rapidly becoming unknown to the newest generations.”

A designated Dark Sky Place falls into one of five categories: Communities, Parks, Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Urban Night Sky Places. A qualifying place adheres to good outdoor lighting policies, rehabilitates poor-quality outdoor lighting installations, and educates visitors and the community about the importance of dark skies.

Wisconsin’s only official Dark Sky Park

Newport State Park is the only Dark Sky Park in Wisconsin

Newport State Park has been officially recognized as one of the darkest places in Wisconsin and is one of just 18 certified Dark Sky Places in the entire US.

Located at the farthest reaches of the Door Peninsula with 2,300 acres of forested wilderness along 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Newport State Park is perfect for hiking, backpack camping, and feeling small against the vast backdrop of the entire universe.

More dark places in Wisconsin

There are other dark places in Wisconsin worth a visit if you want to keep an eye on those suspicious celestial bodies spinning over our heads. On the Bortle scale, a place with a class 1 designation means you can see Messier 33, the Triangulum Galaxy 2.73 million light years from Earth, with the naked eye.

Newport is a class 2, a “typical truly dark site,” meaning the structure of the summer Milky Way is visible to the unaided eye, the brightest parts look like “veined marble” when viewed with binoculars, zodiacal light is bright enough to cast weak shadows, clouds in the sky are visible only as dark holes in a starry background, and several M33 globular clusters are visible to the naked eye.

Another class 2 dark site in Wisconsin is the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Some of the other darkest places in Wisconsin (with unknown Bortle scale ratings) include the Beaver Creek Reserve in Fall Creek, Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island, and Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo.

Three other places are planning to apply for Dark Sky Park designations soon: Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area, Kickapoo Valley Reserve, and Wildcat Mountain State Park.

Next time you want a glimpse deep into the cosmos at distant galaxies and alien civilizations, try one of these dark sky places. Just remember: Stargazing goes both ways.

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