If you are looking to go stargazing in PA, there is no better place to head than Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County, Pennsylvania.
Cherry Springs State Park is a unique park in that it is best known for the fact that there is nothing there. In fact, the park has little more than a few large fields, a campground, and a single one-mile interpretive hiking trail.
However, people don’t come to Cherry Springs for the daytime attractions, they come here to see the nighttime sky. In fact, what makes this park so special is that it’s the darkest spot in Pennsylvania and one of the (if not the) darkest places on the entire East Coast.
This means that after dark, you can see thousands upon thousands of stars and can even see the Milky Way without the aid of a telescope or binoculars.
In fact, Cherry Springs State Park is so dark that it was made the world’s second International Dark Sky Park in 2007.
So, if you’re thinking of heading to Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County to enjoy some of the best stargazing in PA, here’s everything you need to know.
What Can You See in the Night Sky at Cherry Springs State Park
While there are plenty of dark places in Pennsylvania, there is nowhere in PA that you can see the sky more clearly than at Cherry Springs State Park.
The main attraction here is the Milky Way which can be easily seen without aid. Amazingly, it’s said to be so dark in the park that you can sometimes see a shadow cast by this celestial object.
However, while the sky is incredible with just your eyes, having a telescope or even a pair of binoculars can really amplify what you can see and make it truly amazing.
Before visiting, it’s important to look at a night sky calendar to find the moon’s phases and to figure out when the moon is rising and setting. This will not only show you how much of the moon is illuminated but also what time the moon will be visible. It’s best to visit on or near a new moon, or during a time when the moon isn’t in the sky.
You can also check this site which forecasts additional things like the amount of wind and humidity.
The first time I visited, I failed to plan ahead and visited during an almost full moon. While it was quite impressive how much light the moon gives off (I could read a book with no other light once my eyes had fully adjusted), it does significantly decrease what else you can see in the night sky.
If you want to see the Milky Way, the best time to view it is between April and October, though it can be visible in the right conditions for most of the year. It should be noted that photos you see of the Milky Way do bring out more color and detail than is visible to your eye, so don’t expect it to be quite as jaw-dropping as you see in photos.
Cherry Springs State Park is also an incredible place to head during celestial events to see things such as meteor showers, planets, and even the northern lights. If you do go during popular nighttime events, I recommend arriving before dark as it can get quite busy in the park despite its remote location.
For example, I had a chance to visit Cherry Springs when the Neowise Comet was visible in July 2020. During this time, there were also several planets visible, which was quite neat to see.
This meant that the astronomy field was more full than I had previously seen it. However, even at that time, there was still plenty of room for visitors to spread out in this large field.
Believe it or not, you can even in rare cases see the northern lights from Cherry Springs State Park. For this to happen, there needs to be strong geomagnetic storms on the sun and a moonless sky over the park.
While you won’t see bright green dancing colors over the park as you might imagine the lights to be, there can still be some obvious color along the horizon line that you wouldn’t expect to be able to see in PA.
Night Sky Public Viewing Area
There are two different viewing areas at Cherry Springs State Park.
Located on the northern side of Route 44, the Night Sky Public Viewing Area is the primary observation area that most visitors go to. Unless you are serious about stargazing and plan to stay the entire night, this is where you want to go.
This large field was once the Cherry Springs Airport and is a large and flat area that offers 360-views of the nighttime sky. Thre is a large parking area and bathroom facilities adjacent to the field for those staying only a few hours in the park.
The field is completely empty save for one gravel path that leads to a small amphitheater with benches.
From time to time, the park offers free night sky programs that are lead from this spot. When there are no programs, it’s a nice place to sit while waiting for the sky to get dark in the evenings and for your eyes to adjust.
There are no reserved areas in this field and you can set up any observation equipment that you have here. It’s worth noting, however, that you are not allowed to camp or sleep in the field, though you could stay all night if you were awake and observing the stars the entire time.
The field itself has several berms set up near the parking area that do a reasonable job blocking light. However, when cars are pulling in and out of the parking area or driving on Route 44, you can sometimes see the headlights peeking through a bit.
But while this field might occasionally have a bit of light shining on it, it’s definitely a great place to enjoy the stars if you can’t or don’t want to stay all night.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that this field closes during several yearly public events. These include the Pennsylvania Woodsmen Show held in late July or early August and the large Star Parties held in late May and in late September.
Overnight Astronomy Observation Field
If you want the ultimate Pennsylvania stargazing experience, you’ll want to spend the night in the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field.
Located on the southern side of the road, this field is smaller but is nearly completely blocked off from outside lights thanks to tress and fencing.
The spaces in this field are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll want to arrive on the early side if you want to get a good spot here, especially on a weekend night with good viewing conditions.
When arriving, sign in and pay a small fee per person. This is required for anyone staying the night and is a person fee (not per site).
If you do opt to stay in this field, you must observe the rules as they are taken very seriously. These include absolutely no white lights (even on the back of your camera, your phone screen, or in your car), no campfires, and quiet hours until 9am.
It’s also worth noting that there are outlets at each tent space, but no hookups for RVs. Also, the gates are closed at dusk, so you must arrive before then to bring your car onto the field.
A full list of the rules and expectations can be found here.
While the rules are long and taken seriously, the is easily the most incredible place to experience the night sky in Pennsylvania.
What to Bring to Cherry Springs State Park
It’s worth planning ahead before visiting Cherry Springs State Park as there are a few things you may want to bring with you to best enjoy your experience.
Many people bring telescopes or binoculars with them to view the celestial bodies you can see. While your eyes can see a lot without any aid, these will definitely amplify the night sky and make it all the more impressive.
You’ll also want to bring some form of red light with you to the park. On both observation fields, white lights are prohibited. This includes light from phones, cameras, and flashlights. Red lights are allowed, in moderation, because they don’t impact your night vision as much as white light does.
You can purchase red flashlights and red cellophane to cover things like phones and the back of cameras before you head to the park. While the park used to provide red pieces of cellophane for free, they no longer offer them, so make sure to bring your own.
It’s also worth noting that it is typically colder at the park than in the surrounding area. Even if it’s supposed to be a warm night, a sweatshirt or blanket is recommended. You’ll also likely want a blanket or chairs for sitting in the observation fields.
You should also note that both dogs and alcoholic beverages are prohibited in Cherry Springs State Park.
Where to Stay When Visiting Cherry Springs State Park
Despite being pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there are several places to stay near Cherry Springs State Park.
First, Cherry Springs features two campgrounds. In addition to the one mentioned above in the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field, there is a 30-spot rustic campground located adjacent to the Night Sky Public Viewing Area.
This campground fills up quickly, so prior reservations are highly recommended and can be made here.
The campground is described as rustic, which means no flush toilets and no showers. However, each space does have a fire ring, picnic table. There are no RV hookups, though there is a dump station.
If you can’t get a spot at Cherry Springs or want a few more amenities, both Lyman Run State Park and Ole Bull State Park are located near Cherry Springs and have great campgrounds. Both parks offer RV hookups, showers, hiking trails, and swimming areas.
If you’d rather stay in a hotel, there are several small hotels and bed and breakfasts a short drive away. One nice option is Susquehannock Lodge along Route 6 which even has its own field that’s perfect for stargazing.
There are also hotels in Wellsboro, about 45 minutes from the park.
Things to Do Near Cherry Springs State Park
During the daylight hours, there is very little to do at Cherry Springs State Park. In fact, there is only a single, one-mile interpretive trail in the entire park.
If you are looking to go hiking, there are many great spots to check out in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon east of Cherry Springs State Park.
FAQs About Visiting Cherry Springs State Park
Cherry Springs State Park is located in Potter County in north-central Pennsylvania. The closest communities are Coudersport and Galeton.
Cherry Springs State Park was designated the second International Dark Sky Park in the world in 2007. This is due to the lack of lights or big cities nearby. The skies here are the darkest you’ll find in Pennsylvania and among the darkest in the entire United States.
The Milky Way can be seen by the unaided eye at Cherry Springs State Park, though a telescope or binoculars can make seeing it easier.
The best time to visit Cherry Springs State Park is on a clear, moonless night between April and October. This offers the chance to see the most stars and a clear view of the Milky Way.
Normally, you cannot see the northern lights in the park. However, during large geomagnetic storms, it may be possible to see them faintly in the northern sky.
Cherry Springs State Park features two campgrounds. There are also campgrounds at several nearby state parks for those looking for more amenities.
When visiting Cherry Springs State Park, you’ll definitely want to bring some form of red light as well as red cellophane to cover your phone and camera screens. Many people also bring telescopes and binoculars to aid in seeing the celestial bodies in the sky.
A jacket or blanket is also recommended, even during the summer months.
Outside of the best stargazing in Pennsylvania, there is very little to do at Cherry Springs. In fact, there is only one short trail in the entire park. However, there are many other great parks and trails nearby.
Have you ever gone stargazing at PA’s Cherry Springs State Park? Share your top tips with us in the comments section.