Lonely Planet Writer

Starry night: the Grand Canyon has been given provisional dark sky park status

The size and splendour of the Grand Canyon draws in millions of visitors each year. Now, more will be done to protect the beauty and vastness of another natural wonder – the night skies above it.

By moon and starlight, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
By moon and starlight, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Image by Thomas Gotchy/Getty Images

The National Park Service (NPS) and the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) announced that Grand Canyon National Park is now a ‘Provisional IDA International Dark Sky Park’. The provisional status means the park has three years to retrofit two-thirds of its lights to comply with the IDA’s guidelines to reduce light pollution. The IDA defines dark sky parks as “a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment”. The news will delight stargazers who will be able to enjoy the stars above the canyon, but the decision to limit light pollution is about more than just the views. The IDA notes that excess light can harm animals’ and ecosystems’ natural rhythms, as well as wasting large amounts of energy.

Grand Canyon from Grandview Point, upper left is the Temple of Vishnu, upper right is the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.
Grand Canyon from Grandview Point, upper left is the Temple of Vishnu, upper right is the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. Image by Getty Images

Eleven other national park sites in the USA are certified, but the IDA said in a statement that of all the applications from around the globe, the Grand Canyon’s is one of the most complex, as the area has thousands of light fixtures. The plan is complete the lighting improvements by 2019, which is the 100th anniversary of the park. The NPS said it focuses on sustainable outdoor lighting as it allows parks to increase their energy efficiency and enhance visitor experience. To encourage people to visit the Grand Canyon after the daylight hours, the national park runs programs in the evening, which include campfire talks, star walks and night hikes.