Lonely Planet Writer

Gaze at the stars in the first dark sky reserve in the US

Skygazers around the US will have their next travel destination picked out as the country now has its very first dark sky reserve in Idaho.

See the Milky Way from a new dark sky reserve in the US. Image by Adventure_Photo/Getty Images

The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve is now one of only 12 in the world designated by the International Dark-Sky Association, which has a mission of preserving dark skies around the world, bestowing the honor to regions that “possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of night sky, view of the stars and nocturnal environment”. The new reserve was also given “gold tier” status, which is a rank only given to areas with a truly small amount of light pollution.

The new reserve covers more than 1400 square miles of the state, ranging from Ketchum/Sun Valley to Stanley, and including areas in Blaine, Boise, Custer and Elmore counties and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The first in the US, it is also the third largest in the world.

The designation follows years of work from local groups who managed and reduced the impact of light pollution in the area. The town of Ketchum was recently named a dark sky community for its own protection of the local starry skies.

More than one-third of the world’s population is unable to see the Milky Way at night, according to the IDA, and light pollution is continuing to grow. Artificial light not only takes away gorgeous views, much can have negative impacts on amphibians, birds, mammals, insects, plants and other living things.

The US has such a huge population that finding dark night skies can be difficult – about 80% of people live in cities and metropolitan areas where light pollution can drown out the stars. Idaho is one of the least densely-populated states in the US – but can likely to expect to see an influx of visitors with their eyes firmly on the skies.