No. 5: Kings Canyon National Park
About five hours northeast of Los Angeles, this gem of a national park boasts one of the clearest night skies to view the Milky Way. Take one of the park's numerous backpacking trails a few miles in and bask in the solitude of your surroundings. Find a place with an open clearing to set up camp--ideally near a lake--and kick back with a beer and a hot meal and watch as the sunset fades into night. Eventually, you'll see what we mean; You'll be left breathless by the "milky", faintly glowing, gorgeous band stretching across the night sky.
No. 4: Big Sur
While not the darkest place ever, Big Sur is one of Central California's most stunning coastal regions. Far away from any major towns, it's the perfect place to set up camp and stargaze. The key to this amazing experience is to get just far enough away from the coast to escape the evening marine layer that covers the sky. Not too far inland lies a great campground in Pfieffer Falls State Park that gives you every opportunity to lay out your tarps and fall asleep with that jaw-dropping collection of stars filtering in through the tall Redwood trees.
No. 3: Alabama Hills
With a view of the Eastern Sierra's famous Mount Whitney and so many climbable, granite rock formations, you won't know what to do with yourself. Alabama Hills is a stellar spot for checking out some incredible landmarks such as the Mobius Arch, or, if you're into it, you might run into a few celebrities (many films are shot here, including Django and Gladiator). When the sun starts to set and you've worn yourself out, roll out that sleeping pad and get lost in the stillness of the night. When the Milky Way appears, let the peacefulness wash over you as you let go of your cares and focus on burning these incredible, rare moments into your mind forever.
No 2: Yosemite National Park (photo by @chrisburkard)
Milky Way viewing points abound in what is quite possibly California's most beautiful national park. One need only go so far as Tunnel View on a clear summer night to see the Milky Way, and massive rock formations, Half Dome and El Capitan, floating over the valley floor. This iconic trifecta is a must-see that will leave you speechless and fantasizing about it for weeks to come. Breathe in the crisp air, take in the unbelievable view, then snap a few shots for good measure--maybe even a time lapse, if you're fancy like that.
No. 1: Death Valley National Park (photo by @inorman)
Death Valley is an amazing locale for Milky Way viewing because there is literally nothing else out there besides sand, sand dunes, salt flats, and rock formations. While the elevation is lower than all of the previous locales (some of Death Valley is actually below sea level), there is nothing to obstruct your night sky viewing. When evening rolls around and the tourists go to bed, it's just you and the great big sky.
These Milky Way views are one of the top reasons why we love summer adventures in California. We just can't get enough! While these places are forever on our adventure list, we're always looking for cool and different places to see the same glorious galaxy. What are your favorite places to see the Milky Way?