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STARGAZING IN THE DARK SKY

Explore Visalia’s night skies with this star-filled itinerary highlighting great spots for star gazing. While some of the best night skies in California are deep in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks’ back country, you don’t need to trek for miles out in the wilderness to see some of the most magnificent night skies. You will be in awe of the natural darkness throughout these national parks whether you are first time traveler or a seasoned pro.

As you explore these areas after the sun goes down, you will have an experience like no other and be amazed by how it all comes alive under a dark night sky.

Here are some places to enjoy the beauty of the stars and celestial bodies that traverse the skies above us and tips for how to see them.

Experts say one-third of the world population, including 80% of Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way due to light pollution. Fortunately, with a bit of planning you can still see some amazing stars, meteors and more when you head out of the big cities into less densely populated areas like the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills.

What are dark skies and why do we need them? Dark skies are free from artificial light sources that interrupt the clarity of the night sky. 

Plants and animals depend on Earth’s daily cycle of light and dark rhythm to govern life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators.

As you begin your exploration of the sky at night, you will appreciate all that sparkles overhead from meteors, to stars and our moon. And with these dark skies, you will be able to see so much more.

The highlight of this itinerary is the night-life. But fill your days with daytime experiences with equally great views. Once you have checked into your hotel, head to Main Street in Downtown to find shopping, restaurants and a relaxed vibe. With boutique shopping, locally owned restaurants that create fresh-from-the-farm fare, and arts and entertainment venues, you can fill your day with activities while you wait for the sun to go down. Visit Mooney Grove museum and learn about the many cultures that settled the area and helped to define Visalia. Learn more about our agricultural roots that made us one of the world's top producers of fruits, vegetables, milk, and more. There is much to see and do.

Here are three fun things to do:

Kaweah Oaks Preserve

Take a hike at Kaweah Oaks Preserve. Though just on the edge of town, you will feel like you are miles away. This 344-acre nature preserve, protects one of the last remaining valley oak riparian forests in the San Joaquin Valley. When you walk along the trails at Kaweah Oaks Preserve, you can easily imagine how this area looked before it was settled 100 years ago.

Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour

Enjoy a self-guided walking tour of historic downtown Visalia with the Visalia: Then and Now tour. Incorporated in 1852, Visalia has roots to early California. Follow along on the tour to see the buildings of the past that are still relevant today.  Have lunch in the old “lock up” at Jack and Charlie’s or see the Southern Pacific train light that still shines in the 612 Lounge at the Southern Pacific Depot Restaurant.

Pita Kabob Gastropub

Fuel up with dinner at Pita Kabob Gastropub, a favorite with the locals. Their outdoor patio, craft beer menu, and of course their delicious Mediterranean food will win you over and fuel you up for your night of stargazing. 

With elevations at around 7,000 feet, and little artificial light, the national park is a great place for dark skies and stargazing. Check the park schedule of events. In the summer months, Park Ranger programs include moonlight walks. These programs are currently on-hold due to COVID-19 but hope to be back soon, so check their calendar for updates. Make sure to read below for links and tips to make your star viewing even better.

Our top 3 places in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks to view stars, meteors and more.

  1. Top of Moro Rock: The view from the top of Moro Rock in the day time is a “must-do” experience. The Great Western Divide, the Kaweah water shed and the valley down below create a sweeping vista. But at night the view changes to sparkling stars and far away galaxies. This location is not for the feint of heart. Even in daylight the trek to the top of the granite dome is a bit challenging and there isn’t much room at the top. And at night, with little light, it can be quite the adventure. But those who exercise caution and good sense will enjoy this amazing experience and uninterrupted view of the night sky.

  2. Wolveton: About 2 miles north of the General Sherman tree parking lot is Wolverton, an open area that in the winter is a great place for sledding. But during the summer months, the open area is a great place to view the stars.

  3. Lodgepole: One of the best features of Sequoia National Park is of course the mighty sequoia trees. These towering giants are amazing to see. At night, though, you want a clear view of the sky. The Lodgepole parking lot offers a cleared area for viewing as well as a solid base for your telescope.

You don’t need to go into the parks for great stargazing views. In the foothills around the park, are lots of places to view the stars. Here are 3 spots that offer a night of dazzling stars.

  1. Kaweah Lake: Though not high in elevation, the Lake is away from most artificial light sources and offers great views.

  2. Highway 180 on the way to Kings Canyon National Park entrance: As you near the park entrance, look for a turn out along the highway that provides a clear view of the sky. At about 5,500’-6,000’ in elevation, this should provide a good view of the stars without the pollution from city lights.

Guided Night Hikes and Astronomy Tours

If you are looking for an opportunity for a guided tour of the night sky, Sequoia Parks Conservancy can help. Along with daytime tours and hiking adventures, the conservancy is offering Astronomy tours to small groups.

One of the most amazing experiences you can have in Sequoia and Kings Canyon is exploring the sights and sounds of nature at night. Just imagine – strolling through the Giant Forest by full moon or flashlight, surrounded by the sounds and stars. Or maybe you're interested in an evening of guided stargazing through some of our amazing telescopes. Or maybe both!

Whatever your fancy, Sequoia Parks Conservancy will create the perfect itinerary for you and your small group. Our expert Field Institute Naturalists know every sight and sound that the night has to offer, so let us introduce you to the parks in the dark, personally!

BOOK A TOUR

Any time you can just put your head back and stare into the sky at the stars is a good time! But follow the Astronomical Calendar for Celestial Events for a schedule of the many eclipses, meteor showers, and phases of the moon to plan for the best viewing. One of the best meteors for viewing in the summer is the Perseid Showers that are visible from mid-July to mid-August. The meteors streak across the sky, making for a fantastic light show, sometimes with 40-50 showers during its peak time. The Delta Aquariid will also give a good show and overlaps with the Perseid Showers. The dates for these astronomical events and a few other highlights are below:

                July 5: Buck Moon

                July 4/5: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse (9:29 p.m. is scheduled to be the max eclipse)

                July 20: New Moon

                July 28: Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower Peak (visible from about July 12-August 23, 2020)

                August 11-12-13: Perseid Showers Peak (visible from July 17-August 24, 2020)

                August 19: New Moon

                September 2: Harvest Moon


Sequoia Parks Conservancy, the non-profit educational and fund-raising partner to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks hosts a Dark Sky Festival each summer. Due to COVID-19 the 2020 festival was cancelled. Make plans to attend next year. The events throughout the park include speakers, use of telescopes, activities for kids and much more. If you would like to support Sequoia Parks Conservancy, please consider a donation. Click here for more information on how you can help.

As with any event, being prepared is important for a fun adventure exploring the night sky. Keep these tips in mind when planning your trip. 

Use the links below to learn more about stargazing, the night sky, and even tips on how to take the best photos. 

How to photograph a meteor shower

                More about Perseid Meteors

                Eclipses in Visalia area

                Astronomical Calendar for Celestial Events

                Tulare Astronomical Association This local organization offers events throughout the year

                Sequoia Park Conservancy Dark Sky Festival (cancelled for 2020. Check back for 2021)

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©2020 Visalia Convention & Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 2734 Visalia, CA 93279
112 E Main St, Visalia, CA 93291
(800) 524-0303 : (559) 334-0141