Wide open skies and mountain silhouettes make for captivating stargazing and incredible photo ops in and around Estes Park in the summer.

Key Takeaways

  • Summer is the best time to see and photograph the stars in Estes Park.
  • Trail Ridge Road offers an accessible vantage point well away from light pollution.
  • The moon phase, weather and light pollution are variables to consider when planning a stargazing trip.
  • Estes Park guides offer night sky and night photography tours in the Estes Park area.


Hear from local photo tour guide Dawn Wilson on why summer is the best time to see the stars in Estes Park. Plus, tips on how to plan a memorable stargazing trip, including considering the phase of the moon. Read on to learn more.

milky way over bear lake in rocky mountain national parkPhoto credit: Dawn Wilson Photography


Why summer?

Dry air, warmer temperatures and the position of the Milky Way overhead make summer the best time of year to admire the night sky around Estes Park. “During the summer, the core of the Milky Way – that colorful blend of stars, gas and dust swirling in space – is visible above the horizon in the northern hemisphere,” says Wilson. Also, “Trail Ridge Road, which cuts across the tundra in Rocky and is only open in summer, provides access to a vast perspective of the night sky.”


Where to see the stars

The pullouts along Trail Ridge Road are easily accessible places to see the stars in Rocky Mountain National Park. Other good national park vantage points, according to Wilson, are Bear Lake and Poudre Lake at Milner Pass. Adventurous souls can take nighttime hikes to Mills Lake or Dream Lake. Those looking to dabble in nighttime hiking adventures can try Lily Lake. Just off Highway 7, the relatively level gravel path that encircles it offers a fun introductory nighttime hiking experience.


When to go stargazing

The best stargazing happens around the new moon. According to Wilson, ”The most important aspect is to be out at night on the evenings of the new moon or the week before or after the new moon.” This way, moonlight does not make it difficult to see the stars. Interestingly, they are washed out on the days near the full moon because there is too much moonlight. Weather and light pollution are also considerations.

milky way over from mushroom rock on trail ridge road in rocky mountain national parkPhoto credit: Dawn Wilson Photography


How to plan a stargazing trip

Here are the basics.

  • Plan your trip between June and September. That is when the Galactic Center of the Milky Way is most visible in the Estes Park area.
  • Pack warm layers like a lightweight knit hat, a lightweight jacket, pants and closed-toed shoes. Nighttime temperatures in the area can drop into the 40s.
  • Bring a headlamp or a flashlight. You’ll want it when you’re not looking up!
  • Check out apps like PhotoPil, Sun Surveyor and SkyWalk2, and the website LightPollutionMap.info


Go with a guide

Estes Park photo tour guides are happy to help you find the perfect time and place to see the stars during your trip to Estes Park. And they live for photography. A highlight of their trips is instruction on how to best capture the night sky with a camera.

Estes Park Photo Tour Guides

northern lights and night sky in rocky mountain national parkPhoto credit: Dawn Wilson Photography


More interested in learning about astronomy?

If photography is not your main goal, join one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s night sky programs to learn about the skies above us. Throughout the summer of 2024, the national park is hosting two interesting programs and a festival. Learn more about the Astronomy in the Park and Stories of the Moon and Stars programs, and the 2024 Astronomy Festival.


Check out the observatory

Another way to see the stars is with the Estes Park Memorial Observatory. The observatory has a very powerful telescope that shows users stars that can’t be seen with the naked eye.


Get in the mood with the Exploring Estes Dark Skies Podcast