Dark Sky Search Tips

| Ohio | Outside Ohio | Really far outside Ohio |

Hear are dark-sky "search tips". It states general observing locations, which light domes are visible, how far away and in what directions.  This list is still in progress. Some spots in Michigan will soon be included.

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Last update March 28, 2000 byPhillip Creed



Extreme Northeast Ohio (return to top )

Best Areas:  southern/southeastern Ashtabula County

Advantages:  Dark; NLM~6.5 in spots, very flat horizons, least prone to summertime haze of all areas of Ohio.

Disadvantages:  Worst cloudiness in all of Ohio; pratically unusable from November-March.  Realistically expect 60-100" snow/year.

Probable light domes:  Jefferson/Ashtabula  (north, faint), Youngstown/Warren (south, faint), Cleveland (west, very faint)

Northeast Ohio (return to top )

Best Areas:  In the vicinity of West Branch State Park/Deerfield Resevoir

Advantages:  Easy access via I-76 or US-224

Disadvantages:  Not very isolated, NLM~6.0.  More prone to lake-effect clouds in winter than TWC.

Light domes:    Ravenna (W/NW), Warrent (NE), Akron (W)

North Central Ohio (return to top )

Best locations:  vicinity of Attica/north of Bucyrus, and west of Marion.

Advantages:  very flat horizons in all directions, NLM~6.4.  Better odds of getting clear skies in wintertime.

Disadvantages:  driving time, no trees or hills to block out security lights.

Light domes:  Depends on location; you're bound to have a few near the  horizon. Should see Bucyrus if within 10 miles and Marion if within 15 miles.

Mohican Area (return to top )

Best areas:  SE Ashland County, NE Knox County, SW Holmes County, or NW Coshocton county

Advantages:  Near the rooftop of Ohio; lots of hills >1200 ft elevation. Pretty dark, NLM~6.5 in spots.  Better odds for clear wintertime skies.

Disadvantages:  Winding roads, often unimproved.

Light domes:  Loudonville, Mansfield (NW, quite faint), Mt. Vernon/Columbus  (SW, faint)

Amish Country (return to top )

Best areas:    Southern Holmes County.  Best if south and west of Berlin.

Advantages:  Closest proximity to most WCAC members for dark-sky sites, lack of electric security lights around.  Better clear-sky chances in wintertime vs. Canton.

Disadvantages:  "Amish" hotels/restaurants with anything-but-Amish lighting practices.  NLM~6.3

Light domes:  New Philadelphia (faint off to the east; should not be seen if west of Lake Buckhorn), Millersburg (if within 10 miles; it doesn't become a problem until you're within 5 miles), and a host of "Amish" dining establishments.

Kensington/Salineville Region. (return to top )

Best Areas:   southwest of Lisbon, south-central Columbiana county, NE Carroll County  (note:  there is a prison SE of Lisbon. The further from that, the better)

Advantages:  Reasonably dark, NLM~6.3-6.5, depending on the spot. convenient access from Canton via either SR-172, SR-43, or US-30. Plenty of hills around.

Disadvantages:  Not the greatest side roads.

Light domes (all faint if more than 7 miles away): Minerva, Carrollton, Lisbon. If you are within 15 miles of East Liverpool, you may see it off to the east.

Muskingum Watershed (return to top )

Best Areas:  Clendining and Piedmont Lake areas

Advantages:  Very dark.  NLM 6.5+.  Hilly terrain with vistas galore.  <30" snow/year.

Disadvantages:  Most developed areas around lakes are low.

Probable light domes:  New Philadelphia/Dover (NW, faint), Cadiz (east, very faint if noticeable), Wheeling (ESE, very faint if noticeable), Cambridge (SW)

Salt Fork Region (return to top )

Best areas:  Salt Fork State Park eastward to the Guernsey/Belmont county line/extreme southern and SE Tuscarawus County

Advantages:  Easy access to Guernsey County via I-77.  If 10+ miles from Cambridge, can get really dark, NLM~6.5

Disadvantages:    Driving time, unimproved roads, especially if away from the park.

Light domes:  Cambridge (W or SW, faint, especially if east of the park), possibly Barnesville if near the Belmont county line)

AEP Recreation Lands (return to top )

Best Areas:  extreme western Noble County, NE Morgan County.  The AEP  recreation lands provide a huge area full of campsites, horse trails, and several parking areas.  Darkest spots would be around the SR-78/SR-83 JCT.

Advantages:  True, dark-sky environment.  NLM~6.7.  Strip-mined land is remarkably free of vegetation and topography for SE Ohio.

Disadvantages:  Serious driving time, almost 2 hours from Wooster, Massillon, or Canton.  Some campsites may have lighting.  Need a free permit to use AEP lands.

Light domes:  Zanesville (to the NW, faint, especially after 11 p.m.), McConnelsville (to the SW; small and almost negligible), Marietta (very faint  to the SE)

Wayne National Forest (return to top )

Best Areas:  Any spot in Wayne National Forest that is 7+ miles south or west of Woodsfield and 15+ miles from Marietta

Advantages:  Very dark skies, NLM~7 if conditions are right. Primitive campsites in the area.

Disadvantages:  Long drive, almost 2-1/2 hours from Canton, Massillon, or Wooster.  Very few accomidations or eating venues.  Road conditions range from well-maintained to Jeep trails.  Don't put too much faith in your maps!

Light domes:  Marietta, off to the SW, very faint (Springtime Zodiacal light  is brighter)


With the exception of Allegheny National Forest and Spruce Knob, the following locations are listed due to strong references from astronomers around the country.

Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania (return to top )

Best Areas:  In the vicinity of Marienville, Russel City, or Ridgway, or, further north, near Tracy Ridge (off of SR-321 about 2 miles before it ends at SR-346).

Advantages:  Easy access, maintained in wintertime.  Somewhat elevated; less likely to suffer from summertime haze than any part of Ohio.

Accomidations available in Kane, PA, where SR-66 meets US-6.  About a 3-hour drive from Canton, except 3-1/2 hours for Tracy Ridge.

Disadvantages:    Prone to lake-effect cloudiness, especially in winter; gets  up to 100" snow/year.

Light domes:  Minimal in any direction if you pick the right spots, probably invisible if more than 5 degrees of your horizon is covered up.

Potter County, PA (return to top )

Best Areas:  In the vicinity of Cherry Springs State Park or Potato City

Advantages:  Rave reviews from those who have been there; no towns with >50,000 people within 100 miles.  Only possible light dome would be  Coudersport, 12-15 miles to the west.  About 2400 feet above sea level; pleasant summer weather.

Disadvantages:  Extremely cloudy in wintertime; lots of snow.  Driving time almost 5 hours from Canton.

Spruce Knob, West Virginia (return to top )

Advantages:  Otherwise known as the Promised Land, the summit of Spruce Knob  is without question the best spot within 300 miles of Canton.  You're at the highest point in West Virginia; your horizons in all directions are below you. Refreshingly cool even in the dead of summer.  Ridiculously dark skies,  NLM~7.5 on a good night.  Solid luminescent Milky Way.  Think of it as the Poor Man's Arizona Trip.  No dew problem with the omnipresent breeze.  Bugs don't bother you for pretty much the same reason.  High elevation (almost 5,000 feet) gets you above much of the haze.  Accomidations are near the access road in Seneca Rocks and Franklin. If winds at the summit are too much for you to bear, there is a campsite nearby at about 3,800 feet in elevation.

Disadvantages:  Refreshingly cool in summertime means pretty cold in
wintertime.  Despite it being further south in latitude than Washington, D.C,  in all months it averages colder weather than any part of the Buckeye state.  A certain degree of insanity is required to use it as a wintertime site, since  the 12-mile access road, while still open, isn't plowed in wintertime.  Snow?  It gets a lot.  Regardless of season, being the highest point in West Virginia  can potentially lead you exposed to high winds, especially in advance of cold fronts.

Grayson County, Virginia (return to top )

Best areas:    Grayson Highlands State Park, Whitetop Mountain, Troutdale, Independence.

Advantages:  Both GHSP and Whitetop Mountain have roads that are maintained year-round.  Very dark sky, NLM~7.2-7.5.  Better wintertime odds of getting a clear sky than all of Ohio or West Virginia.

Disadvantages:  7 hour drive from Canton.  Spruce Knob is a darker, closer summertime site.  Whitetop Mountain, though is about the same latitude as Norfolk, is also 5,500 feet in elevation.  The park is more hospitable,  between 3,500 and 5,000 feet.


Pettigrew State Park, North Carolina (return to top )

Nearest Town:  Plymouth, North Carolina

Advantages:  Very good wintertime spot; close to sea level, but still well inland from any lighthouses.  Dark skies; comparable to Grayson Highlands,  but a lot warmer; daytime highs in January get into the 50s.  Relatively flat area allows for some great horizons.

Disadvantages:  Summertime haze combined with low elevation.  Far enough  inland to not feel ocean breezes.  Unrelenting heat and humidity in summertime.  The drive is almost 700 miles from Canton.

The Great Midwest (return to top )

Best Area:    NW Nebraska, near Valentine, Nebraska

Advantage:  This is the area where the Nebraska Star Party is held. Think Texas-Star-Party darkness, only a little cooler. It is the darkest spot within 1,000 driving miles of Canton.

Disadvantage:  Hope you can find what you need in Valentine. That's the only town around PERIOD.

SE Oregon ("The Undiscovered Country") (return to top )

Best Areas:  Just within the Oregon border with Nevada, in and around Sexton Summit, and south or east of Burns.

Advantages:    Magnificent skies in summertime.  Cobalt blue during the day, black at night.  Your odds are comparable here from June through August to  what they are in Arizona, plus it's MUCH more pleasant.  A largely unpopulated section of the country that hasn't been overrun with development. Disadvantages:  A little higher in latitude (42-44N) than Ohio (38.5-42N;  40.8N for Canton); fairly cloudy in wintertime, though not as bad as Ohio.  Don't  get stranded here.  Just....don't.

The Southwest (return to top )

Best Area:  Depends on who you ask.  Good bets would be the area around Cloudcroft, NM, the 4 Corners Region, and SE Arizona.

Advantages:  With the exception of the Monsoon season (July-August), you don't need to check a satellite picture or listen to a weather radio.  Some of the best skies on the planet are here.

Disadvantages:  The same remoteness you cherish will require hours to get to  the nearest hospital.  Health problems can become health emergencies.  You must  make sure you have EVERYTHING you need in the car.  Also, development is rampant; what might be great today might be "Cactus Estates" next year.

Northern Michigan (return to top )

Best areas:  North of 44 degrees North Latitude.

Advantages:  Outstanding skies if you find the better spots;  Very remote outside of a few small towns.  Pleasant, summer weather and clean air. Terrain is quite flat in this area.  Roads arranged in an easy-to-navigate grid pattern.  Plenty of parks around.

Disadvantages:  Longer drive than Spruce Knob.  Long summer twilights, especially in the Upper Peninsula.  Very cloudy during cold weather months. Large snowfalls possible in this area.

Southern Canada (return to top )

Best Areas:  in the Vicinity of Algonquin Provincial Park.

Advantages:  Remote part of Canada that, at a latitude of about 45 degrees, still does not have a summer midnight twilight like the Prairie Provinces. Pitch-black skies.  Pleasant summer weather.

Disadvantages:  long summer twilights, unrelenting cold weather in wintertime.  Prone to frequent cloudiness, especially wintertime.  Weather
forecasts in metric are a slight annoyance, too.

SW Texas (return to top )

Best Areas:  Around Ft. Davis, McDonald Observatory, and Big Bend National Park

Advantages:  This is Texas Star Party country here, often considered the benchmark by which other star parties sky darkness is judged.  Warm weather year-round.

Disadvantages:  Wind and dust; this area is often where the "dry line" that severe storm chaser talk about sets up.  Brutally hot in summer if your site is not elevated.

And finally.....

The Moon (return to top )

Best Area:  Everywhere.  Anytime, night or day.

Advanatges.  No light pollution.  No carlights.  No haze.  No twilight.  No
Atmospheric extinction!

Disadvantages:  No air!  Daytime last 15 days.  It gets up to 200 F during
the day and drops to -200 F at night.  Oh, yeah, there is that accessibility problem.  Pizza orders are also a pain.   Phil Hoyle and I are working on this one….

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Last update April 2, 2000 byPhillip Creed