Shoestring Honeymoon Under The Stars
Looking for the perfect but economical honeymoon but not sure what’s possible on a shoestring budget? Interested in seeing the Milky Way in a natural setting? Want a holiday that makes you feel closer to nature? Think you need to get away from the city for a few days?
You may not have to visit Cancun –or break the bank– to find the most romantic of honeymoon getaways.
Maybe you should consider visiting a dark skies park.
The wonders of the night sky are a part of our lifestyle and history. Without the inspiration of the stars, humanity might never have created much of its culture, both historical and artistic. In terms of a spot for your honeymoon, an open night sky might be the most romantic of locales.
There are 13 dark sky preserves in the United States, all of them with either Gold or Silver darkness status — meaning they have very little outside light pollution. As most designated dark sky spots are located within state parks and national monument parks, the cost of visiting can be minimal or even free. The journey to reach your heavenly honeymoon haven will likely be the most expensive part of the experience.
Out of those 13 dark sky preserves, 10 of them have camp sites available and nearby for those stargazers who want to stay overnight. For a honeymoon, it could be the most exciting option available to those on a limited budget and with an interest in seeing the sky at its most glorious.
Natural Bridges National Monument, located on Cedar Mesa in Utah, would make a good spot for your honeymoon, with its unparalleled views of the night sky. Designated a Gold Star dark sky park in 2007, it holds the distinction of being the first international dark sky preserve. The park allows camping year-round. There is a scenic drive (for car or bicycle) which provides the visitor with access to all three of the park’s ancient stone bridges and several short trails for hiking. The area sees very little rain and the average daytime temperature in July (the hottest part of the year) is 90 degrees, Fahrenheit. But be sure to pack a quilt or a jacket if you’re staying the night; even July sees average nighttime temperatures of 58. Snuggle up under the stunning river of light that is the Milky Way.
You can visit the Natural Bridges National Monument website to read more.
Located deep in the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest of Pennsylvania is Cherry Springs State Park. The 82-acre park offers a wide variety of activities, including 85 miles of hiking trails. There are a number of options if you want to stay for the night sky view; camp sites, yurtas, and cabins are all rentable. You won’t have to sleep outdoors on your honeymoon unless you just want to. There is even a program for assisting the first-time camper. Remember to bring your warm clothes; the weather is generally cool and sometimes damp.
Located on the top of a mountain, Cherry Springs boasts an Astronomy Observation Field noted by stargazers on the internet as early as 1998. The park was designated a Gold Star dark skies preserve in 2008 and is one of the best places on the eastern seaboard for stargazing on your honeymoon.
You can learn more about Cherry Springs State Park and what it has to offer at its website, here.
The Headlands park in Emmet County, Michigan, is open 365 days of the year and costs nothing to visit. It boasts 550 acres of pristine woodland, two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline, many species of rare and endangered plant life, and visitors may spot wild animals native to the area. There is no camping allowed in the park, but campgrounds are available only minutes away. If you’re interested in a more civilized approach to your dark skies honeymoon, rooms may be rented in the park’s Guest House.
Given dark skies park status in 2011, it holds a Silver Star status. You can walk the Dark Sky Discovery Trail and you’re encouraged to spend the night for night-sky viewing opportunities. Bring blankets, sleeping bags, chairs, food, and your sweetheart for a chance at glimpsing the Milky Way or, at the right time of year, the Northern Lights. Dress warmly; it’s chilly on the shore of Lake Michigan. Don’t let that discourage the romantic; a night spent watching the sky could be the perfect end to your honeymoon.
You can investigate the Headlands at their website, here.
There are places where the night skies are dark as coal and the rivers carve temples in ancient stone. Big Bend National Park, in Texas, is one such place. It offers a wide variety of exciting natural experiences for the visitor and, in true Texas fashion, it boasts a seemingly endless sky for your starry honeymoon pleasure. As a national park, it is open 24/7 and every day of the year. There are campgrounds available and you may even acquire a permit to camp in the backcountry, away from developed sites.
The park’s busy season is usually November through April, so if you’re looking for some privacy for your honeymoon, make your visit during the off-season. Advance reservations are recommended. Many paths are paved for wheelchair accessibility and there are five visitor centers. Rafting tour trips are available, as are sight-seeing flights over the park. There are 250 miles of paved and unpaved scenic roads offering access to the desert and the mountains alike. And for the star gazing honeymooner, Big Bend offers a unique and primeval experience. It has the least light pollution of any other National Park in the lower 48 states. Designated a dark sky preserve in 2012, it has a Gold Star rating.
You can find out more with the National Park Service at the Big Bend website.
Below sea level and known for its record summer heat, Death Valley National Park in California is a land of extremes and that includes some of the country’s darkest skies for star watching. A great variety of life exists in this location, despite its name, but the nights are very chilly –snuggle up warm on your honeymoon in order to take in a spectacular view of the the universe beyond Earth’s skies.
Death Valley National Park offers over three million acres of wilderness and hundreds of miles of backcountry roads. Camping here needs to be done carefully to prevent dehydration and hypothermia both, but the view is well worth the well-prepared risk. Generally considered a winter park, the summer is considered too hot for most visitors. The park has a Gold Star dark sky status and is the largest dark sky preserve in the world.
Tyler Nordgren, an associate professor of physics at the University of Redlands (California), admits:
“At Death Valley the sky literally begins at your feet. When my students and I look up at night from our southern California campus, we can usually count 12 stars in the sky. However, less than a five hour drive from Los Angeles there’s a place where anyone can look up and see the universe the way everyone could 100 years ago.”
With careful planning, a honeymoon in Death Valley could be both economical and the thrill of a lifetime for star gazers.
For more information on Death Valley National Park, visit the national parks website here.
On your honeymoon, you can experience the same dark sky that the native Americans viewed a thousand years ago. With a Gold Star status, this history-rich park is located in New Mexico and can offer camp sites at a very cheap rate, requiring reservations only three days in advance.
Drive the nine miles of Canyon Loop Drive for a chance to view some of the park’s most famous sites. There are backcountry trails for hiking that lead you past petroglyphs and ancient stairways to remote, ancient Chacoan sites. Chaco has an observatory for the study of astronomy which is accessible to the public.
A honeymoon spent in Chaco Culture National Historical Park could be planned to occur at a time when you could attend either of the two annual Star Parties.
Read more about what’s available at Chaco at its official website here.
Parashant International Night Sky Province is part of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, located in rural northwestern Arizona. A whopping 1 million acres, it holds Gold-tier dark sky status and is considered to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
The park is open year-round but be warned that some roads are impassable during monsoon season, July through September, and after winter storms. No fees are required for backcountry camping, so this could be the cheapest and most romantic place to visit for nighttime sky watching on your honeymoon.
Parashant remains one of the most remote locations in the lower 48. Known for its unusual combination of high elevation plateaus, crystal clear air quality, sparse population, and cloud-free weather. You’ll never find a better locale for watching the heavens. Two weeks’ honeymoon in Parashant provides an unrivaled solitude.
Read more about the Grand Canyon and Parashant National Monument here.
Hovenweep National Monument contains six prehistoric villages and is a Gold-tier dark sky preserve. Open year-round, it offers camping, hiking, and a glimpse at ancient native construction. But it is at night when Hovenweep reveals its true splendor. The structures and rock formations seem custom-made for major celestial events such as the summer solstice.
As with all national parks, facilities are ADA-compliant for people with disabilities. But the cautious honeymooner should be warned: as part of a high desert region, Hovenweep is subject to summer temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit and late summer monsoon season can bring flash flooding. The most popular seasons for visitors are spring and autumn, when average daytime temperatures are 60-80 and the lows average 30-50.
Pack warm for your romantic dark sky getaway and pay attention to the National Weather Service and park warnings and your honeymoon will be a safe one.
You can read more about Hovenweep and its ancient history at the National Parks Service website.
Nestled in the Panhandle plains of Texas and only a few hours’ drive from three other state parks is Copper Breaks State Park, which holds a Gold star dark skies status.
Camping is not the only thing you can do on your honeymoon in this state park, which was granted dark sky preserve status just this year. There are a number of outdoor activities to be found at Copper Breaks. Just watch out for the official Texas longhorn herd, a portion of which lives in the park.
The busy season for Copper Breaks is in the spring and summer but there is much to recommend it during the autumn and winter, too. Solitude for your romantic honeymoon can be found in the more primitive campsite locations and are well worth the short hike. And it is here, away from everything else, that the night sky reveals itself.
You can learn more about Copper Breaks State Park here.
With a giant pink granite dome rising over Central Texas, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas has a Gold-tier dark skies status. The hill country scenery is considered to be an ideal location for camping and stargazing. It makes for a magical getaway for honeymooners who want to make the most of what Mother Nature has to offer in terms of magic.
The park offers both walk-in and primitive backpack campsites for whatever you might need in terms of privacy. A weekend spent at Moss Lake could be your dream honeymoon, but the park offers much more than a beautiful landscape. More than 400 archaeological sites have been found in the park, a reminder that this location has been used by humans for at least 12,000 years.
But be aware that the park is sometimes closed on weekends and holidays and plan accordingly. Its busy season is from September to May and it’s a good idea to bring your own drinking water as this is an area that is subject to drought.
You can read about the magical legends associated with Enchanted Rock State Natural Area at the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
Barring the roadtrip cost of reaching a dark sky preserve, the actual visit may cost you less than $20, with entrance fees and campsite rental. For the frugal honeymooner, the rewards are as limitless as the night sky itself.
[Image Courtesy of outsideonline.com]