Seeking Stars: Where to Watch the Upcoming Perseid Meteor Shower
The annual Perseids meteor shower will start peaking soon, sending streaks of fireballs through the night skies and awing hikers near and far.
The annual Perseids meteor shower will start peaking soon, sending streaks of fireballs through the night skies and awing hikers near and far. With help from the hiking community, we've compiled a list of great spots to watch, as well as some advice for a successful stargazing overnight.
WHEN TO WATCH
The annual show will peak at night between Aug. 12 and 13. In most years, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn, though meteors may come at any time.
If you like to take a scientific approach to your stargazing, EarthSky has everything you need to know to dial in your stargazing efforts.
WHERE TO GO FOR GREAT STARGAZING
So, where's the best place to watch the show?
As many hikers know — light pollution, weather and smoke are factors to consider when choosing a destination. That means getting to parts of Washington away from urban centers will be your best bet. Head to the Okanogan National Forest or the Salmo-Priest Wilderness in the north and far corners of the state. The western side of the Olympics or south side of Mount Rainier are all great places for star watching. Forests around Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens can be great, too.
The other major factor to consider is weather. Look at the forecast before you settle on a destination. Even though you might usually avoid the desert or coulee country during the summer heat, clear skies might be more reliable there.
We've compiled a few great stargazing spots and backpacking trips with stellar stargazing opportunities, provided the weather cooperates. A few years ago, we also asked our Facebook community for their favorite spots to stargaze in Washington, and here are the many trails they suggested.
- For light pollution, try using the Dark Sky Finder.
- For a more detailed cloud cover forecast, check Clear Sky Charts.
- Smoke from wildfires burning in Washington may also obscure stars.
TIPS FOR SLEEPING OUT UNDER THE STARS
- Naps and alarms. Consider getting to your camp early and taking an afternoon nap. The best show will be later at night, so you won't want to nod off. Alternatively, set an alarm for 2 or 3 in the morning to catch the show at its peak, and then take a sunrise hike.
- Hot beverages. Most times, a heavy thermos doesn't make the cut for backpacking. But if you're going to be up late or up early in cool night temperatures, a hot cup of tea, chocolate or coffee can take the experience from great to amazing. If you are star watching with kids, plying them with hot cocoa is key.
- Think outside the tent. Consider bringing an extra ground cloth and sleeping outside. You can always have your tent set up nearby if weather rolls in, but this way, you can stargaze from bed.
- More info on backpacking basics
STAR/METEOR PARTY PROGRAMS
- Mount Rainier National Park has a regular evening astronomy program out of the Paradise Visitor Center. Check for start times (typically 9:30 every evening) at the visitor center or call the astronomy hotline: 360-569-6230. You need a National Parks Pass to enter the park, or you can pay a one-time fee of $30 per private vehicle.
- The Tacoma Astronomical Society also organizes star parties around the meteor shower most years. Find more local astronomy clubs in Washington.
- While not billed as a Perseids event, North Cascades National Park hosts an evening ranger-led walk on Thursday and Friday evenings at 8 p.m. at Newhalem in the summer, which would be a terrific start to an evening of stargazing from one of the North Cascade campgrounds.