From the waxing and waning moon to stars, constellations, galaxies, bright planets and even the spectacle of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), Mother Nature puts on the greatest star-studded show at night.
In Ontario, stargazing is incredible throughout the year, but the crisp air, low humidity and early nights of winter make for perfect dark sky viewing conditions. And best of all – no bugs. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has designated eight Ontario destinations as dark sky preserves for their absence of artificial light pollution and great stargazing visibility with a telescope, binoculars or even to the naked eye.
Head to a designated preserve or dark sky site this winter to enjoy nature’s brilliance and get that enchanted shot.
Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve, Gravenhurst, Muskoka
This is a photographer’s dream spot. Over 4000 acres of fully preserved conservation reserve on crown land ensures this precious spot is well protected from urban light. The smooth granite bedrock at the main observing area allows for easy gear set up, while open landscapes provide unobstructed viewing opportunities.
Nearby: Stay at Muskoka Bay Resort with dining on site and every imaginable winter activity at your fingertips.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, Tobermory, Bruce Peninsula
Visitors flock to this spectacular national park during each summer for the postcard perfect views and vistas across Georgian Bay, but in winter the main attraction is above. Enjoy amazing night skies on a winter camping excursion.
Nearby: If you crave creature comforts after your stargazing outing, check out the waterfront Tobermory Princess Hotel, overlooking Little Tub Harbour.
Lake Superior Provincial Park, Wawa, Algoma Country
Perched on the eastern shores of the Lake Superior and far from urban light pollution, this is one of the darkest Dark Sky Preserves in the world, thus one of the best places to admire the night sky and catch sight of the Aurora Borealis. The designated observation site is on the beach at the Agawa Bay Campground, not far from the Visitor Centre, and offers a magnificent skyscape.
Nearby: There are several welcoming accommodation options in and around Wawa, including the aptly named Northern Lights Motel and Chalet.
Photo credit: Tim Trentadue
Lennox And Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area, 7980 County Road, Erinsville
Although not an officially designated dark sky preserve, this is one of the most southerly dark sky sites in Ontario that offers an unmatched night sky experience. Located off highway 41 just south of Kaladar, the site provides parking and a concrete pad for your tripod or telescope and admission is free. It’s open year-round, while laser guided tours and astrophography-focus events are offered from May through September.
Nearby: For the ultimate out-of-this-world experience, book a couple of nights at Black River Retreat, a luxurious, secluded cabin that caters to one couple at a time. Yup, just one.
Point Pelee National Park, Leamington, Essex County
An important spring and fall migration destination for birds and Monarch butterflies, this national park located in Canada southernmost region is also a great spot to admire the starry wilderness at night. Join members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Windsor Centre for Dark Sky Nights, an evening of stargazing. Bring your own binoculars or look through one of the special telescopes on site for the evening.
Nearby: The quirky-chic Grove Hotel in Kingsville is brimming with character, charm and delicious craft beer brewed onsite.
North Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve, 5816 Road 506 Plevna, Township of North Frontenac
Just south of the community of Plevna, about two hours drive west of Ottawa, the Dark Sky Observation Pad of North Frontenac is Canada’s first municipality to be awarded with the Dark Sky Preserve Designation. Equipped with picnic benches, parking, electrical services, and accessible washrooms, it’s a comfortable spot to witness the magic of the skies.
Nearby: Sharbot Lake Country Inn will treat you to genuine hospitality, comfortable rooms with gorgeous lake views and all your favourite comfort food and live music at The Crossing Pub.
Killarney Provincial Park, Killarney, Sudbury District
One of Ontario’s most prized provincial parks, Killarney hugs the northern shores of Georgian Bay and its distinguishing features include the white quartzite hilltops of the La Cloche mountain range, pine and hardwood forests and smooth pink coloured granite coastline. Killarney was the first park to be awarded the preserve designation and one of only two parks with an observatory. Killarney is a great destination for winter camping or book a roofed accommodation from the six cozy yurts and two cabins.
Nearby: For the full service resort experience, make recently renovated Killarney Mountain Lodge your home base.
Gordon’s Park Dark Sky Preserve, Tehkummah, Manitoulin Island
If you’re planning on a summer stargazing excursion, Ontario’s first commercial, privately-owned dark sky preserve, Gordon’s Park is like Disney World for astronomy buffs with 360 horizon-to-horizon views, special summer events and cozy dark sky accommodations including the Milky Way Bunkie and the Stargazing Cabin. Operating season is: May to October.
Nearby: Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre is another great option for your Manitoulin home base, with outdoor and Indigenous themed activities plus onsite dining.
Follow the Ontario Park’s Eyes on the Skies blog each month for stargazing news and check the aurora forecast before heading to a designated dark sky viewing reserve.
Note: stargazing etiquette includes minimizing artificial light, so switch off vehicle headlights and use the red light setting on your flash light or head lamp.
Top photo credit: Terence Dickinson