Ideal Oregon IDA Dark Sky Site Candidates

Windmill Oregon Cottonwood Canyon State Park

After Prineville Reservoir State Park become an IDA Dark Sky Preserve, the first in the PNW, it made us think that there are some great candidates for future sites.

For the Oregon State Parks, make sure to check out our reviews and advice for visiting them and performing astronomy as they are extremely helpful for those looking to make the trip.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Located 2.5 to 3 hours from Portland, Cottonwood Canyon State Park in Oregon is an amazing and under appreciated state park. The park is the largest state park in Oregon with 8,000 acres of land, hiking, and rafting during the day. The park is a Bortle 2 Scale, and is slightly darker than Prineville Reservoir.

But at night, Cottonwood Canyon really shines as the park is located around 15 miles from Wasco, Oregon. This makes the park far enough away from the city to have light pollution not be an issue, but far enough away to not see the crowds that other state parks see. This has lead the state park to be the 15th least visited park in 2019, but with the pandemic, Cottonwood Canyon did rise to be outside of the 20 least visited Oregon State parks in 2020. However, it is worth noting that the state park does have 4 cabins, which are beautiful, but do fill up extremely fast. They are worth it as the site is even darker than Prineville Reservoir.

There are many great locations for photos in and around the canyon, which will make you the first to explore and photograph the Milky Way in a lot of these places. The trails provide an amazing opportunity to bring cameras to numerous trails and great fascinating locations. Because it is a canyon that is sheltered from light, it provides some unique opportunities for telescopes as well.

Wallowa Lake State Park

Located between a glacial lake and the Wallowa Mountains, Wallowa Lake State Park is an amazing place to visit for its natural beauty and the astronomical beauty! Located 1.5 hours from LaGrande, OR, 2.5 hours from Pendleton, Oregon and 5.5 hours from Portland, OR and Vancouver, Wa, Wallowa Lakes State Park is a hidden gem for astronomy. The park is rated a Bortle 2 scale for dark sky, which with its year round camping, provides amazing opportunities for year round dark sky viewing.

The camping opportunities in the area includes yurts and tents, which can be reserved ahead of time. In the winter, it is important to note that there are the potential for snow storms, which means that from October to May, services and site availability may be limited. Moreover, this extends to camping in the winter, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis as they become available as plowing and maintenance allows. 

Its distance from cities and overlooks make Wallowa Lake State Park an amazing place to visit and an amazing dark sky site! Making Wallowa Lake State Park a dark sky designated place or park will help stimulate interest in the park, as the distance from major cities helps preserve the dark sky status, but also dampens the public’s knowledge of the park and maybe willingness to go visit. The official website for Wallowa Lake State Park can be found at

Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve

Deep within the Siskiyou Mountains are dark, twisting passages that await discovery in this amazing Class 2 Bortle Scale area. Although it is less known than other sites in Southern Oregon, this site is a real gem as it is far away from cities and any lights. It is 1 hour 45 minutes or 77 miles from Medford, 1 hour 11 minutes or 48.5 miles from Grants Pass, and a bit more than 5 hours from Portland, Oregon, which makes the Monument and Preserve an amazing place to visit for astronomy. Close to the Oregon-California border, the Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve is a fantastic sky area that would be in a remote area that allows undisturbed access to the sky. Making this are a dark sky sanctuary will increase tourism and its profile.

Pine Mountain Observatory

Located 34 miles southeast of Bend, in Central Oregon, Pine Mountain Observatory is part of UO Physics Department. In a Bortle 2 scale area, Pine Mountain Observatory provides opportunities to visit and use telescopes from sundown until 11pm on Friday and Saturday evenings. The evenings with a new moon are best to come visit, and more information can be found on their website. The Pine Mountain Observatory area is an area for astronomical study and much astronomical beauty, which means that it is worth a visit. With its designation of Dark Sky Place, it would attract more visitors and become a bigger tourist destination as it is in a great location.

Make sure to check out our unique astro sites for more information about visiting amazing astronomy sites like these. Follow CosmosPNW on Twitter and Instagram for updates and photos from amazing sites like these!

Be the first to comment on "Ideal Oregon IDA Dark Sky Site Candidates"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.