Top Spots to get Starry-Eyed

| May 6, 2011 | 0 Comments
Stars over Emerald Bay

Wide-open views make the Emerald Bay overlook great for seeing stars.

Lake Tahoe boasts up to 300 clear nights per year. The dry air and western on-shore marine air flow pattern are ideal for good “seeing,” as is the low atmospheric turbulence.

I have been leading star parties at Lake Tahoe for ten years and have accumulated a list of my favorite sites (complete with exact latitude/longitude coordinates and basic directions) for taking folks out to observe our magnificent starry nights. These spots include beach, park and mountaintop viewing sites, and are chosen based on my favorable experiences, ease of access for viewing, especially when toting telescopes and bulky equipment, and limited light pollution.

beach and park stargazing sites

Baldwin Beach 39.922778N 120.068058W Highway 89, four miles north of the South Lake Tahoe “Y” Pros: Minimal light pollution, great north, west and east views across Lake Tahoe, easy access, historic buildings, gardens, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills, beautiful beach and pier Cons: Open only mid-May to October, closing hours vary, admission fee

Nevada Beach 38.981944N 119.955000W U.S. Highway 50, Round Hill Pros: Huge open beach and sky view, little light pollution, best sunset view on The Lake, easy access, good parking, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills, camping Cons: Can be very windy in the afternoons, sand is very fine (hard on equipment— be sure to take a blanket for covering sand under telescopes), parking and camping fees Cave

Rock boat launch 39.044167N 119.945889W U.S. Highway 50, immediately south of the Cave Rock tunnels Pros: Great open sky view to the west, north and south, great sunset view across The Lake, easy access, good parking, restrooms Cons: Can be very windy in summer afternoons, no beach access, moderate light pollution from parking lot and traffic on U.S. Highway 50, parking fee

Sand Harbor – Nevada State Park 39.195833N 119.933333W Three miles south of Incline Village on Highway 28 Pros: Terrific south-facing beach, boat launch, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills Cons: Some light pollution from Highway 28, parking fee, access limited during Shakespeare events July and August Burnt

Cedar Beach 39.245278N 119.968889W Lakeshore Drive, Incline Village Pros: Dark sky with stunning east and south lake views, easy access, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills Cons: Private beach requires Incline Village recreation pass and paid guest pass to enter, limited parking during busy July and August

Secline Beach 39.236944N 120.029444W Secline Street, Kings Beach Pros: Superb view of the entire lake looking to the east and south, easy access, no fees, picnic area and barbecue grills Cons: Some light pollution, which is partially obstructed by trees, fine sand tough on telescopes, limited parking, no restrooms

Sandy Beach 39.236954N 120.048889W Highway 28 in Tahoe Vista Pros: Breakwater Park has excellent east and south views across The Lake, easy access, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills, boat launch, fee campsites across highway Cons: Some light pollution from Highway 28 businesses

Lake Forest Beach Park 39.180556N 120.115278W Bristlecone Avenue in Lake Forest, one mile east of Tahoe City Pros: Dark site, excellent east, south and west views, easy access, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills and playgrounds Cons: Marsh area can be very buggy in the summer months, limited parking

Commons Beach Park 39.169167N 120.142776W Highway 28 in downtown Tahoe City Pros: Great east and south lake views, easy access, free parking, two playgrounds, large lakefront lawn area, restrooms, barbecue grills Cons: Buggy at dusk, moderate light pollution (some hidden by bluffs) from Tahoe City business.

D. L. Bliss State Park 39.997222N 120.098611W Highway 89, south of Meeks Bay Pros: Excellent east and south sky views, easy access to beach parking area, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills, trails and camping Cons: Fine sand is tough on equipment, busy in the summer, parking fee

Mountain stargazing sites

Spooner Lake – Nevada State Park 39.107778N 119.913889W Junction of Highway 28 and U.S. Highway 50 Pros: Dark sky with good east and south views, restrooms, picnic area, barbecue grills, fishing, hiking trails Cons: A quarter-mile trek from parking lot to the earthen dam at north end of lake for best viewing, very buggy during the summer at dusk, parking fee

Sheep’s Flat Recreation Area 39.308944N 119.908333W Mt. Rose Highway 431, two miles from summit Pros: Full open sky in meadow, great place for moonlight hikes, easy yearround access, many hiking trails, restrooms at summit trailhead and meadow parking lot, camping at Mt. Rose campground Cons: Some light pollution from passing cars and Reno sky glow, heavy winter snows can mean late spring thaw, buggy in the summer at dusk

Slide Mountain, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe Winters Creek Lodge parking lot 39.31667N 119.875W Mt. Rose Highway 431 to Highway 878, 3.5 miles to the parking lot Pros: Easy place to set up telescope for dark sky viewing, spectacular views east and south overlooking Washoe Lake, easy year-round access Cons: Can be very windy and cold even in summer; if lodge is closed, then no restrooms available

Virginia City Highlands 39.341687N 119.541687W Highway 341 (Geiger Grade) to Lousetown Road, 12 miles from Highway 395 Pros: Open dark sky, many dirt roads with turn-outs, easy year-round access, facilities in nearby Virginia City Cons: Reno sky glow to the north, can be windy

Barker Pass Recreation Area 39.097222N 120.213889W Highway 89, 7 miles down Blackwood Canyon Road Pros: Exquisite dark sky site with large, flat packed dirt parking area at 8,500 feet with stunning whole-sky views, one of the most stunning sites in the region, easy access, many hiking trails Cons: No facilities or campground amenities at summit, only accessible May through October, though may not open until June if winter snows are especially heavy

Emerald Bay State Park, upper parking lot 39.954167N 120.111111W Highway 89, south of Meeks Bay Pros: South end of parking lot has excellent sky views overlooking Emerald Bay, good place to gather a crowd to view through telescopes (“sidewalk astronomy”), easy summer evening access Cons: Moderate light pollution from cars in parking lot, Highway 89 closed in winter

Pope Valley along the Carson River 38.776389N 119.920833W Highway 88, at junction with Highway 89 (Luther Pass Road) Pros: Very dark skies, excellent observing conditions, easy summer access with many turnouts along the Carson River, close to Sorensen’s Resort Cons: May be buggy

Red Lake Reservoir 39.698611N 119.970833W Highway 88, 7.4 miles west of the junction of Highway 89 (Luther Pass Road) in Pope Valley; take Red Vista Road one-quarter mile to the earthen dam at Red Lake Pros: Very dark skies, excellent observing conditions, easy summer access Cons: Limited parking, may be buggy

Indian Creek Reservoir 38.744722N 119.783333W Highway 88 to Woodfords junction, then south on Highway 89 toward Markleeville to Airport Road and Indian Creek Reservoir Pros: Superb viewing site from earthen dam on west side of reservoir, easy summer access, BLM campground, close proximity to Markleeville services, second excellent site at the Alpine County airport Cons: May be buggy

Monitor Pass 38.672222N 119.626389W Highway 395, 2.5 miles south of the Nevada state line, then take Highway 89 west toward Markleeville Pros: Incredibly dark viewing site with clear views east and south, spectacular scenery, moderately easy summer access Cons: No facilities or potable water, dusty roads, can be windy early evenings. By Dr. Paul Guttman. TQ

Category: Natural World, Outdoors

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