There are many amazing dark sky preserves in Ontario where you can view the stars and the night sky without light pollution. Generally speaking, the farther you can get away from bigger cities, the better. However, there are designated dark sky reserves in Ontario that are truly the best places to go stargazing in the province.
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What is a Dark Sky Preserve?
A dark sky preserve is a protected space that reduces or eliminates light pollution, and makes a commitment to preserve the night sky. You’ll have the best chance at seeing the most stars, the moon, galaxies, constellations, and other special night sky occurrences like the Northern Lights.
There are 22 official dark sky preserves in Canada, and there are only 62 in the entire world. This means that there are so many places to go stargazing in Canada. Many of these incredible locations are right here in Ontario. Parks Canada has 13 dark sky preserves in national parks, there are three Ontario Parks dark sky reserves (provincial parks), and several other sites around the province.
Many dark sky preserves in Ontario have special events and nights where they host astronomy talks and telescope viewing parties. It’s best to follow the websites or social media accounts for the parks to stay up to date.
Benefits of Dark Sky Preserves in Ontario
You might be wondering about the benefits of having dark sky preserves in Ontario. Well, the first one is most obvious: the best places to go stargazing in Ontario are the dark sky reserves. You’ll likely be able to see more stars than you ever have before in your life. Plus, it might be possible to witness the beauty of the northern lights, distant planets, and far-off galaxies.
Dark skies are important to many species of animals, too. Many birds, plants, insects, and even humans have evolved over millions of years to rely on periods of darkness each night. The amount of darkness each night changes with the seasons and affects how plants grow, when the birds migrate, breeding cycles of animals, and more.
As light pollution increases and we lose our naturally dark skies, this can disrupt both flora and fauna. The human body also thrives on having a regular circadian clock. Having regular sleep patterns and experiencing true darkness helps us have better sleep and can protect us from many harmful chronic conditions.
How to Use Responsible Lighting Practices?
Some of the most responsible dark sky viewing practices include:
- Turn off any lights when they aren’t in use
- Don’t install any lighting on your campsite
- Don’t use solar-powered garden lights that stay on all night
- Use red cellophane over your flashlight as it helps retain night vision and is less disruptive than white light
Even though we might not be able to escape cities as much as we like, it is beneficial to have natural environments that are protected from light pollution. It’s better for animals, plants, and us! Here are some dark sky preserves in Ontario that are perfect to unwind in nature and admire the night sky.
Newest Ontario Dark Sky Preserve: Quetico Provincial Park
The newest dark sky reserve in Ontario is Quetico Provincial Park, designated as such on February 23rd, 2021. It is now the third Ontario provincial park to receive the high acclaims and prestigious certification from the International Dark Sky Association.
The park created an extensive light management plan to minimize the amount of light pollution. They used sky quality meters throughout the park to take readings in 2019 and 2022. These readings exceeded the guidelines set to become an internationally recognized official dark sky preserve.
Quetico Provincial Park plans to host educational programs, and they’ll also create signage and displays to highlight important facts and details about maintaining dark skies. Be sure to look out for special events in the future!
Ontario Stargazing at Lake Superior Provincial Park
Lake Superior Provincial Park was the second Ontario park to achieve the official status of dark sky preserve back in 2018. It’s one of the darkest preserves in Canada and even the world. Lake Superior Provincial Park’s remote location has very little light pollution, so it’s naturally one of the best places to go stargazing in Ontario.
Its location and dark skies make it one of the top places to see the Northern Lights in Ontario (and all of Canada!). The park is also home to many nocturnal animals, including owls, wolves, bats, beavers, and Northern Flying Squirrels.
The Agawa Bay Campground, near the visitor center, is one of the best places to go stargazing in the park. You can also view the captivating night sky from the Rabbit Blanket Lake campground.
By day, go for a hike on the Voyageur Trail, one of the longest hiking trails in Ontario with spectacular scenery. In the evening, don’t miss a brilliant sunset over Lake Superior. And then at night, you can soak up the scenery of the dazzling night sky.
Dark Sky Preserves in Ontario: Killarney Provincial Park
Killarney Provincial Park is the first provincial park to be designated as an official dark sky preserve in Ontario by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. You’ll be able to enjoy unbelievably awesome scenery of the night sky at Killarney with minimal light pollution.
Killarney is one of only two provincial parks with an observatory, and they host several astronomy programs throughout the summer months. The park has a research-grade 16″ telescope with an attached 5″ refractor for incredible astro-photography. The astronomy programs have demonstrations by guest astronomers, including an astronomer-in-residence on Tuesday nights.
There’s also a self-use program for anyone to explore the night sky. Individuals and families can sign out the observatory to spend an evening exploring the night sky together. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never used a telescope before. Beginners are welcome!
Beyond the three provincial parks that are designated as dark sky preserves in Ontario (Killarney Provincial Park, Lake Superior Provincial Park, and Quetico Provincial Park), here are more provincial parks that make for fantastic Ontario stargazing locations:
- Algonquin Provincial Park
- Charleston Lake Provincial Park
- Rushing River Provincial Park
Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve
Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve is one of the best places to go stargazing near Toronto, as its only a two hour drive from the city. You’ll also escape all of that Toronto light pollution! It is the first dark sky preserve in Ontario and Canada.
The distance from urban centers and the natural surroundings make Torrance Barrens the best place to see stars in Ontario. The undeveloped land surrounding the reserve acts as a buffer from light pollution. The hard, granite surface of the ground is immune to vibrations, which makes night sky photography and telescope viewing even better.
From the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve, it’s possible to view numerous stars, constellations, and planets. You’ll be able to see the Milk Way Galaxy, visible to the naked eye, without any equipment. Through a telescope (and quite possibly seen in the distance without one), you can spot the Andromeda Galaxy, which is two million light years away. On occasion, you can see the Northern Lights here, too!
Bruce Peninsula National Park / Fathom Five National Marine Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Fathom Five National Marine Park are among the best places to go stargazing in Ontario. They also happen to be fantastic dark sky preserves in Ontario, too. Definitely add stargazing and night sky observing to your Tobermory road trip itinerary.
There are numerous places to observe the night sky on the Bruce Peninsula. At the viewing platform at the harbour in Lion’s Head, the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association hosts the free Bayside Astronomy program. Their events take place every Friday and Saturday night between Canada Day and Labour Day.
Another fantastic place to view the night sky is at Flowerpot Island, part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park. There are only six campsites on Flowerpot Island, so you’ll want to reserve this one well in advance. View the magnificent night sky on an island containing unique rock formations.
Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee National Park became an official dark sky preserve in 2006. You’ll be able to view millions of stars, visible to the naked eye. Even though Point Pelee National Park is an extremely southern point in the province, it’s still one of the best places to see the stars in Ontario.
The best times to see the stars at Point Pelee National Park are during the new moon (when you can’t see the moon in the sky). During these nights, the park will stay open until midnight, which are longer operating hours than usual.
When you reach the park, you can pick up a seasonal star chart to help identify the celestial objects in the sky. Binoculars and a telescope are great to bring, too. For the best car accessible viewing locations, visit West Beach or the Visitor Centre parking lot.
Gordon’s Park in Manitoulin Island
Gordon’s Park is an official dark sky preserve in Ontario, as certified by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. It is the first private, commercially owned dark sky preserve, and you’ll find it on Manitoulin Island. This is where you’ll be able to experience one of Ontario’s darkest skies without any light pollution.
You won’t experience any light pollution or glow around the 360 degree observing horizon. It’s quite remarkable. The park is open from May to October for stargazers, astronomers, and campers. You can sleep beneath the stars here, and you’ll be treated to seeing millions of them!
Gordon’s Park hosts many events throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Some of these events include: Star Parties, Women’s Outdoor Weekend, Aurora Borealis Events, Astronomy Nights, the Moonlight Hike and Wolf Howl, and more. There are astronomy nights several times a week throughout the summer, and you can even book your own private astronomy sessions.
North Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve
The North Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve is about two hours from Ottawa and four hours from Toronto / Montreal. It received official status in 2013 and has continued to wow visitors with one of the darkest skies in Canada. This is a public space with amenities, parking, and electrical services. Anyone can visit, set up their telescope on their large cement pad, and look at the night sky.
The North Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve has regular events between May and October that are free for everyone to attend. Bring your binoculars and telescopes. There are special events to view the Annual Perseid Meteor Shower, the Moon, constellations in the summer and autumn, the planets, and even an event during the day to learn more about the Sun.
Blue Water Outdoor Education Centre
The Blue Water Outdoor Education Centre in Wiarton, Ontario became an official dark sky preserve in November 2012 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. There are many events, hosted by the Bluewater Astronomical Society, that are open to the public.
The Bluewater Astronomical Society, affiliated with the Blue Water Outdoor Education Centre, owns a large 28-inch Webster Dobsonian reflector. They use this telescope regularly at the park’s observatory, which also happens to be Ontario’s largest publicly-accessible roll-off observatory.
It is possible to see numerous stars, planets, constellations, and galaxies from the Blue Water Outdoor Education Centre and the ES Fox Observatory. You might even be lucky enough to observe the Northern Lights here, too.
Lennox and Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area
The Lennox and Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area is not one of the official dark sky preserves in Ontario, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. It is one of the southernmost dark sky sites in Ontario, near Napanee.
There’s a large parking lot and a concrete pad to set up your camera and telescope. You don’t need to register in advance and admission is always free. Just show up between dawn and dusk for an opportunity to view the night sky. It’s one of the best places for stargazing near Toronto with little light pollution.
They also host events between May and September, such as laser-guided stargazing tours, Astrophotographers Assemble events (geared towards night sky photographers), Perseid Meteor Shower events, and the chance to see the Moon through a high powered telescope.
Tips for Dark Sky Viewing
Thinking about heading out to any of these dark sky preserves in Ontario? Here are a few tips to help you have the best experience.
- Check the weather before heading out. This can help avoid disappointment if there are clouds or stormy weather in the forecast.
- Download the Google Sky Map app to help identify stars, planets, and more (keeping the app closed to reduce light pollution when you aren’t using it)
- Bring a pair of binoculars or a telescope for a heightened experience