Trip Ideas

Cosmic Fun in Nevada County – Dark Skies & Where to Stargaze

Sometimes you need to slow down and take it all in. As the sun sets below the horizon, inhale a crisp, clean breath of fresh air and gaze up at a canvas of stars. Here’s what makes Nevada County a great place to stargaze and a few favorite spots local photographers recommend for capturing its beauty.

Tips & Resources

Want to learn more about the stars up above? Consider joining the Nevada County Astronomers Group

The town of Truckee has joined the Dark Sky Movement! Learn more about this initiative and how you can join it

By Alex Silgalis

Sparkling glitter against an infinite black landscape. An orange moon floating above a lush green rolling hillside. We’re not talking about a cosmic lyric from a 70s rock group, but rather the breathtaking sights above you after the sun dips below the horizon. After a day spent hiking, fly-fishing, and soaking in the scenery on the South Yuba River, take time to enjoy the cosmos. It’s an experience everyone should set aside time for.

What Makes Stargazing Special Here

Located in the foothills and mountains of the Sierra Nevada, Nevada County offers the perfect stargazing ingredients. Easy access to great cuisine, culture, and outdoor activities, and yet remote enough to enjoy the stars during your visit.

Best Places to Stargaze

When it comes to the best places to stargaze, the key is finding a spot that’s close enough to access without hiking for miles in the dark, far from light pollution, and most importantly, has an open sky. If you do visit any of these locations, pack a headlamp to get to and from your stargazing location safely.

Hoyt Crossing

Image appears courtesy: Nevada County Arts Council – Photo by: Jesse Bradford, Hoyt’s Crossing

When capturing photos of stars, one crucial element to consider is water. It adds depth and character against the vast backdrop of stars above. Hoyt Crossing is a prime location for night sky photography due to its secluded canyon setting, which helps shield against light pollution from nearby homes or buildings.

Hirschman’s Pond

After enjoying a delicious dinner in downtown Nevada City, set off on the Hirschman Trail, just a mile away. During the day, this trail is a bird lover’s paradise and offers a quick escape into nature. As the sun sets, head to the pond for stargazing. With its glassy waters, giant boulders, exposed cliffs, and hummocky landscape, it provides a perfect backdrop for the night sky.

Public Piers at Donner Lake

On the eastern side of the county, Truckee offers a variety of places to enjoy the stars, including the public piers at Donner Lake. The gentle lapping of water against the shore, shimmering stars above, and the moon’s glow reflecting on the water create a sensory-rich experience you won’t forget. For more stargazing spots, check out their article: Turn Out the Lights! Truckee Dark Skies & Best Places To Stargaze.

Additional Locations

Omega Diggins Overlook at sunset
Image taken by: Kial James

For even clearer views, consider a drive to Omega Diggins Overlook, known for its minimal light pollution in the county.

Why Dark Skies Are Important

Image appears courtesy: Nevada County Arts Council – Photo by: Rachelle Reome, Twisted Fate

The sight of the Milky Way or the Coma Star Cluster have entertained and sparked the imagination of humankind for thousands of years. However, dark skies aren’t only about those breathtaking views. Scientists have discovered that light pollution can have far-reaching effects, from increasing the risk of sleep disorders to disrupting ecosystems. For instance, artificial lights can disorient monarch butterflies’ navigation systems.

Celebrate Dark Skies with Nevada County Arts Council

Experts estimate that 80% of Americans and one-third of the global population can no longer see the Milky Way due to light pollution. As light pollution continues to increase, the Nevada County Arts Council, in partnership with the County of Nevada and the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, are celebrating Nevada County’s dark skies through the ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’ photography contest.

Explore the gallery of stunning images that capture the beauty above and around us on the Nevada County Arts Council’s website. You can vote for your favorites from June 27th to July 15th, with winners announced on July 23rd. Winning photographs will be printed and displayed at the Eric Rood Administration Center from July 23rd to September 18th.

Inspire to Help

The goal of the photography contest is to raise awareness about this critical issue. One simple action you can take is to be mindful of your indoor and outdoor lighting usage. To learn more and find tips on how to join the movement, visit the Dark Sky International homepage or Visit Truckee-Tahoe’s article about it. With your help, both visitors and residents can preserve the dark skies for future generations to enjoy. After all, there’s a whole universe out there waiting to be explored.


Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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