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The Best Places to Go Stargazing in Westchester

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Great locations and expert advice from a local astronomer are all you need to set your sights skyward in Westchester.

One of the beauties of Westchester is that while we have the hustle and bustle of cities like Yonkers, New Rochelle, and White Plains, we also have more suburban and undeveloped woodland areas so close to New York City. On clear nights, amateur astronomers and casual onlookers can be treated to dazzling sights, like the banded Milky Way, our solar system’s inner and ringed outer planets, and even transient objects like comets while stargazing.

“The best place to enjoy the stars is in your own backyard. Dark skies begin at home,” says Westchester Amateur Astronomers VP for Events Bob Kelly. “Make your own dark place.”

If you’re balking at the idea of dropping a few hundred dollars on a new telescope, don’t worry. Kelly has some great tips for things you can see with the naked eye or a good pair of binoculars. “You don’t need a telescope to do this kind of observation.”

stargazing in Westchester

Photo by Alexia Roisenvit

Tips for Amateur Stargazers

  • First, Kelly says, avoid any type of bright light when stargazing. Position yourself so you block light pollution from any nearby streetlights or other bright sources with a house or even a tree.
  • Next, find an angle where those houses and trees won’t obstruct your view too much.
  • If you bring a flashlight or lantern with you, try wrapping it with red cellophane so the dimmer wavelengths won’t disrupt your eye too much.
  • Be patient. After you shut off your lights, it’ll take a good 15 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness
  • Bring a map! Kelly recommends using a star map like Skymap.com to help you locate astronomical objects like the Milky Way and bright objects like Polaris and some of the closer planets, which in turn can help you locate fainter objects nearby.

 

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If your backyard or roof won’t exactly cut it, try hoofing it a little northward to one of these great spots for observing the heavens.

Ward Pound Ridge Reservation

Pound Ridge

A favorite of Kelly’s, Ward Pound Ridge has been open to campers since late June. You don’t need a county parks pass for admission, and parking is only $5 if you have one or $10 without from May to mid-October (weekends only the rest of the year). The park is open until dusk year-round, which makes it ideal for early evening sights. Westchester Amateur Astronomers even host monthly Star Parties at The Meadow at Ward Pond.

 

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Rockwood Hall at Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Pleasantville

The grounds of the 200-acre estate are ripe for stargazing, especially the lawn of the former Rockefeller family home. Parking is only $6, and the park itself is open until dusk year-round.

Blue Mountain Reservation

Peekskill

Alternately, if you head up to Peekskill you can check out another county park at Blue Mountain. The park is open until dusk year-round, and there’s plenty of nearby parking. Just like Ward Pound Ridge, parking is $5 with a park pass or $10 without, but if you don’t mind walking there are plenty of free local spots available.

Bear Mountain State Park

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain is open year-round to the public, and the facilities such as the trailside museum and zoo are open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This state park is just a stone’s throw from Blue Mountain, which provides clear skies and plenty of nearby hiking and scenery until it’s time to break out the star maps.

 

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Steamboat Riverfront Park

Verplanck

This small park in Cortlandt boasts a terrific view of the Hudson River and skies above. With low light and the river valley providing wide views, you can catch some great early-evening sights until the park closes at dusk. Street parking is free.

Kensico Dam Plaza

Valhalla

One of the county’s favorite outdoor spots is also great for stargazing. Not only is there plenty of nearby parking, but there’s little nearby light pollution and a big open field with a clear line of sight to much of the sky. For a better view, hike up the stairs to the top of the dam for a bit more elevation and some nice visual mirroring off the water’s surface. The best part? Kensico is open to the public until 10 p.m. through the summer.

 

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