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 the recent Comet NEOWISE.
“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.”
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.
A favorite of Kelly’s, Ward Pound Ridge has been open to campers since late June but currently has limited availability and social distancing due to COVID-19. 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, though dates are currently on hold through the pandemic.
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.
Alternately, if you head up to Peekskill you can check out another county park at Blue Mountain. Availability is again limited, but 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.
Though unfortunately closed right now, this state park is just a stone’s throw from Blue Mountain and is also open until dusk, providing clear skies and plenty of nearby hiking and scenery until it’s time to break out the star maps.
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.
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 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.
Kelly wants to make sure everyone gets the most out of their first stargazing and was kind enough to recommend a few prime sights to look for in the Northern Hemisphere this summer. “There’s some very cool things you can see even without a telescope,” he says.