See stunning nighttime vistas from the US's first gold-tier 'Dark Sky' star-gazing reserve

Courtesy of Betsy MizellThe Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve.

Deep in the mountains of Central Idaho lies one of the darkest nighttime spots in the US.

The International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit led by two astronomers, has declared a 1,416-square-mile area in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area as the country’s first gold-certified Dark Sky Reserve.

That means the central Idaho wilderness – along with the towns of Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Stanley – will remain one of the best places in the world to gaze up at the stars for generations to come.

The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve was officially created in December, the brainchild of Stanley mayor Steve Botti and Steve Pauley, a retired doctor who has been pushing to preserve pristine night skies.

To become a Dark Sky Reserve, areas must meet certain minimum criteria – set by a council of astronomy experts – for nighttime sky quality and natural darkness, according to the International Dark-Sky Association‘s website. The Milky Way has to be easily visible at night, and there has to be minimal light pollution and little glare from existing lights.

Dark Sky Reserves must also have buy-in from the local community – there must be regulations and long-term planning commitments in place to reduce light pollution and establish low-glare lighting for any buildings in the reserve.

Check out some gorgeous pictures of Milky Way and other far-off celestial bodies as seen from Idaho’s Dark Reserve:


The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve lies in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

It was the first US location to get a gold-tier certification from the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit run by a group of astronomers.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

To become a gold-tier reserve, areas must meet the highest standards set out by the Dark-Sky Association. Because the Idaho reserve is deep wilderness, there’s little to no light pollution anywhere in the area.


As part of the reserve, all the towns in the area have either passed or are working on regulations around nighttime light.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

According to the Dark-Sky Association, these regulations include low-glare light bulbs, as well as proper shielding for any lights located in the reserve above 500 lumens.


The area is so dark that “you don’t even have to get off the highway to see the Milky Way,” Mayor Botti said.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

Source: Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve


The goal of the reserve is to protect and enhance the “natural nighttime experience” and “improve quality of life,” according to its website.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

Source: Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve


The area includes popular tourist attractions like the Sun Valley ski resort, along with a number of other popular climbing and hiking peaks.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

Throughout the summer, lectures, guided hikes, and photography classes will be held at various locations throughout the reserve.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

“We are all made of stardust, and must connect with the night sky to see our origins,” Pauley, the retired doctor who was instrumental in creating the reserve, told The Idaho Statesmen in December.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

Source: The Idaho Statesmen


It’s a beautiful place to take in all that the pristine night sky has to offer.

Courtesy of Betsy Mizell

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