The Best Places to Stargaze Near Missoula Montana
This week, we may have another chance to see the northern lights in Montana.
In March, Montana had some gorgeous views of the northern lights and we even got lucky around Missoula with a few peeks because let's face it, cloud cover usually means we miss out on these opportunities. But not this time. This photo from Taber Burton was taken in the Seeley Lake area. There were also some fabulous photos of Missoula on the University of Montana's Facebook page.
Recommendations from the Blue Mountain Observatory
I called the Blue Mountain Observatory to see if there were any local recommendations for where to stargaze in Missoula and spoke to Karie Hyslop, Media Manager for the College of Humanities at the University of Montana.
She recommended using a pair of binoculars if you want to look at planets, and sometimes they're visible to the naked eye. It's also important to find dark, night sky for the best viewing. If you will be outside, dress warmly. Even in the summer, evenings can get cool.
The Blue Mountain Observatory offers "Limited Availability Public Observing" and the next viewing date won't be until August. Keep in mind too that many parks are only open during daylight hours, so parking at Fort Missoula or heading out to the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge would not be recommended.
But there are other places where you can get a good view.
Consider Hiking the M Trail on Mount Sentinel
You maybe didn't know this, but you can actually hike the M at night (with a few stipulations). From that vantage, you'd get a pretty good view looking to the west. You may not get enough dark sky, though.
Find a Pull Out Along I-93
Driving down the Bitterroot Valley you'll start to get away from the city lights which may offer a better view of the night sky. You should be able to find a pull-out where you could stop and pull out your binoculars. There's one just before Lolo. Just make sure you don't stop anywhere that has "No Parking" signs. You might find pull-outs in other directions away from Missoula. Consider heading toward Bonner or east out of Missoula, too.
Hyslop recommends Lolo Pass because it's "the easiest drivable dark sky." She says, "There is a beautiful meadow right across from Lolo Hot Springs that is a massive flat field where you can put your chair out and watch."
For Those Interested in Astral Photography
Some additional recommendations came from the Observatory and its Making and Tinkering Programs Manager, Nick Wethington.
- Gold Creek Road off highway 200
- Twin Creeks Road off highway 200
- Rest Area near Ravalli Hill on I-93 past turnoff to Dixon, near the Bison Range
Happy viewing, and if you do get any amazing photos, feel free to share them with us! Send them to us using our app.