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The Dark Skies of Sun Valley, ID

The greater Sun Valley, Idaho region is blessed with small town vibes, a big heart, endless outdoor activities for every season, and some of the best dark night skies in the entire world. Look up on any given clear night around here and you’ll be memorized by billions of unobscured stars littering the sky. Here, shooting star sightings are the norm, astro-photography opportunities are some of the best in the country, and the Milky Way takes center stage as it brilliantly erupts from the southwest quadrant of the sky each night.

Viewing the stars is becoming a dwindling privilege for humans across the globe as light pollution increasingly shrouds the awe-inspiring night sky tapestry. A 2016 sky atlas survey revealed that, “80% of American’s can’t view the Milky Way anymore.” This number creeps up with each passing year as we continue to build without regard to to the types and direction that our lighting emits. We are truly fortunate to have such an incredible natural spectacle flourishing out our backyard every clear night. The towns of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, Stanley and beyond have taken special care to ensure that the night sky views stay dark. Their efforts have not gone un-noticed.

Years upon years of efforts to minimize light pollution were recognized in October of 2017 when the city of Ketchum was officially listed as an International Dark Sky Community, one of a select group in the United States. This contribution was a major building block in establishing an ever more renown designation. In December of 2017, Sun Valley, Ketchum and their surrounding areas received the highly prestigious Dark Sky Reserve designation. You may be scratching your head wondering what this all means? Long story short, the Idaho Dark Sky Reserve designation means that our area is some of the best opportunities for viewing the night sky in not only the US, but also the world! For those looking for a more in-depth explanation, we’ll list out a few highlights below.

What Are the Basics of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve (CIDSR)?

Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve Map

  • The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)
  • This is the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States and the 12th created in the world
  • The area stretches from Ketchum to Stanley, includes land in four counties – Blaine, Boise,
  • Custer and Elmore – as well as the entire Sawtooth National Recreation Area
  • The total area encompasses 1,416 square miles or 906,000 acres. Its size ranks as the 3rd largest in the world behind Mont-Megantic in Quebec, Canada, at 2,308 square miles and Aoraki
    Mackenzie, New Zealand, at 1,679 square miles.
  • The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve received a “Gold Tier” status, the highest designation give by the International Dark-Sky Association.

What Makes a Dark Sky Reserve?

  • As quoted by the International Dark Sky Association, “An IDA Dark Sky Reserve (DSR) is a public or private land of substantial size (of 700 km2, or about 173,000 acres) possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment and that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.
  • Reserves consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core.
  • Reserves are formed through a partnership of multiple land managers who have recognized the value of the natural nighttime environment through regulations and long-term planning” (darksky.org).  There is a long list of criteria for an area to become a dark reserve.  The main focus is on lighting sources.  Changing a majority of bulbs to IDA standards and making sure that no light is wasted. Most of the current lighting used to light sidewalks, streets, cities, and homes is wasted.  This means it lights the source, where it is purposed to do, but then spills up to the sky, causing light pollution.  By getting compliant lights that only light the ground and the area it is meant to light, and putting special coverings over large lights when needed, cities would save countless money on electricity and energy, while being more efficient at lighting what is actually needed and saving our night skies.

We are incredible fortunate to receive this designation. It will serve as a sanctuary for outdoorsman, photographers, educators and scientists, and anyone that enjoys picturesque scenery and incredible mountain peaks, completed with the best night skies.

Best Places to View & Photograph the Brillant Dark Skies

With the brilliant array of expansive protected night skies, the Sun Valley area has a plethora of places to shoot beautiful photos of the stars and Milky Way or just to do some old fashioned star gazing.

A short minute hike up Knob Hill will find you the best seat in town, where the Milky Way is even visible above downtown Ketchum.  If the reserve is granted, and the lights are changed to meet the criteria, this view will become unbeatable!

Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve near Sun Valley, Idaho

Just down the street from Sun Valley Lodge is the Sun Valley Lake.  On a clear, calm night and the lake full of water you can even see some stars reflecting off the small lake.

Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve near Sun Valley, Idaho

Another great location near Sun Valley is to take a short drive out trail creek, to the darkest skies in the immediate area.  During the summer months the Milky Way lines up above the road and protrudes from Baldy Ski Mountain.

Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve near Sun Valley, Idaho

If you want to find yourself in one of the darkest night skies with crystal clear alpine lakes, head north from Sun Valley over Galena Summit to Redfish Lake and the surrounding areas.  This is where the Sawtooths meet the skies!  With an amazing backdrop and reflection from the lake, you can sit for hours enjoying the beauty.  If you get lucky you may even catch the Northern Lights!

Having Central Idaho as a designated Dark Sky Reserve will protect our beautiful night skies for generations to come, while creating an opportunity like nothing else in the US, opening options for more photography, tourism, education, wildlife protection, scientific research, energy efficiency, and endless Idaho beauty! We invite you to come and see for yourself!

Dark Sky Resources


Photos by Travis Amick Photography

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