Voyageurs National Park’s Night Sky: A Stargazer’s Guide

Stargazing is always a nice idea but sometimes the romance doesn’t hit right. When you pictured taking in the night sky, you didn’t picture yourself shivering in the autumn cold or fighting off swarms of mosquitoes. Sometimes you just don’t see much of anything at all.

Your stargazing experiences should be what you dreamed them to be. We want you to spot timeless constellations, shooting stars and maybe even the Northern Lights. That’s why Rainy Lake Houseboats is putting together this stargazer guide for you.

We’ve been out there taking in the night sky more times than we can count. We’ve made every mistake in the book so that you don’t have to and now we want to pass our tips off to you so you can avoid the same mistakes while taking in the heavenly sights.

Voyageurs National Park Stargazing: When to Go

Timing is important when you’re going stargazing. The night sky has to be cloud-free. The moon can’t be too full. Here are a few ways to decide on the season and timing of your stargazing adventure.

Beware the Full Moon

Unlike werewolves, stargazers prefer to come out on moonless nights when the stars are able to take center stage to the lunar glow. If you’re planning a vacation and plan on going stargazing, check the lunar calendar to make sure you’ll be going out when moonlight is minimal. Likewise, if you’re planning a stargazing night in the next week, be sure and check the weather to make sure you’re heading out on a cloud-free night.

What Season is Best for Stargazing?

There’s not one season that’s best for stargazing, but there are things you should take into consideration. In the winter, the stars are the brightest but the snow reflects every bit of light so that it can seem brighter outside in the middle of the night than any other season, dulling the effect of the stars sparkling above.

Since stars are brightest during cold weather, you may want to consider going stargazing in late October or early May when it’s still cool out and the stars are twinkling but the snow isn’t reflecting light and ruining your view.

Want to go stargazing without the windchill chasing you back inside? You’re in luck. Falling star season (aka The Perseid Meteor Shower) occurs every year from mid-July to late August. Meteor shower enthusiasts can also look up meteor shower calendars for the whole year and book stargazing trips months in advance in hopes of seeing groups of shooting stars.

What Time of Night is Best for Stargazing?

Wait until dark takes on a whole new meaning when you’re stargazing. To get the best view of the night sky, you have to wait until every trace of twilight is gone. If you’re out in October, that might mean you can get out there pretty early but if it’s the height of summer, well, your best views might occur closer to midnight.

When Can You See The Northern Lights From Voyageurs National Park?

The northern lights, or The Aurora Borealis, can be seen throughout the year. A radiant, naturally occurring light show in the night sky, this phenomenon takes place in the northern hemisphere. While this natural wonder occurs in any season, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Voyageurs National Park heightens in months with the most hours of darkness.

Why Voyageurs National Park’s Night Sky is Great for Stargazing

Location, location, location. That’s what high-quality stargazing is all about. If you want to see the best stars, getting 20 to 30 miles away from the city limits of a town is key to ensuring light pollution isn’t tainting your view of the skies. Minnesota is home to just under 20 designated dark-sky areas. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Is Voyageurs National Park a dark sky park?” Our answer? Well, of course!
While the parking lot at The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is the designated dark-sky area, those who venture out on Rainy Lake at night and take in the wide expanse of dark water will be even more impressed with the great beyond as they take in one of the best views of the night sky in the state.

Wide Open Spaces

Most people know to get far away from city lights for stargazing but seeking out open areas is an important part of stargazing as well. These two facts combined are the reasons why many of the best stargazing spots are on the Minnesota lakes. Far away from city and highway lights, the large Minnesota lakes offer wide open spaces so that you can take in the stars from horizon to horizon with nothing to block your vision of the great beyond.

Getting the Most Out of the Voyageurs Stargazing Experience: Tips & Tricks

It won’t be a surprise that we believe the best stargazing happens from one of our houseboats on Rainy Lake. With cozy interiors a few steps away, it’s not too bad to spend a few hours in the cold, staring into… well, space. Some of our boats even come with a Jacuzzi on the top deck for a luxury stargazing experience that no one could ever forget.

Whether you’re looking for a lowkey rental with just the family or you’re hosting a stargazing expedition with a whole crew, renting a Rainy Lake houseboat is our number one piece of advice for night sky enthusiasts looking for an amazing stargazing experience. Don’t worry, the rest of our tips are pretty handy as well.

Embrace layers

Whether you’re heading out to take in the starry skies in the middle of summer or on a brisk autumn night, you’ll want to wear layers. In the summer, you’ll want baggy, light layers to keep the mosquitoes off your skin. In the fall, it’s time to break out a cozy base layer and slip flannel, wool or fleece overtop. As any outdoorsy Minnesotan knows, it’s always all about the layers.

It gets colder during September and October nights than you might think, especially if you’re stargazing from the water on one of our cozy houseboats. If you’re stargazing in cold weather, remember that you’ll be staying pretty still. Put a blanket down on a camp chair so your backside stays draft-free. Top your ensemble off with a cozy blanket to drape over your lap and arm yourself with a hot beverage and you’ll be ready to take in the night sky.

Bring a Pair of Binoculars

We know. When you think of stargazing, you think of a telescope. Here’s the thing: chances are you already have a pair of binoculars. The casual telescopes that amateur stargazers might invest in aren’t inherently better at star spotting than a good pair of binoculars.

Binoculars are easy to handle and easy to carry. They’re also great at capturing clearer glimpses of the night sky. The best part? If you’re stargazing off of one of our houseboats on Rainy Lake, you’ll also be able to use those binoculars for bird watching during the daytime hours. Check out our page on bird and wildlife watching to find out what Rainy Lake has to offer visitors during the day.

Bring a Smartphone-Compatible Tripod

Using your smartphone camera to capture the night sky can have better results than using a point-and-shoot camera, especially if you’re using a tripod. When taking pictures while stargazing keep your shutter speed slow, your camera steady and never use flash.

Use Red Lights

If you have to turn on a light, use a red-tinted light to maintain your night vision. Many lanterns and headlights already have this option but astronomy-specific flashlights can also be purchased. These flashlights also do double duty by making your face super creepy when you’re telling spooky stories around the campfire later in the evening.

Unidentified Objects: How to Decipher The Night Sky

You’re out there. You’re gazing. But what are you looking at? We’re not astrologists. We can’t tell you. Instead, here are a couple of resources you might want to look into before venturing out into the night, starting with our quick and easy identification tips: stars twinkle, planets don’t. If it’s going at a slow and steady pace across the night sky while blinking slowly, that’s a satellite.

Stargazing Apps

There are many great stargazing apps that can be bought for little to no money that will tell you what constellations you’re looking at. However, if you’re headed into a wilderness like Rainy Lake, make sure you purchase one that doesn’t require the internet to function.

Alternate Constellations

Different cultures put different stories in the stars. Those that are looking at Minnesota skies might want to look into getting an Ojibwe constellation guide to understand more about the people who first settled this land.

Now that you’re ready for a night you won’t forget under the stars, it’s time to plan your trip to Rainy Lake. Choose the perfect houseboat or map out your ideal trip.