Oh, what a night … sky!

Lack of ambient light provides some of the brightest views.

Story and Photos by Travis Amick

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 mesmerized by billions of unobscured stars littering the sky. Here, shooting star sightings are the norm, astrophotography 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 Americans can no longer view the Milky Way. This number creeps up with each passing year as we continue to build without regard 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 unnoticed.

Years upon years of efforts to minimize light pollution were recognized in October 2017 when the City of Ketchum was officially listed as an International Dark Sky Community — one of only 11 in the United States. This contribution was a major building block in establishing an even more renowned designation; in December 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 Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve designation means that our area has some of the best opportunities in the world for viewing the night sky!

What Are the Basics of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve?

  • The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve (CIDSR) was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association. It is the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the U.S. and the 12th 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 (906,000 acres). Its size ranks as the third-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.
  • CIDSR received a “Gold Tier” status, the highest designation given by the International Dark-Sky Association.

What Makes a Dark Sky Reserve?
According to the International Dark-Sky Association, “An IDA Dark Sky Reserve (DSR) is a public or private land of substantial size (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.”
DSRs consist of a core area that meets minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core.

DSRs 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.

There is a long list of criteria for an area to become a DSR, but the main focus is on the use of lighting sources that don’t create light pollution.

We are incredibly fortunate to have received Dark Sky Reserve designation. It means the Sun Valley area will serve as a sanctuary for outdoorsmen, photographers, educators, and scientists, as well anyone who enjoys picturesque scenery and incredible mountain peaks, complete with the best night skies.

The Best Places to View and Photograph 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 stargazing.

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

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.

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!

Central Idaho’s designation as a Dark Sky Reserve will protect our beautiful night skies for generations to come, creating unique opportunities for photography, tourism, education, wildlife protection, scientific research, and endless Idaho beauty! We invite you to come and see for yourself! Visit idahodarksky.org to learn more.

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