Finding the Best Stargazing Spot in Vancouver

NightPhotoClass-52If you’ve ever looked up at a night sky from downtown Vancouver, you’ve probably noticed a lot of nothing.  Even on a clear night, you’re unlikely to see stars.  The city lights are just too bright for stargazing.

So what’s a star lover to do? Get out of town.

There are some incredible starscapes out there. The key is finding a dark place, far from the ghostly glow of city lights, which can carry for miles and miles.  The usual suspects for great Vancouver views – like Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour – won’t do because the sky is still too bright. But one of the most popular spots for hobbyists and amateur astronomers – and people who just like to spot the Big Dipper – is Porteau Cove Provincial Park, approximately one hour northwest of Vancouver along the Sea to Sky Highway.

I checked out Porteau Cove on a recent night, which happened to correspond to forecasts of Northern Lights … the wavy green streaks in the night sky common at higher latitudes and on rare occasions even visible in the Lower Mainland.  I arrived around 9 p.m. to find the the park’s two (free) parking lots filling up fast.  Within an hour’s time, the place would be positively packed with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, with cars parked all the way up the Sea to Sky Highway.  (I’m pretty sure this was an isolated occurrence: Normally, a stargazer would probably have little company out there.)

I grabbed my camera and tripod from the car and walked out on the long Porteau Cove pier, which extends far into Howe Sound.  The sound itself and the opposite shore were completely dark, with not a single light along miles of coastline.  Meanwhile, the light pollution from downtown Vancouver was largely blocked by the Coast Mountains.  There were a few lights from the highway and the nearby campground, but other than that it was pitch black.

NightPhotoClass-63The result: All those hundreds and thousands of stars hidden in Vancouver suddenly came into clear view.  I was able to pick out the Big Dipper almost immediately and from there traced the North Star (That’s about where my astronomical knowledge ends … but I’m sure lots of constellations were visible.) I set up my camera and took some shots with longer exposures, revealing thousands of stars, as well as some beautiful nighttime landscapes.

NightPhotoClass-31And what about those Northern Lights? As the night wore on, hundreds of people piled out onto the pier. It was like some impromptu after-dark party in the park.  Families brought blankets and coolers full of food and drinks.  Couples sat holding hands on beach chairs.  Friends huddled together as the night chill crept in … all waiting to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Which never came, at least as of midnight, when I packed up my things and headed back to the car.  But the stars – and the chance to experience a dark night on Howe Sound – were rewards in themselves.  Hardcore stargazers who’d like to spend more time out there can also consider reserving a campsite and staying the night.

Do you know any other great spots for stargazing in Vancouver? Let us know below. 

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