The Perseid Meteor Shower has come and gone but the North Georgia skys are just as dark as they have always been. And with summer only half way over, there is still plenty of time to get outside and get lost under a big old sky full of stars.
A couple of things to remember when stargazing:
1) Let your eyes acclimate to the sky. That means turning off your phone and getting rid of any ambient light (car lights, camp fires, computer screens, etcetera) before you even get ready. Once you decide to look up, you really need to give yourself almost 45 minutes for your eyes to become completely acclimated to the dark. So plan on going out and spending a little time before your eyes get ready for the good stuff.
2) Fall and Winter are the best times for stargazing. There is less heat and humidity haze during these seasons. It doesn’t mean that you can’t see stars in the summer, it’s just that the best times are always when it’s colder. So bring a thermos full of a warm drink!
3) Use a dark sky finder. There are plenty of them out there. We screenshot one below. But put in your location and these sites will show you the darkest places around you. It should go without saying, but the darker the spots the better. Unfortunately, because of Atlanta and the northern suburbs (and Chattanooga to the west) there really are only a couple of dark spots (the dark green on the map below) in North Georgia. Find these dark spots and go there. That’s where the really good viewings are.
Brasstown Bald | First up on our list is the highest point in Georgia. Brasstown Bald will definitely get you the closest to the stars. But it’s also a perfect spot for star gazing due to it being away from most of the “major” North Georgia cities. It sort of sits in a dark triangle between Clayton, Helen, and Hiawassee. While they close the visitor center every night, the parking lot is wide open and they turn off the lights making it a great spot that you can drive to – meaning minimal effort for maximum reward.
Low Gap | We hesitate to list this spot as this is our favorite one and in our own backyard. So odds are you may find us here once a week. Low Gap is located between Clarkesville and Lake Rabun and Lake Seed. And looks back to the west towards Helen so you get a little light pollution, particularly on the horizon to the west, but straight up and back towards the lake is perfect. If you go up from 197 in Clarkesville, about 7 miles, take a right on Low Gap Road. Drive a few miles until you get to 34.735757, -83.520963. It’s perfect. Look back down towards the South and Clarkesville and the Milky Way is usually sitting there during the summer months.
Rabun Bald | This is one of the true dark zones (see dark green on map above) in North Georgia as it sits in the very northeast corner with nothing but national forest all around you in every direction. It also has one of the biggest horizons in all of North Georgia. Rabun Bald requires a 3 mile hike but it’s worth it when you get there and realize just how dark it is.
Fort Mountain State Park | Fort Mountain is pretty close to the cities of Chatsworth and Ellijay. And I-75 isn’t too far away. So it’s definitely not the darkest spot on our list. Still, Fort Mountain State Park offers you plenty and is a great spot if you want to make a weekend of stargazing by night and hiking by day. This recommendation is sort of an all and one suggestion. You’ve got camping. You’ve got your day hikes. You’ve got stuff for kids. It’s a great jumping off point for a ton of activities.
Hogpen Gap | This one is the closest spots to a town as it’s less than 15 minutes to Helen so you will get some light pollution here. But Hogpen Gap is also a really short drive from lots of the popular camping and overnight areas around Helen like Vogel State Park, Unicoi State Park, Raven Cliff Falls, Horse Trough Falls, DeSoto Falls, etcetera. So if you’re camping nearby, this is a really short drive at night. Especially if you’re not comfortable with mountain roads once it gets dark. Brasstown is not much further than this so that would be our first recommendation. But if you don’t want to drive that far, Hogpen Gap isn’t a bad compromise. (34.726400,-83.840210)
Popcorn Overlook | This spot is located between Clayton and Hiawassee on Highway 76. The coordinates are 34.875079, -83.574376 and is only 15 minutes from both cities making it an easy and short trip if you are staying in either town. It’s a roadside overlook so depending on how late you are there, you may be get some road traffic coming by you. But it looks back north towards North Carolina and there are literally no roads except (Forest Service roads) and no cities (and only a few houses) for almost 60 miles in that direction. It is true wilderness with virtually zero lights.
Cooper Creek | There is a great campground here so this spot will require the least amount of driving should you decide to stay at Cooper Creek. It’s in the middle of the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area and is South of both Blairsville and Blue Ridge. The whole wildlife area is a great spot for stargazing, but the campground is definitely the easiest and requires the least amount of work.
Preacher’s Rock | Located between Dahlonega and Suches on Highway 60, this is a popular day-hike along the Appalachian Trail. The short hike is accessed via Woody Gap and leads to a beautiful overlook that is awesome for night sky viewing! Sitting atop the rock face gives way to an expansive view to the east with very little light pollution. As a bonus, you can also see Mount Yonah in the distance, making for a nice composition.
Cohutta Wilderness | There are plenty of options here but the Cohutta Wilderness is one of the other true dark zones in North Georgia. Atlanta Trails has put together a great guide for the various hikes and wilderness areas here. So take a look and pick which one fits your skill level (or desire level) and enjoy the stars to your heart’s content.
Want to know how best to capture the stars and the Milky Way Galaxy? Check out our blog post from Scott Padgett for his suggestions!
Do you have any recommendations? Which places did we miss? Please share your favorite spots in the comments below and we will try to add them to the list in the future!