It can be hard to spot the stars when you live in a big city surrounded by a bubble of light. Fortunately, there are a number of places where a real effort is being made to protect the dark.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada recognizes sites that are making an effort to reduce light pollution, educating the public about the importance of dark skies, and working with local municipalities to improve lighting legislation. There are three designations: Dark Sky Preserves, Nocturnal Preserves, and Urban Star Parks. Here’s where they are located in Western Canada.

Dark Sky Preserves

Artificial lighting is very limited and strictly controlled in dark sky preserves, and there is only natural sky glow from the surrounding area. Educational activities are in place to educate the public about light pollution, and the public is able to visit the preserves at night.

Manitoba – Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Manitoba’s first dark-sky preserve

Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park

Alberta/Saskatchewan – Cypress Hills (Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Fort Walsh National Historic Site)

Alberta – Beaver Hills (Elk Island National Park, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, Strathcona Wilderness Centre)

Alberta – Jasper National Park

Alberta - Lakeland Provincial Park and Recreation Area (Lakeland Provincial Park, Lakeland Provincial Recreation Area)

Alberta/Northwest Territories – Wood Buffalo National Park

Alberta/Montana – Waterton Lakes National Park / Glacier National Park – trans-boundary international dark sky park

British Columbia – McDonald Park, Abbotsford

Nocturnal Reserves

The primary purpose of a nocturnal reserve is to protect the nocturnal environment; night-time access may not be possible. Artificial lighting is very limited and strictly controlled. The reserves offer public education programs about the night sky and the nocturnal environment.

Saskatchewan – Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area

Alberta – Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area

Urban Star Park

Artificial lighting is strictly controlled and urban star parks actively promote the reduction of light pollution to the municipality and the general public. Light from nearby urban areas means urban star parks are brighter than dark sky preserves or nocturnal reserves, but astronomers can still take advantage of the darker skies.

British Columbia – Cattle Point, Victoria

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

If you’re interested in stars and astronomy, be sure to find out what is happening in your local centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Many of the centres offer programs, classes, and sessions at an observatory. You can rent/borrow a telescope from RASC Calgary or RASC Winnipeg. Many if not all centres host star parties in the summer at a dark sky area (Saskatoon and Regina hold their annual summer star party at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park).

Further Information

13 Tips for Stargazing from Astronomers

11 Tips for Photographing Night Skies

Visit BC’s Desert Country – Mt. Kobau Star Party (EcoFriendly West)

RASC Dark-Sky Sites Program

Dark Sky Preserves (Parks Canada)

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EcoFriendly West informs and encourages initiatives that support Western Canada’s natural environment through its online publication and the Nature Companion website/app. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe by email.