“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” » John Muir
This week we’ll be planning a trip to do one of the most exciting and mind-blowing outdoor activity: stargazing. If lying under a sky full of brilliant, distant, beautiful balls of swirling light doesn’t make you feel awestruck, I don’t know what does. I feel like a night spent looking at the stars and realizing how small we are in comparsion to the universe is important for the soul. To be reminded that we’re tiny things and yet made of stardust is good for us.
In Pennsylvania, we’re privileged to have one of the best places to view the night sky on the eastern seaboard. Cherry Springs Park, only 95 miles north of Penn State is 82 acres of remote wilderness. Surrounded by 262,000 acres of the Susquehannock State Forest, Cherry Springs escapes the tarnish of light pollution. Thanks to some of darkest skies in the country, this park is a haven for astronomers and amateur star-gazers alike.
I’ll be planning this trip as a two-day, one-night trip perfect for a little weekend getaway. Obviously, this trip is best done in good weather: clear skies especially. That being said, Cherry Springs State Park is lovely place to go with friends, sit around a campfire, and enjoy the beauty of the forest.
There is limited hiking in Cherry Springs; only one trail exists in the park. It is a one mile, easy hike that educates hikers about the importance and necessity of the forest. Information is spread out on the trail and I’m sure that after walking the mile loop, you’ll have a better idea why this complicated ecosystem is so important to our life here on Earth.
Since this trip is designed to be a car camping trip and not a backpacking hike, less planning is involved. You can be more liberal with the amount of supplies you bring as they don’t all have to be light and compact. Why not bring some board games, extra blankets (a must-have for stargazing), and folding chairs?
The first thing to plan is the campsite. Cherry Springs offers 30 rustic, non-electric campsites as well as 2 observatory shelters. The campsites can host up to 5 campers and the shelters can hold 4 inhabitants. If you are driving and parking at your campsite, make sure to reserve a site that has a driveway for the car to sit in. You must reserve the site you want here. Just a heads up- the toilets are vault toilets with no running water; don’t expect luxury!
Also, meals can be more elaborate on car camping trips. For dinner and dessert, may I suggest camp pizza with carmalized onions and sausage, classic hobo packets, and peach-blackberry camp cake? S’mores are always a good option too.
After dinner, time is ripe to make your way to the best star gazing area at Cherry Springs. This area is called the Night Viewing area and you can check it out on this map. Some tips for star gazing are as follows:
- It takes a minimum of 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
- Be careful not to look at any bright lights. Cover your flashlight with red cellophane or use a red lens since red light will not hinder your night vision.
- The best time to stargaze is on a clear night when the moon is new.
- A really helpful thing to have while stargazing is a star map. I like to use the app Nite Sky Lite that shows you what stars you are looking at when you hold it up to the sky. Just make sure to turn the brightness down on you phone while using it.
- Lastly, be conscientious of any other stargazers around you. This activity can be almost sacred for some people so it’s respectful to be quiet and refrain from shining light at anything but the ground.
After getting your fill of the beauty of creation, traipse back to your tent starry eyed. That is if you haven’t already fallen asleep on the ground under the sky.
In the morning, wake up and pull some food out of the car. It could even have been refrigerated! I really like to have oatmeal for breakfast when camping because it’s a warm meal for crisp mornings. I also suggest bringing tea and coffee to drink and hold to warm the hands and belly.
This morning you could take advantage of the nearby Susquehannock Trail and go for a little hike and maybe have a picnic lunch.
I hope you all get out to enjoy the spring weather and bask in the starlight that’s so strong at Cherry Springs.