In so many ways, Central Oregon is perfectly suited for stargazing. Our communities are spread out across the region, leaving little light pollution to obstruct the night skies; we enjoy clear (or mostly clear) skies all year long, so stargazing is a four-season activity; and our high elevation puts us that much closer to the sweeping skies above.
As such, observatories can be found all over the region—from Dee Wright Observatory, built with lava rock in 1937, to the sleek Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory (home to the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the United States). Best of all, you don’t need any expensive telescopes to get started—just your curiosity.
If you want to visit an observatory or go stargazing around Central Oregon, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind before heading out. First, try to time your visit as close to a new moon as possible—when there’s less light in the sky and you can see more celestial wonders. And since most observatories are at least partially outside, always wear pants and bring a sweater; even in midsummer, nighttime temperatures can plummet. Finally, it’s worth downloading a mobile stargazing app beforehand; several apps use augmented reality to point out the stars, planets, and other features you’re looking at, creating a more enriching experience.
Here’s our guide to observatories and stargazing in Central Oregon.
Observatories and Stargazing Around Bend
You don’t have to go far from Bend to see the dramatic night skies; in fact, you don’t even need to leave city limits.
Worthy Garden Club Hopservatory, for instance, can be found at Worthy Brewing Company on the east side of Bend. There, visitors can team up with the observatory’s resident astronomer to peer into a 16-inch, research-grade telescope that shows off stars, planets, solar events, and more. While you’re there, be sure to grab a pint and some food at the on-site brewpub—one of the many excellent craft breweries and cideries in Bend.
A little further from Bend is the University of Oregon’s Pine Mountain Observatory, which sits on a mountaintop at 6,300 feet above sea level. That high elevation, coupled with its remote location, helps the observatory’s wide range of telescopes (including one 24-inch, research-grade telescope) produce clear viewings of the moon, stars, and more.
If you’d rather look to the skies on your own, consider a trip east to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area. The expansive stands of juniper and sagebrush (one of the many disparate forests of Central Oregon) don’t tower overhead, opening up the skies for jaw-dropping stargazing. You won’t find any telescopes out in the Oregon Badlands, so consider bringing at least two flashlights if your adventure takes you away from one of the area’s parking lots.
Observatories and Stargazing Around Sunriver
Perhaps the most popular observatory anywhere in Central Oregon is Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory, which sits in the heart of Sunriver and offers the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the United States. In all, nearly three-dozen telescopes make up the observatory’s mammoth collection—giving amateur astronomers the chance to see globular clusters, nebulae, and other fascinating sights.
And while you’re hanging out around the area, check out our roundup of the best restaurants in Sunriver for creative breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas.
Observatories and Stargazing Around Sisters
There is just one observatory around Sisters, and it’s one of the region’s most famous.
Located along the winding McKenzie Highway (typically open mid-June-October), the Dee Wright Observatory was built in 1937 from lava rock and sits surrounded by miles and miles of craggy lava flows. You won’t find any telescopes or fancy equipment at the observatory; instead, you’ll get to spy the Milky Way, shooting stars, and other celestial happenings above nearly a dozen Cascade peaks that are visible in every direction. (A bronze peak finder atop the observatory helps visitors tell the mountains apart.) Dee Wright’s location in the heart of the Cascades, far from the nearest communities, makes it a popular place to watch meteor showers and other cosmic events without any lingering light pollution.
And if you’re looking to discuss the night’s adventures over a nightcap, check out our page on the best breweries and cideries in Sisters.
Observatories and Stargazing Around Prineville
By day, Prineville Reservoir is one of the best spots for fishing in Central Oregon. But when the sun goes down, the starry night sky overhead positively glows with dazzling displays.
You won’t find any telescopes or even a designated observatory at Prineville Reservoir State Park—which sits roughly 20 minutes south of Prineville—but the clear night skies are no less dramatic. That’s because the park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park—the first park to receive such a designation in Oregon—thanks to precious little light pollution and bright starry displays. To help achieve that vaunted status, park staff members installed lighting that helps visitors stargaze more clearly, typically through downward-facing, softer lights that reduce what’s called skyglow (which can wash out starry displays). Just keep in mind that a free stargazing permit is required for after-hours entry.
Learn more about the national and state parks in Central Oregon.
Explore Nature’s Beauty
From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.