Sunny by Day, Starry by Night

Witness beautiful dark sky views in Arizona

By Malik Anderson

If you bring your next meeting to Arizona, be prepared for some star-filled nights. In 2001, Arizona became the first International Dark Sky City, as part of the dark-sky preservation movement in 2001. Since then, the state has become a place home to 12 Dark Sky Parks, where a lack of light pollution and mountainous geography allow visitors to see the night sky in all its cosmic glory.

And you can’t forget the places to meet and sleep. The state features a wide range of hotel properties, each of which experiences to offer and memories to create.

Insider Tip

Tucson has more than 300 days of sunshine a year making it a great destination for event planners. The lush Sonoran Desert provides a stunning backdrop for events and groups can enjoy the endless adventures it offers including hiking through a Saguaro ‘forest,’ horseback riding through the desert, or stargazing in Saguaro National Park, recently named an Urban Night Sky Place, joining only eight other locations in the world with this designation. Plus, as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy groups and home to America’s best Mexican food, groups are sure to enjoy getting a taste of Tucson.

–  Mo Calderon, Communications Manager, Visit Tucson


5 Reasons Meeting Profs Love Arizona

outdoor space of seats around firepit
Miraval Arizona & Spa

Backdrop for miles. Surrounded by 100 acres of the Sonoran Desert, many Arizona-based properties offer awe-inspiring backdrops from its guest rooms windows, and public and private spaces. You can even step right into those views for a hike among colleagues.

Stargazing. Tucson is the headquarters of DarkSky International, preservers and protectors of the nighttime environment via responsible outdoor lighting. With less light pollution than other U.S. cities, Tucson lends itself to stargazing beyond this world. At Oracle State Park, a certified Dark Sky Park, for instance, visitors can see the Milky Way.

Well-being focused. Tucson, as well as many other Arizona cities, place a deep emphasis on health and wellness. The city is home to plenty of destination spas, like Canyon Ranch Tucson and Miraval Arizona & Spa.

Read More: Wellness Experience in Arizona: Embrace the Challenges

Getting active. In addition to the hiking Arizona offers, there’s also plenty of opportunities to engage in more outdoor activities, like rock climbing and bouldering at Mount Lemmon, horseback riding, and several guest ranches and resorts.

Great food that tells a story. Arizona’s cultural connection to its food dates back to before the land was established as a state; its corn and squash cultivation can be traced back more than 4,000 years. The state is one of the best destinations to find prime Mexican cuisine, as well as a wide diversity of wild and farm-raised foods.


Where to See Arizona’s Dark Skies

park at night
Grand Canyon National Park

Light pollution around the world makes it difficult to see the wonder of stars at night. Arizona, a champion in keeping the skies dark and headquarters of Dark Sky International, is one of the few places where visitors can still get a chance to see the night sky in its natural state. The state is home to 19 dark-sky communities and numerous methods to stargaze (and maybe even see a few planets), whether it be via hiking, kayaking, steamboat or a good ol’ museum tour.

May through September, Clarkdale’s Verde Canyon Railroad takes guests on Saturday Starlight Tours once a month. During the four-hour, 20-mile trek along the Verde River, attendees will be able to witness views of the stars and moonlit cliffs. Verde Canyon Railroad can also host private parties. As an optional upgrade, you can join the Grape Train Escape, the train’s wine-tasting event hosted in specific cars.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of 12 of Arizona’s national dark sky parks, named an International Dark Sky Park in 2019, which was also the park’s 100th anniversary. Since this designation, Grand Canyon’s conservancy now offers programming around showing the dark skies, with programs like night sky viewing, where visitors can learn about light pollution and its effects on the sky. The park frequently hosts astronomy nights, where the canyon’s astronomer-in-residence takes visitors on a special theater presentation and an outdoor laser-guided constellation program.

Read More: Arizona: Ranch Dressing

The Dolly Steamboat offers sightseeing and dinner cruises on Canyon Lake east of Phoenix. The steamboat offers two 2.5-hour cruises, the Twilight Dinner Cruise and Astronomy Dinner Cruise. During the former, visitors will be able to enjoy a dinner while they take in the ambiance of Arizona’s twilight. For a different transportation method, Western Arizona Canoe and Kayak Outfitters offers full-moon 14-mile kayaking tours down the Colorado River during the summer and fall.

Mount Lemmon SkyCenter in Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains hosts SkyNights year round for up to 20 people. This five-hour program takes you from a late-afternoon tour of a telescope dome, an outdoor sunset viewing, astronomy lecture and a light meal at the venue’s learning center to a visitation to two large telescopes, where groups will get to view stars, planets, galaxies and nebulas (depending on the time of the year).

Although not centered on viewing the stars, Red Rock State Park offers moonlight hikes, one of the more popular hikes at the park. The hike covers a distance of between 2 to 2.5 miles as visitors learn about the natural resources on the trail during the course of the sunset and moonrise.

This article appears in the March/April 2024 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.