Stargazing at Florida’s Only Official Dark Sky Park

Do you remember the 2017 solar eclipse? It was an amazing celestial show.

Speaking of amazing celestial shows, did you know that Florida now has a certified Dark Sky park?

Yep, we sure do!

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve (KPP) State Park was certified as a Dark Sky Place by the International Dark Sky Association in 2016. Parks are awarded the designation for their conservation efforts, appropriate outdoor lighting and dark sky programs for visitors. The application and review process is demanding, and each designation is awarded by a panel of experts in the field.

Considering Florida’s 20+ million population and widespread development, a dark-sky designation is exceptional and truly a testament to conservation.

My Visit to KPP

I visited KPP recently this summer at the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower hoping for an amazing show. Unfortunately, it rained — but even with partial cloud cover my husband and I were treated to a colorful sunset, an enchanting view of the night sky, a magnificent moon rise and a peek at many of the preserve’s critters (we saw so many owls we lost count). And, yes, we did see a few shooting stars light up the prairie sky! We can’t wait to go back in the cooler months when the skies are crystal clear.

I’m not a professional photographer, so the photos I captured of the impressive moon rise, meteors and starry skies during my visit to KPP with my smart phone camera simply don’t portray the magnificence of what you will actually see. Here’s a look at one skilled photographer’s capture.

Photographer: Judd Patterson. Image sourced from International Dark-Sky Association.

KPP Trip Planning

Before you go, be sure to visit the State Parks page for complete details. In general, a few things to note:

  • It’s rural, so come with everything you need (snacks, chairs, drinks, etc.) there is not a gift shop or concession in the park or stores nearby.
  • Don’t forget your bug repellent.
  • Outside of the campgrounds plan to use flashlights sparingly and be considerate with headlights and electronic devices.
  • The park is not open at night, but you can visit for star-gazing by renting a campsite for less than $20, or by calling to arrange your visit with the park’s office. You don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy the park after hours.
  • Astronomy pads are available, prepare to reserve ahead of time. These pads are perfect for setting up a telescope or photography equipment.

The night sky is not the only star at the preserve …

If you’re able to spare a whole day (or more) at KPP the daytime is just as exciting as the night time. The preserve is 54,000 acres of what’s left of Florida’s dry prairie. The park is home to several endangered animals and numerous native plants. There are several trails to explore and a seasonal buggy tour led by park rangers that ventures into the more remote areas of the park.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is magical, go see for yourself, and save up a few important wishes