Stargazing Hotspots in Southwest Illinois

Grab your binoculars and telescope and head to southwest Illinois for some of the best winter stargazing opportunities around.

From our small “Goldilocks” planet, we can see the history of the universe- distant burning stars, vibrant nebulae, circling planets, asteroid fields, and comets ambling on their set path. For those who are captivated by the brilliant night skies -- there are wonders to behold.

Best places to view night skies in Great Rivers & Routes.

Top Stargazing Spots

There are many places in southwest Illinois to best view the stars; the areas highlighted here are located away from urban areas which are filled with smoke, smog, and light pollution. Most locations are parks and wildlife areas that have little to no electric light.

Some are more difficult to access than others, require experienced hiking, camping reservations, or are only dark areas that will require roadside parking. Be sure to park away from the road and keep off of private property. Stay near roadways and do not enter wooded areas unless the area is marked otherwise. Be aware of park hours, rules, and aware of deer-hunting season ranging from October- January for safety reasons.

Tip: Scope out the location in the daytime for easier access at night.

Bay Creek Hiking Area

The Bay Creek Hiking Area is located in Nebo, IL just off Great River Road. Make a right turn on Vin Fiz Road and discover this very rural stargazing sight. There are hiking trails and roadside pull-offs for best night sky viewing. This area is open 24 hours.

Stargazing Tip: Check the weather! The best views are when there are few clouds and no weather events. Fog, incoming rain, snow and smoke and interfere and prevent viewing. So choose a night with a clear forecast. Crisp, clear winter nights are ideal for stargazing!

McCully Heritage Project

Head out to the McCully Heritage Project, 592 Crawford Creek Rd, Kampsville, IL 62053 for camping and outdoor recreation. the area is open until 6 p.m. unless you are camping. Best locations for stargazing will be on hiking trails or near the campground.

Stargazing Tip: It's a good idea to look at a Bortle Map for light pollution before choosing a stargazing location. The further you go from bright urban areas, the better the stargazing.

RipRap Landing Fish and Wildlife Management Area

Far from the bright lights of the cities is RipRap Landing Fish and Wildlife Management Area. Located at RipRap Landing Road, Nebo, IL, 62355, it is an ideal spot to view the night skies. This is an outdoor recreation area open 24 hours. Best viewing locations will be in parking areas or roadside pull-offs.

Stargazing Tip: Avoid the moon! Unless all you want to view is the moon and a few stars, it's best to go stargazing on the new moon phase or when the moons is a slim crescent. The moon is so bright, it hinders seeing other celestial objects.

Diamond Hurricane Island

A great place to see the night skies is the Diamond Hurricane Island State Fish and Wildlife Management Area located in Hardin. This 24 hour outdoor recreation spot has pull-offs and scenic stops along Godar Diamond River Access Area for great stargazing opportunities.

McMaster Woods Nature Preserve

McMaster Woods Nature Preserve located in rural Fieldon, IL 62031, just off SW 750 St. leading from Spankey Road, has unparalleled night sky viewing. There is no access to forest but there are road pull-offs.

Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge

Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, 364 Wildlife Conservation Rd, Brussels, IL 62013, is not only a great bird watching spot during the day, but at night has great night sky viewing. While the Refuge itself is only open until 4 p.m. parking areas near park are open 24 hours. Best locations will be on road pull-offs just outside the refuge.

Roodhouse Lake Community Park

Rural Greene County has some of the best night sky viewing spots in the region. Visit Roodhouse Lake Community Park, 1260 E. Roodhouse, IL 62082. There is camping and outdoor recreation. Best locations for night sky viewing will be in parking near the park, campground, or near the lake.

Goodes Woods Nature Preserve

Another great spot for night sky viewing is at Terry Park in the Goodes Woods Nature Preserve, Terry Park Rd, Palmyra, IL 62674. Goodes Woods is a hunting preserve and with night sky viewing at Terry Park.

Otter Lake Park

There are night sky viewing options in norther Macoupin County at Otter Lake Park, 13671 Emmerson Airline, Girard, IL 62640. This park offers camping and outdoor recreation. The best locations for night sky viewing will be on the northeast side of Otter Lake or near campground.

Wild Pickins Winery

Enjoy the amazing night skies alongside a glass of wine at Wild Pickins Winery, 14223 Route 111 Chesterfield, IL 62630. Best locations for stargazing are in the outer parking lot- ask anyone at the winery for suggestions. Winery hours are Thursday Noon to 9 p.m. Friday & Saturday Noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday Noon to 7 p.m. Closed Monday through Wednesday.

Stargazing Tip: Bring Binoculars! If you don't have an expensive telescope, binoculars are a great way to see far off objects a bit closer.

Winter Constellation Map

Need some help identifying the winter constellations? Use the map below to help guide your way through the stars!

About the Author

Kayla Howland

Kayla Howland is a local writer and artist who lives in Alton, IL with her Cairn Terrier, Ripley. She enjoys fiction and non-fiction writing, graphic design, painting, drawing and photography. Kayla is a graduate of Southwestern High School and Lewis & Clark Community College. She has worked doing freelance graphic design, photography and commissioned paintings since 2012.