Cosmic Campground

Boasting some of the darkest nights in the Southwest, the Gila National Forest offers many visitors the chance to view and admire the natural night sky, a glittering dome peppered with stars, planets, and passing meteors.  Much of the Gila National Forest lies within the darkest category on the Clear Sky Chart light pollution map.

The Cosmic Campground on the Glenwood Ranger District has gained the recognition as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association.  This is the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary located on National Forest System lands.  International Dark Sky Sanctuaries are lands possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights.  The Cosmic Campground offers a 360-degree, unobstructed view of the night sky, and often hosts “star parties” in cooperation with the partner group Friends of the Cosmic Campground.  Having this designation will help further protect and raise awareness for the value for dark skies.  This site is situated where there is little light pollution and low development. The greatest threat to this dark sky resource is increased development in the immediate area that could cause light pollution.  However, design for the campground will ensure light pollution controls will be in place for the immediate area.

With trends of more and more people residing in expanding urban and suburban areas, the experience of viewing the natural night sky is becoming rarer and more unique. This opportunity to view the natural night sky is relevant not only to astronomers, but also stargazing recreationists.  The trend of recreationists utilizing the Cosmic Campground for stargazing will increase as awareness about the designation and as opportunities to view the natural night sky become rarer across the United States.  Currently there are limited islands of areas that have these qualities across the region and they will be increasingly rare as more development occurs.

Currently, Cosmic Campground provides more of a dispersed camping opportunity with limited site amenities. The Forest Service has created a site development plan to accommodate RV/tent camping, group gatherings, amateur telescope observing pads, and site reservation opportunities. We continue to work with partners to seek additional funding opportunities to complete construction of this future facility.