PHOTO ESSAY: Astrophotography From The Dark Skies Of Florida

OCHOPEE, Fla. — Not far from the bright lights of Miami, Florida, past the suburbs and past the farms, a different reality emerges in the wild, natural spaces near Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. There are areas with so little light pollution that they are Dark Sky Certified by the International Dark Sky Association, making them perfect for astrophotography.

In these federally protected lands and their public parks — open 24 hours if you know where to look — the sky opens up and billions of stars glow. Here are some of the best places for stargazing in South Florida.

The constellation Orion seen between the palm trees from H.P. Williams Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve, March 2021. (Jacob Katel)
Big Cypress National Preserve is one of only two internationally Dark Sky Certified parks in Florida. (Jacob Katel)

Big Cypress National Preserve

Most people around the world have heard of Everglades National Park, where alligators, pythons and sawgrass dominate a flood plain of shallow, slow-moving water. To the north, the park is bordered by Big Cypress Natural Preserve, a protected area that is lesser known, but just as important to the environment as the Everglades. Big Cypress is home to multiple ecosystems, not just the cypress forests. It’s also home to hundreds of bird species, Florida panthers, black bears and, of course, alligators.

Staring into the southern cosmos at Kirby Storter Boardwalk in March, 2021. (Jacob Katel)
Looking north toward the Tamiami Trail from the Kirby Storter Boardwalk parking lot to Big Cypress National Preserve in March, 2021. (Jacob Katel)

Kirby Storter Boardwalk: 48900 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee, FL 34141

This roadside park has picnic tables, a bathroom and a one-mile boardwalk leading to an alligator pit. If you show up around midnight on a cloudless night and face south, even the view from the parking lot is well worth it. The show changes every night as the earth revolves around the sun, so you can glimpse a multitude of constellations.

Looking up through a palm tree adjacent to the Tamiami Trail from a picnic table at H.P. Williams Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve in March, 2021. (Jacob Katel)
A perfect view of stars and constellations through the palm trees at H.P.Williams Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve in March, 2021. (Jacob Katel)

H.P. Williams Roadside Park: 12580 Turner River Rd, Ochopee, FL 34141  

Seven miles west of Kirby Storter is another roadside park with picnic tables and a boardwalk. At certain times of the year large numbers of alligators congregate here for warmth, rest and relaxation. At night, you may even see them feed on fish, birds or small mammals. In winter, the cool night air makes it a great place to visit. In the summer, swarms of mosquitoes may deter all but the most ardent nature lovers.

A starry night in Everglades National Park on the famous Anhinga Trail, close to the southern entrance of the park in Homestead, Florida in March, 2021. (Jacob Katel)

Everglades National Park — Flamingo Entrance — Anhinga Trail

Given its closer proximity to civilization, Anhinga Trail experiences some light pollution, but the stars do come out and shine here brighter than anywhere in Miami. Visitors will be surrounded by reptiles, birds of prey and amphibians making a symphony of wild sounds. Constellations and planets are clearly visible depending on cloud cover, and the boardwalk offers a perfect viewing platform from which to enjoy it all.

(Edited by Claire Swift, Kristen Butler and Judith Isacoff)

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