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Perseid Meteor Shower
In this 20 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. | NASA/Bill Ingalls

Six Stargazing Hotspots to View This Year's Perseids Meteor Shower

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Please explore responsibly. While "SoCal Wanderer" continues to uncover the region’s local gems and not-to-miss destinations, these are uncertain times with public health guidelines changing constantly. We encourage our readers to stay curious and cautious.

The biggest — and widely considered the best — meteor showers of the year will be peaking this week and weekend, starting around midnight on August 12 and extending through August 14 (though probably best through the evening of the 13th).

It's the Perseids — and technically, they started appearing at the end of July (according to NASA) and could continue for another week or two after their peak.

In a best-case scenario — under a very dark, clear sky — you could see 40 to 60 Perseids per hour (or more!) in the Northern Hemisphere, according to estimates from NASA and EarthSky, respectively.

But even if you're a little closer to light pollution, you're still likely to catch a few — especially since the Perseids peak this year during a new moon, which arrived on August 8. That's when the sky is at its darkest, no matter where you are — and just four days later, the waxing moon won't give off much light (especially when it sets early on August 12, at 10:30 p.m.).

And this year is a great opportunity to see them, as next year they'll coincide with a full moon — which means a much brighter sky.

Look for not only meteor streaks (which might look like "shooting stars") but also fireballs! They're fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle's dusty trail — and they'll appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus. Face northeast to best position yourself for the nighttime sky show.

NASA suggests you start looking after 10 p.m. — but your best bet is after midnight, in the darkest hours before dawn.

So, grab a warm blanket and chart a course for one of these six SoCal stargazing hotspots — where you can settle into your camping chair, hammock, or sleeping bag and enjoy this annual sky spectacular.

1. Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino County

Although there are aren't any official skywatching or stargazing events hosted by either Joshua Tree National Park or the nearby Sky's the Limit Observatory in Twentynine Palms, this high desert region is still a great place to go to spot the Perseids on your own. It's been designated an International Dark Sky Park — so wherever you choose to sit back and gaze upwards, you can't go wrong.

Night sky at Joshua Tree
The night sky at Joshua Tree | Robbie Morrison / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pick a spot — in advance, during the day — where overnight camping is allowed. That means no "Day Use Only" areas, which are closed dusk to dawn or along roadsides or in parking lots.

Fortunately, you can park at any of the roadside pullouts, as long as you stay awake and alert within 20 feet of your car. The JTNP website advises that you'll find the least traffic and darkest skies at any pullout along Pinto Basin Road between Cholla Cactus Garden and Cottonwood — and Cottonwood's campground reportedly has the darkest skies of all the park's campground facilities. No reservations are required to camp at Cottonwood during Perseids.

You can also choose to camp in the backcountry in JTNP — as long as it's located a mile from roads and 500 feet from trails and water sources, and you register for a permit (self-service) before dark at one of the park's 13 backcountry registration boards, which have staging areas where you can park your car overnight. Pets aren't allowed in the backcountry at all — but if you choose to bring them to the park to enjoy the Perseids elsewhere, just make sure they're leashed at all times.

Joshua Tree National Park never closes. If the entrance fee station is closed when you arrive, you're allowed to proceed and enjoy your visit. If the fee station is open upon your exit, you can pay your park entrance fee then.

2. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County

Also designated an International Dark Sky Park, San Diego County's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park surrounds the town of Borrego Springs — an International Dark Sky Community and the only one in the entire state of California. That gives you the option of either gazing in the park or at a more developed location in town.

The Lyrid meteor shower with a view of the Milky Way.
The Lyrid meteor shower with a view of the Milky Way. | Kevin Key / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Although you can enjoy the dark night sky pretty much anywhere in the Borrego Valley — and the entire backcountry area of the park is defined as a dispersed camping facility — the Borrego Springs Dark Sky Coalition offers an online map of its recommended locations around Borrego Springs. If you need any supplies for viewing the night sky (like a red flashlight), visit the Anza-Borrego Foundation State Park Store at 587 Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 110 in Borrego Springs.

Borrego Night Sky Tours is conducting a public viewing event on August 12, led by local astronomer Dennis Mammana, but it's currently accepting names for the wait list only.

Check online for campground closures and other park advisories, including road conditions. A day use fee may be charged at certain campgrounds (including primitive campgrounds). Dogs are allowed in 12 designated campgrounds, which you can find listed on the park website. Quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. If you're only visiting and not staying overnight, you must be out by 10 p.m.

3. Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino County

It's a hot time of year to visit any Southern California desert — but if you keep your stay to the late-afternoon, evening and early-morning hours, you should be able to withstand the heat enough to watch Perseids light up the sky.

A night sky with a mountain in the foreground at Mojave National Preserve night skies.
Granite Mountains in Mojave National Preserve night skies. | Preston Dyches / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Another good desert destination in SoCal is the Mojave National Preserve, which offers the higher-elevation — and therefore cooler — Mid Hills Campground (5,600 feet, accessible via a dirt road unsuitable for RVs or trailers) and the slightly lower elevation Hole-in-the-Wall Campground (4,400 feet). Both campgrounds are first-come, first-served.

For more information, visit the Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center on Black Canyon Road, which is open every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy occasionally hosts star parties in the Preserve with the Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers, based in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. Check directly with the organizations to inquire about their upcoming schedules.

Maximum eight people and two vehicles per campsite. Pets must be leashed and never left unattended (including inside your car). Quiet hours are 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. For other camping regulations, visit the Mojave National Preserve website.

4. Red Rock Canyon State Park, Kern County

While Red Rock Canyon State Park is normally only open for day use from sunrise to sunset (with the first-come, first-served Ricardo Campground open 24 hours), the Perseids provides an opportunity to visit the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada — located about two hours north of Downtown Los Angeles

On Wednesday, August 11, the China Lake Astronomical Society and California State Parks will be hosting a volunteer-led Star Party and Perseid Meteor Watch from 7:45 p.m. to 2 a.m. Although the Red Rock Canyon State Park Visitor Center is currently closed, you can join the star party in its adjacent parking lot, located along Abbott Drive off the southbound side of Highway 14.

Quiet hours are 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. Dogs must remain on a 6-foot leash and within the campground and parking areas.

5. Laguna Campground, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

At 6,000 feet of elevation, Laguna Campground in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area of Cleveland National Forest is both cool and dark at night — making it one of the preferred locations for San Diego State University Observatory star parties, which campers can join on most Saturdays throughout the summer. Check with the nearby Laguna Mountain Visitor Information Center or call 619-473-8547 to confirm whether a star party will occur during the Perseids peak (Saturday, August 14).

Its meadow location offers unobstructed views of the night sky, so you'll be in a good position on your own to spot some Perseids meteors — even without aid of telescopes or binoculars. Even better, the best position for viewing the Perseids means you'll be facing away from the urban sky glow of San Diego and towards the dark skies of Anza-Borrego DSP! Reserve one of the campground's 104 single sites (scattered along five different loops) in advance online.

Showers are open mid-May through October. Pets are welcome. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park in Cleveland National Forest.

6. Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest, Ventura/Kern County

The Antelope Valley Astronomy Club regularly arranges group visits for its members and their guests to Mt. Pinos in Los Padres National Park — but this year's schedule doesn't coincide with the Perseids. Same goes for the Kern Astronomical Society, which isn't hosting one of its star parties at Frazier Mountain Trailhead parking lot during Perseids this year. However, that shouldn't keep you from visiting this "stargazers' paradise" on your own.

A night sky filled with stars.
Los Padres National Forest, near Mt. Pinos, at night. | Preston Dyches/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

For a full-night experience, the Mt. Pinos seasonal campground offers 19 single campsites — 15 of which must be reserved in advance — with picnic tables and vault toilets but no drinking water, public showers, or dump station. This mountain destination can be an ideal location for Perseids — at a 7,800-foot elevation, the sky above it is frequently clear with extremely low light pollution.

It's also only about 90 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles — and typically less crowded than some other SoCal camping options, although it does attract crowds of stargazers during celestial events like the Perseids.

Minimum overnight stay for weekends is two nights. Pets are allowed, but quiet hours are 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Check-in time is 3 p.m. and checkout is at noon. Not recommended for trailers or vehicles over 22 feet in length. Be sure to note current fire restrictions and check with the ranger office about where you may need to display an Adventure Pass in your vehicle.

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