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Stargazing in the Southern Part of the Silver State

With Las Vegas being one of the top 20 most populous cities in the U.S., you’d think it would be hard to get a good look at the stars amidst the bright lights of The Strip. But just about an hour’s drive from the neon is a beautiful spot in nature for stargazing in the Silver State.

We’ll tell you about it in this Neon to Nature itinerary featuring one Las Vegan Trent Keenan’s favorite spots to gaze at the stars – Cold Creek Canyon.

Nestled in the base of Mount Charleston, approximately 50 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, lies Cold Creek Canyon. While there are a few off-the-grid homes owned by nature lovers, the area is mostly undeveloped, and teeming with flora and fauna. Keenan says there are lots of wild burros, birds, rabbits, and coyotes to be seen.

While the animals are a fun addition to the trip, you really came to see the stars – so let’s dive in on how to do it! Keenan offers a lot of advice for amateur photographers to get the most out of this experience, but note – you can see the stars, and even an arch of The Milky Way, by naked eye. And, if you’re wanting to learn a new hobby/skill – Keenan suggests watching a few videos on camera settings, focal lengths, camera lenses, and Milky Way star shooting on YouTube, and investing in your first camera.  

A fence line with milky way lighting up the stargazing night sky

The Gear

• Full tank of gas – (this trip is over 100 miles round trip)

  • • Snacks and plenty of water
  • • Camera and tripod
  • • Extra Batteries for Camera
  • • PlanetPro or similar app to view the best time of day/year to view the Milky Way

Stargazing - Tips Before You Go

Unlike a casual hike, there’s some pre-planning that goes into getting the most out of this trip. First, you’ll want to make sure you download an app that tells you the best time of year and day to go, and how long the Milky Way is out. Keenan recommends using PlanetPro for this. Also, make sure you check the weather forecast. Windy days tend to mess with the shutter and make the photo blurry, so you’ll want to avoid them.

Next, you’ll want to set a pinned location of where you want to go shoot. Once you set the camera location, it will give you the best times the Milky Way is available. For this trip, Keenan said shoot for an April to November stargazing adventure.

Next, it’s time to check your camera. You’ll want to focus your camera in the daytime before you leave. Make sure the camera can focus around 3000’-4500’ feet to 600’-900’ feet down the road. Keenan then suggests taking a piece of tape and taping your lens to that exact spot so you don’t have to do it when you get out in the dark and focus on something else. Also, make sure your lens is clean and dust free.

Lastly, Keenan recommends using a wide angle lens for landscape photos – 24mm is his personal favorite, but 14mm and 35mm also works. Also, make sure you have extra batteries as the long exposure time tends to eat up batteries fast.

desert shrubs in the foreground with miilkyway blues pink and green hues

Getting There

All good road trips start with a playlist, and this zen trip, Keenan picks an instrumental Metallica soundtrack or smooth jazz. From the Las Vegas Strip take I-15 North to U.S. Route 95 North approx. 40 miles. Exit Cold Creek Rd. Cold Creek Rd. stretches about 20 miles back. There are numerous spots where you can stop for your adventure, but pick the place with the least amount of light interference. Keenan recommends getting a few test shots along the road, and then stopping just past the fire station about 14 miles in. You can also go to Wheeler’s Pass, which he says is a great trail for off-roading.

While You're There

Keenan highly recommends this trip because it provides a chill, peaceful escape from city life. “You are in the moment and the silence around you is pretty cool,” he said. There is almost no cell service (it’s very spotty), and pretty secluded so you can be at one with nature, enjoying the stars. Plus it’s a nice surprise when the burros and birds sometimes come down and visit you, making for a great photo opp.

Millkyway at Cold Creek Canyon

Trip Snapshot

Location
Cold Creek 

Distance from The Strip
50 miles, approximate

Directions from The Strip
I-15 North
U.S. Route 95 North
Cold Creek exit 

Services

There are a few homes nearby, but no commercial services in the area. 

Cell reception

No – Very spotty

 

Trent Keenan is a “landscape” guy with a passion for beautiful surroundings. He is the founder of Diamondback Land Surveying. Getting into nature is a second calling with his hobbies of running, hiking and photography.

 

Looking for a tour that takes you from neon to nature check our Things to Do section where our travel experts can guide you from renting a jeep and driving yourself to curated tours with a guide. 

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