Can’t Do a Campfire?  Look Up Instead!

People stargazing at the Top of the Pines, a certified Dark Sky Park near Ridgway, Colorado. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

By Deborah Price, DarkSky Colorado

With recurring fire restrictions in the summer, it’s not always possible to have the traditional campfire while camping.  And even if that’s not the case, there is a fun alternative to campfires that extends out your awareness way past your campsite—looking up at the stars!

Some of the best places to see stars are at campgrounds, where light pollution is often less, and time outside is a precious gift. Lie down on a lounge chair or blanket and look up. The summer skies offer the opportunity to see one of the easier-to-find constellations of Scorpius in the southern sky. Just to the left of Scorpius, look for the giant teapot, which is an asterism of Sagittarius. To the north, you can find the ever-present Big Dipper, Polaris the North Star, and Cassiopeia (looks like a big “W”).  Get a star chart and see what else you can find!  Go to for each month’s visible constellations.  

Many cultures see the stars in the night sky as a storybook. While you are looking at the stars, try to remember stories you’ve heard about the stars, or make up some of your own. See if you can create your own constellations and stories from what you see in the stars above.

Another enriching nighttime experience is to listen to the sounds of night—what do you hear that you don’t hear during the day? Many animals and birds are nocturnal, and bats can sometimes be seen flying above you, searching for insects to eat.

If the moon is full, you’ll be surprised how good your night vision is.  You can see really well!  Go on a short night hike to explore your surroundings after dark. Use your night vision instead of a flashlight and you’ll see so much more.

Camping is a great opportunity to appreciate the surprises of the darkness, especially when we don’t often pay enough attention to it in our day-to-day lives. Open your eyes to the night, look up, and enjoy!

More reasons to enjoy the natural night.

  • Wasted energy contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change that can lead to weather extremes which can cause and worsen wildfires.

Light Pollution and Climate Change

  • Ecosystem degradation increases wildfire risk. For example, cheatgrass is notorious for wildfire outbreaks, and it is one of the rare species that has been shown to benefit from light pollution.

Cheatgrass thrives on the will-lit urban scene

  • Also, both light pollution and light and smoke from wildfires (and campfires) take away our ability to see the stars and put at risk the survival of nocturnal animals of all sizes.

What Effects Do Wildfires Have on Humans and Animals?

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