Dark Sites

Our dark sites are locations within a few hours drive from Edmonton where members go to get away from light pollution. Before you visit a dark site, be sure you are familiar with the site facilities, local rules (like camping or fires) and light etiquette for dark sites.

Visitors to these site should be aware that wild animals live there year-round. This primarily refers to bison, however cougar and lynx have been reported by the rangers (and signs posted). There is also a healthy population of skunk, porcupine, rabbit, etc.

Blackfoot  |  Black Nugget Lake  |  Waskahegan

Light Etiquette for Dark Sites


When approaching a known dark site after sunset, it is considered good etiquette to turn off / disable / cover-up exterior vehicle lights. Examples:

  • headlights
  • running lights
  • licence plate light
  • courtesy lights
  • any non-red vehicle light

You should also pause to let your eyes adjust to the darkness for about 5-10 minutes.

Please note that it is illegal to drive your vehicle after dark with no lights on, so we cannot insist that you to do it.

If you cannot turn your running lights off, please honk your horn before coming any further. A trick to turning off running lights that may work on some vehicles, is to put your parking brake on slightly.

Consider making some covers out of red plastic or fabric and mount them over lights with magnets or tape (don’t forget to take them off again when you leave).

Before arrival, take the time to disable ALL interior lights in the vehicle. Examples:

  • dome light
  • cargo light
  • trunk light
  • door lights
  • any non-red vehicle light (e.g., bright blue antitheft lights)

If you cannot disable interior lights, be sure to honk or shout “white light!” a few seconds before you open the doors.

Many of us bring a red flashlight to illuminate the road as we come in, others gain the assistance of other already dark adapted people to guide them in with their red lights.

It best to usually park at the gate for 5-10 minutes at least and let your eyes dark adapt. Then roll down your window down and use a red flashlight to illuminate the road slightly. The open window allows you to hear better and you can lean out the window to see better. Also, come to a complete stop just before you enter the staging area and do a quick walk around to locate everybody and their equipment and choose a suitable parking spot. Most park so they can drive out without backing up as backup lights are white, and a minimum of brake lights (they’re very bright too, even if they are red).


When leaving a dark site while it is dark, you should turn off / disable / cover-up the same exterior and interior vehicle lights as when you arrived. If you can’t, advise others that you are leaving and then honk or shout “white light!” just before you leave. Please do not turn on your vehicle’s headlights until after you exit the observing area.

Please note that it is illegal to drive your vehicle after dark with no lights on, so we cannot insist that you to do it.


Additional Etiquette for Dark Sites

No Smoking on the Observing Field

Smoke damages telescope optics and can cause sensitive individuals to suffer allergic reactions. If you do smoke please try to smoke away from other (non-smoking) observers out of respect. Lighters cause dark adapted eyes to become ruined.

No Aerosol Sprays on the Observing Field

One drop of spray can permanently damage telescope optics. Please do not apply insect repellent spray or use any other aerosol spray on the observing field. Lotions and roll-ons are fine.

No White Lights After Dusk

White light ruins the dark adaptation that your eyes develop after about 20 or 30 minutes in the dark. You need dark adaptation to see faint, deep sky objects. When a white light is used after dark anywhere in the vicinity of the observing field (e.g, flashlights, vehicle headlights, even a match) it takes up to 30 minutes for everyone to regain their night vision. Once your eyes adapt to the darkness, you will be able to find your way around and avoid obstructions without needing a flashlight.

No Flash Photography

A camera flash can destroy everyone’s night vision for some time and can also ruin astrophotography that may be happening. Snapshots taken under dark conditions, even with a flash, generally do not turn out well anyway, unless you’re using special camera settings.

Watch Your Children

Children are always welcome at all of our outings. But since the observing field is dark, small children are more likely to trip, get hurt, become lost, or bump into and damage expensive equipment.

Ask Before Touching

Some astronomers may be adjusting their equipment or doing delicate astrophotography, or the telescope may not be aimed at any object in particular. Please ask before touching or moving a telescope or other equipment.