A guide to Snowdonia’s Dark Sky Reserve and star gazing in North WalesPublished on 19 Apr 2021 by Amy Bowers
Are you a watcher of stars? Awarded Dark Sky Reserve Status in 2015, the Snowdonia National Park is one of the best places in the UK to gaze at night skies in all their mesmerising glory…star gazing in North Wales…..
There’s something reassuring about being reminded of the tiny space we occupy in the vastness of the universe. A proper starry sky can soothe your soul by reminding you of your insignificance. It is a thing of mystery and magic. It’s a piece of the sublime.
But it’s not always very easy to access. For those of us who live in towns and cities, light pollution can be a real barrier to enjoying what is surely one of our oldest human traditions. Streetlights, industrial estates and motorway lighting can make it almost impossible to get a good view of the night sky.
Luckily, astronomy-enthusiasts don’t have to travel too far to witness the magic of the night sky in the UK, because we have some of the world’s best stargazing spots right on our doorstep, including here in North Wales.
The Snowdonia National Park was awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2015. There are just ten of these magical reserves in the world, and star gazing in North Wales on a clear night in Snowdonia you can see the Milky Way, all the major constellations, nebulas (bright clouds of gas and dust) and shooting stars.
Why not come experience our magical dark skies for yourself? This quick beginners’ guide includes some of the best locations for star gazing in North Wales, advice to help you see more in the dark, and our recommendations for some basic stargazing equipment to help you get started.
Our favourite locations for star gazing in North Wales
Penmon Point, Ynys Môn / Isle of Anglesey
Penmon Point, the pebble-strewn beach promontory on Anglesey, is known for sightings of puffins, seals and dolphins, but it also has perfect conditions for stargazing. To the north is Trwyn Du lighthouse and Puffin Island lies beyond.
Grid reference: SH640 812
Car parking: £3 parking toll to park at the point, otherwise park in Penmon and walk
Capel Garmon, near Betws-y-Coed
Located deep within Snowdonia National Park, the Capel Garmon Burial Chamber is a neolithic tomb above the Conwy Valley. Access is easy and there are great views of Snowdonia and the sky.
Grid reference: SH813555
Car parking: In Capel Garmon village
Llyn Crafnant near Betws y Coed
Llyn Crafnant is a 0.75 mile long lake that lies in a beautiful valley where the northern edge of Gwydir Forest meets the lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains. The head of the lake offers what could be regarded as one of the finest views, across the lake to the mountains above, in North Wales.
OS Grid Ref: SH 757618 / Lat long: 53.13188932666212, -3.870744692880667
Car parking available
Porth Oer (Whistling Sands), near Aberdaron on the Llŷn Peninsula
This small, picturesque National Trust beach is backed by steep grassy cliffs. On the Llŷn Heritage Coast, it’s famously known as ‘Whistling Sands’, a nickname based on the sound the granules make underfoot when you walk over its gleaming sand. Big night skies with an Irish Sea backdrop.
Grid reference: SH 1651 3004 / lat long: 52.835859355958306, -4.724141794464903
Car parking nearby
Bwlch y Groes near Dolgellau
Bwlch y Groes lies on the minor road linking Dinas Mawddwy and Llanuwchllyn, and is one of the highest tarmacked passes in Wales. The daytime view from the pass encompasses the plain of the Dyfi valley, Cader Idris and Aran Fawddwy, and the Berwyn Mountains to the north-east.
Grid Reference: SH 913 232 / lat long: 52.795378 , -3.6135590
Car parking: Up to 10 vehicles
Llynnau Cregennen near Barmouth
Llynnau Cregennen are two of the most popular lakes in south Merionethshire. They lie on the foothills of Cader Idris, overlooked by the crags of Tyrrau Mawr to the south east, and Pared y Cefn Hir to the north.
Grid Reference: SH 657 143 / lat long: 52.709651 , -3.9893561
Car parking available
Tŷ Cipar near Porthmadog
Tŷ Cipar is a former Gamekeeper’s house. It is located between Llan Ffestiniog and Ysbyty Ifan, within the Special Protected Area of Migneint and Arenig Dduallt. It is one of the largest areas of blanket bog in Wales, and birds such as the Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin can be spotted here.
Grid Reference: SH 780 446 / lat long: 52.984808 , -3.8187414
Car parking: Up to 4 vehicles
Llyn y Dywarchen near Beddgelert
Llyn y Dywarchen is located above the village of Drws y Coed in Dyffryn Nantlle, near Rhyd Ddu. It is a very popular fishing lake, and has a car park nearby.
Grid Reference: SH 559 533 / lat long: 53.057468 , -4.1515927
Car parking: Up to 6 vehicles
Tips to help you see more
- Natural moonlight can be a real hindrance. It washes out the light from most stars, leaving only the brightest points of light visible. We do love a full moon, but you’ll see more if you go stargazing without it.
- Avoid arguments over whether you’re looking at The Plough or Orion’s Belt by download a stargazing app – it’ll help keep the peace, and you’ll be able to identify constellations much more easily. Just be careful not to look at your phone too much, as it can reduce your night vision. There are plenty of free-to-use options. Try the Star Walk, StarView, or StarTracker apps.
- A compass is a handy tool to help you orientate yourself. You can use a compass app on a smartphone instead, but as above, looking at bright screens will hamper your night vision.
- If you have an iPhone, you can change your phone’s settings to put a red filter on your screen, so you can read a text message, check an astronomy app or access your mobile compass without spoiling your vision. Just google ‘iphone red filter’ to find out how.
- Prepare your eyes. Once you’re ready, turn off any lights and torches, and put your mobile phone away. Your eyes will need about 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Unpack your flask of tea, or pour yourself a warming hot toddy.
A Stellar Time of Year
Although the stars in the northern sky are visible all year round, it is easier to see certain features in different seasons of the year.
- In winter, look for star clusters, constellations and December’s Geminids meteor shower.
- In spring the planets are more visible, while in summer you might be lucky enough to see the Perseid meteor shower.
- During autumn the Milky Way is more visible. The Orionids meteor shower takes place in October.
Some basic equipment to help you get started
- First of all, consider your comfort. The best way to stargaze is by lying on your back, so avoid any risk of a cricked neck and pack a blanket or camping mat to lie on. Depending on the time of year, you might want some extra layers to keep warm.
- Your eyes are the only real piece of kit that is essential. You don’t need a telescope. If you do want some magnification, a pair of good 10 x 50 binoculars will allow you to see the moons of Jupiter and the Andromeda galaxy quite clearly.
- Bring a torch, but tape a red light filter onto it, or use a rear bike light as a torch – a red light will affect your night vision much less than a bright white light.
- Plan your route and make sure you don’t stray too far from any paths or trails – even with a torch it can be tricky to navigate in remote rural darkness. Make sure you pay close attention to your environment at all times.
Read more about it: our top cottage picks for stargazing