Eerie, awe-inspiring: 5 ways to explore Georgia’s new Dark Sky Park

Credit: Contributed by Rena Johnson Photography

Credit: Contributed by Rena Johnson Photography

Stephen C. Foster Park is a national treasure just four hours’ drive from Atlanta

Serious stargazers have long known that the skies over Georgia’s Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp are truly spectacular, but the International Dark Sky Association has made it official. The IDA named the park as a gold-tier “International Dark Sky Park,” the first in Georgia and the only gold-tier designee in the southeast. The designation means SCFSP has little view-blocking pollution, allowing exceptional views of the moon, stars, planets and comets.

»RELATED: 9 best places to see the stars —the real ones —around Atlanta

How can you best tap this national treasure just four hours' drive from Atlanta?

Here are five ways to enjoy Georgia's newly designated Dark Sky Park:

Sleep under the stars. Stephen C. Foster State Park, 17515 GA Hwy. 177, Fargo. 912-637-5274 | 800-864-7275 The park is about 277 miles from Atlanta, about a 4-hour drive if you don't run into traffic. Consider enjoying the Dark Sky Park overnight, staying at the park's campground. It has more than 60 campsites, including primitive and full-service RV hookups. SCFSP also has 9 cottages for rent that include bedrooms, televisions and kitchens with basic supplies.

To check last minute availability, click here.

Swamper’s Guide to the Galaxy Hours vary depending on season Parking fee: $5 Event phone: 912-637-5274

Venture with park guides deep into the Okefenokee to watch for meteors and planets and observe the moon. Includes "naked eye" and telescope viewing.

Paddle Under the Stars Hours vary depending on season. Saturdays. Admission: $15-$20 Parking fee: $5 Event Phone: 912-637-5274 The rangers guide this paddle as the sun sets over the swamp, leaving just starlight and the moon to guide the way. Sign up in advance and bring a headlamp. No one under 5 allowed.

Arrive early, stay for the show This remote park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp, aka one of Georgia's seven natural wonders. It's extra fun to come ahead of the starlight extravaganza and enjoy paddling, photography and abundant wildlife from alligators to heron and black bear on the 402,000-acre refuge.

Start with some nearby stargazing. Before you commit to the 4-hour drive to Stephen C. Foster and the possible overnight, get familiar with stargazing at some sites and events nearer to Atlanta. The heavens won't be as brilliant as they are at the Dark Sky Park, but they'll get you familiar with the concept and provide a base of comparison.

Here are nine of the best places to see real stars around Atlanta, including the Georgia Tech Observatory (Ferst Drive NW. 404-385-8133).

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