Stargazing at the Montana Learning Center in Southwest Montana

Humans across all cultures and geographic areas have been gazing up at the night sky for centuries. From early depictions in cave paintings, night sky observations have played a vital role in many elements of human progress. Star patterns guided the development of calendars and the ability for sailors to navigate the seas. The night sky has been an integral part of our history, have long been romanticized in poems and literature, and guided advancements in mathematics, science and modern-day technology. Today, the draw of the night sky inspires modern cinema and a scientific revolution of space exploration and interplanetary travel.

California Nebula image taken by Ryan Hannahoe
California Nebula image taken by Ryan Hannahoe


The US Department of Energy estimates 83% of the world’s population lives under a light polluted sky. What is light pollution? This is a type of human-caused pollution where our use of lighting at night to illuminate our cities, streets and parks, causes a brightening of the night sky due to the artificial lighting present during “dark” hours. For astronomers and hobbyist star gazers, this excessive presence of light inhibits the observation of stars, planets and other observable features of the night sky and causes the stars to appear dim. Sometimes they are not observable at all.


One of the many wonderful aspects of Montana’s rural and sparsely populated state is that there is far less light pollution present here than in many other places in the world. Our perfect summers often provide a comfortable temperature in which to sit outside and admire the night sky above.

Although you can see the night sky from anywhere in Southwest Montana on clear nights, if you travel outside of our three major cities in the region, Helena, Butte and Dillon, you are guaranteed to see stars on clear nights. Lots of stars. Our northern position also provides the chance to see the Aurora Borealis, often referred to as the Northern Lights. While infrequent, when the Aurora is visible, it is truly a spectacular phenomenon to witness. More commonly, star gazers in Southwest Montana will be treated to spectacular views of the Milky Way.

Milky Way over Canyon Ferry Lake taken from the Montana Learning Center in Helena, Montana
Milky Way over Canyon Ferry | Photo: Montana Learning Center

If you’re interested in learning more about what you are seeing in the nighttime sky, we highly recommend you visit the Montana Learning Center for a truly educational and memorable stargazing experience.


Where is the Montana Learning Center Located?

The Montana Learning Center is located at the northern-most point of Canyon Ferry Reservoir, outside of Helena, Montana. This organization provides STEM related programming to the community in the form of camps for kids and adults, teacher trainings, telescope rentals, and public stargazing nights. As a member of the Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pathways (NESSP) program, the Montana Learning Center offers unique aerospace-related programs to the region.


Aerial of Montana Learning Center Campus with Canyon Ferry Reservoir in the background
Montana Learning Center Campus

Star Parties and Telescopes

The Montana Learning Center offers a variety of specialized telescopes to view the night sky with. Learn constellations, photograph deep-space objects, and travel the universe from the comfort of this state-of-the-art astronomical park. The campus boasts the largest public-use telescope in Montana. It is rare to get the opportunity to use telescopes of this caliber and visiting the Montana Learning Center is truly a special and unique experience that will be both memorable and educational. During your visit, you’ll have the opportunity to see nebulae, galaxies, stars, the Moon, and more during what will very likely be a highlight of your trip to Montana.

Visitor using the solar telescope at the Montana Learning Center
Solar Telescope at the Montana Learning Center

Visitors can rent the telescopes or attend one of the many public stargazing events throughout the summer. When renting a telescope for the evening, you will have a highly knowledgeable instructor who will teach you how to use the equipment and get you set up for an unforgettable evening of night sky viewing. Make sure to plan ahead as rental availability is limited!

Other Facility Information

Along with the telescope facilities, the Montana Learning Center campus features lodging, dining, and meeting spaces along with specialized classroom spaces along the picturesque shore of Canyon Ferry Reservoir. The campus is located about 15 miles from downtown Helena.

Observatories at the Montana Learning Center
Three Observatories at the Montana Learning Center

Camps for both Kids and Adults!

Locals and visitors can attend a variety of science camps throughout the summer months. Student program topics range from dinosaurs to robotics and more! But the kids aren’t the only ones that have to have all the fun. The Montana Learning Center also provides camps for adults in rock hounding.

The Montana Learning Center offers a variety of summer camps for kids and adults near Helena, Montana (photos provided by Montana Learning Center)

For more information on the Montana Learning Center and their programming, please visit their website:

Camera Links

The Montana Learning Center provides the following sky cams, weather reports and charts for those interested. Check out their website at:

Whether camping, staying in one of our many comfortable hotels, cabins or lodges in the region, looking out the car window, or looking through a telescope at the Montana Learning Center, we hope you find peace, solace and wonderment when looking up at the night sky.

Happy stargazing!


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