Panoramic night sky landscape in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah, USA.
This morning, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) announced the world’s newest certified dark place: Helper, Utah. This community of roughly 2,000 residents is on the border of the Wasatch Range and Wasatch Plateau, and becomes the 2nd Dark Sky Community and 16th certified dark sky place in Utah, and the 25th Dark Sky Community in the world.
Entry sign for Helper, Utah.
Helper is located in Utah’s Carbon County, southwest of Salt Lake City. The town dates back to the 1880s when the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad helped establish a population to service its route through the Wasatch Mountains between Grand Junction, Colorado, and Ogden, Utah.
Over the town’s nearly 140-year history, it has seen boom and bust in tandem with the mines and railroads of the surrounding region. It has also had some notable visitors over the years, including Butch Cassidy who made several visits to Helper in the 1890s and early 1900s. The town plays even host to a Butch Cassidy Film Festival annually each February.
Today visitors are drawn to Helper for the town’s history, to stretch their legs on a road trip, and for the stunning scenery of the area. Oh – and let’s not forget the dark, starry Utah skies overhead.
This beautiful Utah Carbon Country view is near Helper Utah.
As part of receiving Dark Sky Community certification, the International Dark-Sky Association notes that “international dark sky community certification gives Helper support to grow dark skies programs,” the announcement reads. It also “creates economic opportunities for neighboring communities through astronomy-based tourism.”
“I am both honored and grateful the International Dark-Sky Association has recognized our ongoing efforts to share dark skies with the community and our guests,” says Lenise Peterman, Helper City’s Mayor. “This certification is the culmination of more than 2 years’ effort to preserve dark skies. Certification reaffirms our commitment to educate and improve night skies through the use of more energy-efficient, sustainable lighting.”
If you love traveling to enjoy dark skies, consider making a stop in Helper to see the city’s sights and spend an overnight admiring the stars overhead – a view that is now protected for generations to come.
How to Visit Helper
Sights in Helper, Utah, including the author on an old railroad car.
Helper is located halfway between Salt Lake City and Moab (another epic base for stargazing at dark sky certified locations including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park). It is 111 miles from Salt Lake City along U.S. Route 6, roughly two hours’ drive.
Things to Do in Helper
Helper is a small community, with one main road, called Main Street. Along Main Street, you’ll see some of Helper’s main sights, most notably the Western Mining and Railroad Museum. This museum shows the history of Helper and Carbon County, from its prehistoric era to the mining industry that helped build the town.
Inside the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper, Utah.
You can also see Utah’s biggest miner – “Big John,” who stands outside the Helper Library –, explore the outdoor Helper Mining Display, and dine local at restaurants like Balance Rock Eatery & Pub and coffee shop Happiness Within. Helper buildings are also adorned with historic signs and advertising murals, which make the Helper Commercial District an interesting area to explore.
Historic signs and buildings in Helper, Utah.
If seeing the night sky is your primary reason for an overnight stay in Helper, the local astronomy club, Dark Sky Observers, is organized through the Helper Library, and holds star parties roughly once per month.
Author’s Note: In light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, this article is not intended as a guide for travel at any specific time. Instead, please refer to the CDC and U.S. State Department for relevant travel advisories before planning a trip.