Milky Way at Grand Canyon

The best place to see the milky way!

“As dawn leaks into the sky it edits out the stars like excess punctuation marks, deleting asterisks and periods, commas, and semi-colons, leaving only unhinged thoughts rotating and pivoting, and unsecured words.”
― Ann Zwinger, Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

Except my country side hometown in Vietnam, I have never seen such a dark sky in the US. From our campground at Mather Campground, we could clearly see the milky way raising right after the sun went down.


From Mather Campground

Mather Campground

As the campground is really dark, you should pitch your tent before the sunlight goes out. Since we arrived at 5pm, it was getting darker. After setting up the tent, we took out our Advanced VX 8″ Newtonian Telescope out and tried to find some celestial bodies. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the compass so we depended on the mobile phone’s compass which was not reliable at all as we actually got the opposite direction of North and South! Also, the Star Sense on the telescope didn’t work as it kept rotating the telescope around 🙁

After the failed attempt of setting up the telescope, we decided to just take a quick photo of the milky way at the table.

The milky way is easy to find. Just look up the sky and find some grayish cloud looking thing on the sky. If it doesn’t move much like a normal cloud, that’s the milky way! As city kids, we actually didn’t realize it was the milky way at all and kept looking for it!

Unluckily, my Rokinon 14mm lens for astrophotography could not focus correctly. I realized that one of my family member broke it after dropping it on the ground my cleaning up (ouch!). No matter how much I rotated the lens, it kept failing to focus to the infinity like before (sad!)

Without the fast and wide angle lens, I resorted to Canon 24-105mm lens that I had. Setting it to the fastest speed at f/4, I put the camera right on the table instead of the tripod pointing upward to the sky and exposed it for 30s, and got the picture on the right. You may need to post process it later as the colors may not pop up without changing the Levels and Curves of the raw pictures.

Yavapai Point

Milky way

At golden hour. The milky way is pretty fainted

On the second day, we scouted the area and tried to find a good spot for taking picture of the milky way over the whole canyon. We decided to watch the sunset at Yavapai Point which was a popular spot for watching sunset.

We came here with a tripod and Canon 6D with 24-105mm, and hiked to the edge. Here, there were lots of people around but after the sunset, people all left so we were left alone in the dark.

This spot was really windy and cold in September. It was nearly 40 degree F with the wind so wear warm clothes and some blankets. Don’t try to be close to the edge as it is really dark and you don’t want to miss a step and fall into the canyon below!

To be honest, this point was not a good spot for the milky way as it is on the South of the Canyon so we could not get the whole Milky Way but only the North side of it.

Here are a few photos of the Milky Way. I was not really happy with the results so I am planning to go back in the future to get better picture of it!

Milky way

At night. The orange light is from a car on the other side of the canyon.

milky way

After sunset. Andromeda is on the right of the milky way


Alex is a Software Engineer at Google, an educator and an amateur photographer living in the beautiful Orange County

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