Lake Tahoe winter stargazing tips

The following post comes from Tony Berendsen, Star Guide, poet, author, and owner of Tahoe Star Tours. During the winter, you'll often find him around Northstar California and The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, where he leads stargazing tours. Book one of his stargazing tours here.

Stargazing is an adventure exploring the cosmos, and there are few places that afford such a stargazing adventure during winter than Lake Tahoe. Winter in the northern hemisphere features some of the best views of outer space, from stellar nurseries to star clusters to the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius A. And you can see all that, and a lot more, around Lake Tahoe during winter.

However, winter stargazing around Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountain range can pose its challenges. Crisp temperatures and the possibilities of inclement weather are just some of the things you have to prepare for. So in my latest post about stargazing around Lake Tahoe, I share a few tips and guidelines. (Meanwhile, check out my recommendations of where to go winter stargazing around Lake Tahoe.)

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Layer, layer, layer

This can’t be stressed enough. When going winter stargazing around Lake Tahoe, wear clothing that retains heat, but also clothing that is weatherproof. Some of my personal choices include a warm knitted cap, scarf, ski gloves, and a waterproof jacket over a hooded sweatshirt, turtleneck, and other warm layers.  You can always remove layers once you’re moving. As such, I recommend bringing a small backpack to store any layers you take off.

Wear waterproof shoes

Similar to the above tip about layers, one of my most important recommendations is wearing insulated, waterproof shoes. If you’ll be hiking or snowshoeing, I recommend waterproof high-top hiking boots and waterproof socks.

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Carry hand and foot warmers

I always have at least a couple hand or foot warmers in my coat pocket. Most of them are air- or battery-activated, and then can last up to several hours. I’ll typically activate them an hour before going winter stargazing.

Download stargazing apps

To help you around the night sky, bring your phone with stargazing apps downloaded beforehand. A number of the best astronomy apps serve as great virtual guides, some of which even feature audio commentary that describes the celestial sights you’re looking at. Among my favorites is the SkyPortal app. Additionally, bring an extra phone battery or power bank, as electronics, and especially phones, can lose power much faster in cold temperatures.

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Bring snacks and a warm beverage

Often, I’ll bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee, as well as a snack bar. A great local Lake Tahoe energy bar is Tahoe Trail Bar, which makes gluten-free, vegan energy bars that are available at nearby stores. Furthermore, if you’ll be hiking or snowshoeing, bring a bottle of water.

Bring binoculars and a good camera for astrophotography

For cameras, do research ahead of time about what lenses and settings are recommended for night photography for your specific camera. Additionally, binoculars will greatly enhance your views of the cosmos, often helping you see nebulae and star clusters that you can’t catch with the naked eye. If bringing your camera, binoculars, or computerized telescope, bring a couple extra hand warmers to keep your electronics from freezing, and a lens cleaning cloth to remove condensation that often occurs. Lastly, for those long stargazing sessions, bring a rug or waterproof blanket.

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Photos courtesy of Ryan Berendsen