Goldendale Observatory State Park Heritage Site
ALERT: Goldendale Observatory is closed until further notice due to COVID 19.
Fledgling astronomers and night photographers, find your bliss at Goldendale Observatory. Set in the hills above the Columbia River, this unique state park heritage site houses one of the nation’s largest, most accessible public telescopes. The site is famous for its dark skies and informative science programs.
Daytime visitors also will find stunning views of the countryside and vivid sunsets, which coincide with moonrise at certain times of year. So, bring your sweetheart, your family, your star-watcher friends and your cameras, and take part in one of the many viewing programs held here.
The main telescope was the brainchild of four Vancouver, Washington-area amateur astronomers who designed and built the instrument in the 1960s over a period of six years, with help from Clark College and its students. Vancouver’s light pollution and cloudy weather precluded siting the telescope in that area, and the builders’ search for a perfect star-gazing spot eventually led them to Goldendale. The telescope was formally donated after the town agreed to build a public observatory to house it.
This day-use park is less than 25 miles from the Maryhill Museum of Art and larger camping parks of Maryhill State Park and Columbia Hills Historical State Park, making the area a fascinating and scenic destination.
Goldendale Observatory is a 5-acre facility on a hilltop 2,100 feet above sea level and 2 miles north of downtown Goldendale. The park, with its large public telescope, has attracted hundreds of thousands of sky-watchers since its dedication in 1973.
Picnic & day-use facilities
There are two unsheltered picnic tables, available first come, first served.
> ALERT Interpretive opportunities are not available at this time due to COVID 19.
Goldendale Observatory was the designated official headquarters of the National Astronomical League for the total solar eclipse of Feb. 26, 1979; the facility continues to be a major center for viewing significant astronomical events, including the 2017 solar eclipse. Under normal circumstances, the interpretive center offers afternoon observation and evening night-sky tours via one of America's largest public telescopes. Visitor requests will be considered once the facility reopens.
The park has no camping. Camping facilities are nearby at Brooks Memorial or Maryhill state parks. Check into your campsite at these parks before coming to evening programs at the observatory, as the programs run late.
Reservations & fees
Working in the 1960s, four amateur astronomers—Mack McConnell, John Marshall, Don Conner and Omer VanderVelden—built the 24-inch Cassegrain reflecting telescope that is housed at Goldendale Observatory. The men, only one of whom had a college degree, began their project in an astronomy club at Vancouver's Clark College. They spent more than six years designing and assembling the telescope and grinding the glass for its mirror, spending only $3,000 on materials.
Due to light pollution and persistent cloud cover, Vancouver was not an ideal location for astronomical observation. The group set out to find a more suitable location for their telescope. As part of their search, Marshall and his wife made a trip to eastern Washington with Don Conner and stopped to east lunch at a café in Goldendale. They mentioned their project to the café's owner who arranged for them to meet with the town's mayor, George Nesbitt. Eventually, a proposal was developed to create an observatory and science center with a mission of furthering public astronomy education. Funding for construction of the observatory was provided by donations, a federal grant and a bank loan. The observatory was dedicated as a public education center on October 13, 1973.
On February 26, 1979, Goldendale Observatory served as the National Astronomical League's headquarters during a solar eclipse. An estimated 15,000 people showed up to watch the event.
The Goldendale Observatory Corporation, a non-profit, volunteer organization, operated the facility through 1980, when the observatory was acquired by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. The park is one of the largest public observatories in the nation.