Cherry Springs State Park  Milky Way Photography 

Understanding when the best time to go is before taking your trip is imperative if you want to see the Milky Way.  June and July are the optimum times to go. The dark-sky field at Cherry Springs is open all year. There are about  60 to 85 nights a year that are ideal for doing milky way photography.  You can see our gallery below.  The basic principle of doing Milky Way sky photography is to go when the moon is not visible. The new moon’s date and the week before, with clear skies, is an ideal time to go. You can shoot about a week before the new moon since the moon does not rise until very late, or should we say early a.m. Check out the moonrise times and see our dark sky resources page for the new moon chart. Remember, pick the right month for optimum milky way visibility. After October, the milky way goes below the horizon. It comes back up around February or March.

Cherry Springs State Park is an 82-acre Pennsylvania state park in Potter County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. The park was created from land within the Susquehannock State Forest and is on Pennsylvania Route 44 in West Branch Township. Cherry Springs, named for a large stand of Black Cherry trees in the park, is atop the dissected Allegheny Plateau at an elevation of 2,300 feet (701 m). It is popular with astronomers and stargazers for having “some of the darkest night skies on the east coast” of the United States and was chosen by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and its Bureau of Parks as one of “Twenty Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks.”

Milky Way Photography Hot Spots Page – Click here    How to Shoot Milky Way Photography – Click here

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania Dark Skies

Astronomers and stargazers appreciate Cherry Springs State Park for the darkness and clarity of its skies, which make it “perhaps the last best refuge of the natural night sky” in the eastern half of the United States. The sky at Cherry Springs has been classified as a 2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, meaning it has almost no light pollution. With optimum conditions, 10,000 stars are visible with the naked eye at the park, clouds appear only as black holes in the starry sky, and the Milky Way is so bright that it casts a discernible shadow.

Two of the park’s three astronomy domes, the walls prevent the wind from moving telescopes during observation.  Nighttime visitors may only use flashlights with red filters, and may only point them at the ground. The Astronomy Field has further restrictions on lights, and parts of the park are light-free zones. The DCNR spent $396,000 in June 2007 to buy mineral rights under 1,980 acres (800 ha) of the park and state forest to prevent natural gas drilling and associated development there.

Patterson State Park Pavilion: (3 miles east of Cherry Springs S.P.)

Image and Comments by Roger Wolfe. I used a 24mm Tamron at f8 for 20 seconds and ISO 1600. White balance was set on daylight and the pavilion was “painted with light” for about 10 seconds. If I were to do it again, I would open up a stop or two, lower the ISO a stop or two, increase the exposure time and wait for the darn planes to go away. I also would have turned noise reduction on; I had it turned off for attempted deep sky images at Cherry Springs. -Roger Wolfe

Cherry Springs State Park - Patterson Pavillion

When To Go Milky Way Hunting

When should you go milky-way hunting?

In mid-February, the core of the milky way becomes visible in the pre-dawn hours before sunrise. It is only visible for a short time. It will be above the horizon during the day. Of course not the time to go hunting.  The core becomes visible for a longer time frame each night. It peaks in June & July when the core will be viewable all night. The best time is around midnight in the mid-summer.  After this, the cycle goes in the opposite direction. Milky way visibility begins to decrease and go in the opposite direction, becoming more and more visible after dusk. It will then disappear again in the winter months. Around the beginning of November, it is no longer viewable.

How to Shoot Milky Way and Night Sky Photography

What you will need:

Light pollution map – light pollution map

Camera – You will need a camera to control your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture manually.

Lens – A fast wide-angle lens of 1.4 – 2.8 is ideal. If you use a 3.5 or higher (slower lens), you will have to increase the ISO. The higher the ISO, the more grain or digital noise or grain will appear in your photos.

Tripod – A good sturdy tripod is essential for night photography. If it gets windy, you will need a sturdy one. Keep that in mind, when you buy one, it should be sturdy enough to withstand the wind but small enough to fit in your suitcase.

Sky Map – Sky Guide is available through the iTunes Store for $1.99. It has a 5 out of 5-star rating on both the current (3.2) version (1200+ ratings) and all previous versions (8600+ ratings).

Flashlight –  Our choice is Coast brand for flashlights. The ideal flashlight will have high lumens, and you will be able to zoom in and out on the amount of light emitting from the flashlight. Get the HP7, PX45, or the G50. Ideally, go with the  HP7.

Moon Phaze Map – The best time to go is during a new moon, and you want to be in the darkest area possible. The week before the new moon, when the moon has not risen, is a perfect time to go, so be sure to check the moonrise chart to see when the moon will be up.

Remote Shutter Release – When painting with light and you want to go over a 30-second exposure, you must have a shutter release to use your bulb mode. When exposing your pictures in general, you can use the remote release, or you can use your camera’s built-in two-second timer.

Use a Tripod – First of all; you must be on a tripod. A good sturdy tripod is necessary if it is windy. If the tripod moves, your picture will blur.

Focus – Use live view.  To focus in the dark, use your camera’s live view, hit the zoom button, and focus on a bright star. You can also use the infinity setting on your lens but do several test shots to see if it is accurate. It can be off a little on some lenses. You can also light it up with a flashlight, focus, then gently, without touching the focus ring, put the camera in manual focus so it will not search for the focus. You would have to do this each time you move your camera to take your next angel.

Camera Settings

ISO – Start with ISO 1600 – 3200.  This is just a common starting point, and you will adjust from here.

Shutter Speed – Remember, the earth is rotating. If you leave the shutter open for too long, you will see star trails that will not make for a crisp image. We want crisp non-star trail images. Here is the formula to avoid star trails. The 500 rule – Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens. So, if you have a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera, you will set your shutter speed to 20 sec. (500/24 = 20.83). If you are using a crop sensor camera, first do the math of the crop sensor to find the focal length. Cannon is 1.6, Nikon is 1.5. Convert to full-frame focal length, then use the formula. Nikon 18mm x 1.5= 27mm – 500/27 = 18.51 seconds.

Aperture – Depth of field isn’t critical on these shots, but letting the light into the camera is; therefore, you should shoot wide open if. If the depth of field is essential to you, try not to go too high. (wide open =the lowest aperture your camera will allow). You will have to increase the ISO some, which will give you digital noise.

When in live view mode, you can change your white balance settings and see what it will look like. You can shoot in shade or cloud mode as a standard-setting and adjust things later.

When to view the Milky way

The best images are usually of the dense part of the Milky Way. We can see this part of the milk way in the southern sky. During March, April, and May, the milky way rises above the horizon in the pre-dawn hours. In June, at about 10:00 p.m., you will see the milky way.  From July until October, you can see the milky way as soon as the sunsets, and it becomes dark enough to see, which is about an hour after sunset. In November, the milky way no longer comes above the horizon. You will have to wait until March if you want to stay away really late or get up early to see her again.

See our Milky Way Hot Spot Locator and our Night Photography Information. 

Cherry Springs State Park Photography
Frosty Hollow Breakfast
Cherry Springs State Park Photography
Frosty Hollow Interior
Cherry Springs State Park Photography
Frosty Hollow Dining
Cherry Springs State Park Photography
Frosty Hollow Gift Shop
Cherry Springs State Park - Best B & B, Best Hotels

We have come up with the best places to stay and eat while photographing at Cherry Springs State Park.  We have picked one Bed and Breakfast for you and one Motel with Cabins for you. We stayed at both of them.

Bed and Breakfast – The absolute closest place to the Park is the Frosty Hollow Bed and Breakfast. Not only is it the closest, but it is also one of the best B and B’s in the area. It’s a warm, welcoming atmosphere, the kind we search the world over for. It’s so good we didn’t want to leave.  Set in a remodeled barn and farmhouse, this creekside B&B is in a picturesque rural valley only a 3 minutes drive from US Highway 6 and 0.6 miles from a country club and golf course.

Since 1992, the Ayers’ have been welcoming guests to the remodeled barn, which they have beautifully decorated with their lifetime collection of antiques and heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. In 1998, they completely renovated the farmhouse on this 10-acre property where Joe grew up.  They can now offer ten guest rooms, each uniquely decorated with Gail’s special touch. They spare no expense here. The beds are top of the line, and the pillows will make you never want to move a muscle. It will be hard to get out of bed and head down to breakfast, but once you get there, you will be sure glad you did. You can see the pride the owners take in the food preparation.

Check out the Breakfast Pizza in the images. Wow!  If you have been here before, you will know we are health conscious and there were great granola, yogurt, and fruit for me, which made us very happy.

When you arrive here, look for Gail. She is a wonderful person, and you can feel the warmth and pride she takes in the place when she greets you. Tell her Photography Magazine sent you.

FrostyHollow B&B – 814-274-7419 – 1077 Cherry Spring Road, Coudersport, Pa. 16915

Motel and Cabins – TOP PICKS – Ox York Inn and Restaurant

Ox York Inn and Restaurant – 29 US Highway 6 – Galeton Pa,  814-435-2515 –

Cherry Springs S.P.
Ox York Inn Cabins by the stream
Cherry Springs S.P.

Motel and Cabins Ox York Inn and Restaurant

This is our motel or cabin pick for where to stay when photographing at Cherry Springs State Park. We like the cabins because you can sit outside right on the large stream that runs behind them. It is also the first motel/cabin rental that you will find when coming out of the southern route to route 6 from the park. Ken and Megan will make you feel so at home when you arrive to start your photography journey.

Tell them we sent you. After a good night’s rest, head over to the restaurant for a delicious, filling, hot breakfast at a really good price. Grab some of that coffee to go before you head out to the park around dusk to start your night photography adventure. It’s super tasty. We took many cups to go as part of our night’s preparations. P.S. Looks like a pretty cool bar to hang out in too.

Cherry Springs S.P.
Ox York Inn Restaurant and Bar

Camping – Ox York Inn also offers camping accommodations. Give them a call to get some campground information or make a motel or cabin reservation.

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