Enjoying the full moon and the gorgeous, huge harvest moon is no problem as long as the weather cooperates. But star gazing can be a bit of a challenge in the Chicago area because even if the sky is clear city lights can make it harder to pick out some constellations. Local parks that have open fields and no gates or bright parking lights are good spots for star gazing, as are Lake Michigan beaches that don’t have parking restrictions. However, here are five good places to go when the local beach or park won’t do.
Dearborn Observatory
2131 Tech Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
(847) 491-7650
www.physics.northwestern.edu

For a very special star gazing experience, visit the Dearborn Observatory on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. The building is historic, dating back to 1889. Its huge refracting telescope is turned to observe different sections of the sky. The observatory is open to the public on Fridays, but reservations are needed for the first hour. Walk-ins are OK during the second hour, and viewing is free. Summer hours are 9 – 11 p.m.

Hackney’s In Lake Zurich
880 N. Old Rand Road at U.S. Highway 12
Lake Zurich, IL 60047
(847) 438-2103
www.hackneys.net 

Turn the evening into a fun night out by driving over to Hackney’s in the northwest suburb of Lake Zurich. The restaurant is part of the longtime family-owned Chicago-area chain known for its burgers and onion rings. But this Hackney’s is on 11 acres, so sit on the patio to overlook the vast grounds and ponds, and to gaze at the stars.

Horseshoe Mound Preserve
1679 N. Blackjack Road
Galena, IL 61036
(815) 858-9100
www.jdcf.org 

So many scenic vistas lie among the rolling hills of Jo Daviess County, about three hours from Chicago in the northwest corner of Illinois, that star gazing is often a scheduled event with experts. However, visitors to Horseshoe Mound, a 40-acre preserve operated by the Jo Daviess County Foundation, don’t have to wait for an event. They can just bring their own telescope and sky chart to check out what to look for on a particular date. And yes, it is romantic. By the way, Horseshoe Mound is high enough that its scopes pick up views across the Mississippi River to Iowa and across the Illinois border to Wisconsin. If you’re in the region on a Saturday, stop at the Planetary Studies Foundation in nearby Elizabeth. Check here for PSF museum information and events.

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Adler Planetarium
1300 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-7827
www.adlerplanetarium.org 

With the world-famous Adler Planetarium in Chicago, a visit during Adler After Dark for fun and to tour the Doane Observatory is a natural star gazing opportunity. The bonus is that the Adler and the Duane Observatory are at the eastern-most end of the Museum Campus’ peninsula, so views of the night sky looking east over Lake Michigan should be great. Click here for information on the Duane Observatory. The Adler also does “‘Scopes in the City,” a program that brings telescopes and experts to parking lots and open spaces of city parks, schools and churches for up-close views of the moon, stars and planets. Click here to see which neighborhood is next.

Fox Valley Astronomical Society Star Parties
4038 Kaneville Road
Geneva, IL 60134
(331) 442-4799
www.fvastro.org

West suburban Geneva is a cute town on the Fox River that makes a fun getaway visit, and makes an evening boat ride on the river a way to gaze at the moon and stars. But if serious about sky gazing, check out the free public “Star Parties” held by the Fox Valley Astronomical Society. It’s a club that holds member meetings and also does monthly public gatherings at the Peck Farm Park, a Geneva Park district property. The Star Parties are usually (but not always) held in the Peck Farm’s parking lot on the last Saturday of the month, starting with a topical presentation in the barn half an hour before moving to the parking lot with telescopes. Midsummer gatherings are usually at 8 p.m. in the barn and 8:30 in the lot. The park stays open until 10 p.m.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.