Observatory Landscaping

Bare Dark Sky Observatory

COVID-19 Policy Information: Masks are optional and social distancing is still encouraged. If you are feeling ill or have tested positive for COVID-19, please stay home and let us know so your tickets may be refunded, minus a small Eventbrite fee. 

*Gift certificates are available and make the perfect gift! For information or questions please email observatory@mayland.edu

Winter Weather Alert- Ticket holders are asked to check their email for event updates 36 hours prior to their viewing time for any weather updates – we reserve the right to cancel the event due to slick, icy, or snowy conditions at the park & road conditions leading to the observatory hill. Unfortunately, if the weather is below 36 degrees, the telescope electronics will not function properly and may result in the cancellation of the event.


The Bare Dark Sky Observatory, named for Warren and Larissa Bare, is located at the Mayland Earth to Sky Park in Yancey County. The observatory provides a opportunity to experience the wonders of the universe while providing astronomy students with hands-on learning. The observatory sits at an elevation of 2,736 feet and offers a 360-degree view.

Observatory Roof Closed

Visitor Information

Join us for an evening of stargazing as you’ve never seen before! Depending on the time of year and the moon phase, visitors will be able to view the moon, planets, and stars through our 34″ diameter mirror on our custom-built Newtonian telescope, as well as our smaller 14″ mirror Meade planetary telescope. With the assistance of our two observatory Managers, visitors will spend two hours viewing and learning about the night sky.

Parking is now available at the Observatory, including a handicap parking space close to the building. Please arrive promptly at your designated time to the parking lot located at the Observatory. Dress comfortably for nighttime weather, as it is sometimes chilly in the mountain air. Closed-toed shoes and flashlights are highly recommended.


Sam ScopeBare Dark Sky Observatory Sam Scope

Named the “Sam Scope” in memory of Samuel Phillips, the telescope is an f/3.6 StarStructure Newtonian telescope, with a 34 inch (0.86 meters) mirror. It is the largest telescope in the Southeast US dedicated to public use.

The Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, provided funding for the fabrication of the telescope. To see our telescope mirror, go to http://www.loptics.com/projects/projects.html and scroll about halfway down the page to see our “34″ f/3.6 visual Newtonian.”



Terms and Conditions:

  • Please social distance as much as possible
  • From the general parking area, be prepared to walk up an inclined pathway with some steps as you make your way through the moon gardens to the Observatory building. From the handicap parking space, access to the Observatory is via a sidewalk and ramp.
  • In order to look through the large Sam telescope, you will need to be able to climb two to three steps of a rolling safety ladder.
  • You will be outside the entire viewing time. The Observatory will not be open during inclement weather (rain, snow, clouds, etc.). You will be notified via email of any inclement weather or cancellation 24 to 36 hours in advance.
  • Please note that you will be at the Observatory and Earth to Sky Park at your own risk and will hold Mayland Community College and the Mayland Community College Foundation harmless in the event of an incident.  Mayland Community College is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged articles.
  • Please use caution as the terrain is uneven.
  • For more information review the FAQ page.

For questions regarding the Bare Dark Sky Observatory please email: observatory@mayland.edu

Observatory Roof Open

Bare Dark Sky Observatory Hours and Fees:

Community Visitors:

Adult Tickets: $20.00

Child Ticket: $5.00 (12 and under).

Viewings are scheduled depending on the moon cycle and sunset times for two-hour blocks. This is ideal for families, individuals, and out-of-town visitors wishing to look through the telescope. To view times and days, please click on the reservation link below.

Reservations here.

Group or Private Rental Rate: $150 per hour with a two-hour minimum.

Group or private rentals are scheduled by e-mailing observatory@mayland.edu or by calling 828-766-1277. These rentals are for groups with a maximum of 18 people for up to a 4-hour block. 

For the latest observatory information please call 828-766-1214.

*The Observatory will not be open during inclement weather or on cloudy nights. In the case of inclement weather, ticket holders are notified 36 hours prior to the event of any changes. 

Observatory Roof Open

Visiting When the Observatory is Closed

Stargazers are welcome at the Earth to Sky Park when the Observatory is closed. However, caution is necessary. Please remember that lighting is kept to a minimum so that we preserve our dark skies. Bring a flashlight and be prepared to walk on uneven terrain. If the gate is closed, please park just outside the gate, without blocking the gate – it must be allowed to open. Walk around the gate on foot. You are welcome to bring your own telescope and set up on the flat ground in any area of the park.
The Observatory has 8 telescope viewing stations located around the building. Visitors are welcome to set up their own telescopes at the various stations, even when the Observatory is open. However, Observatory staff will not be available to provide instruction on personal telescopes and only those who have purchased tickets to the Observatory will be allowed to take part in the events in the Observatory.
At this time, when the Earth to Sky Park gate is closed, access to the Observatory and telescope viewing stations is restricted. There are many places close to the gate where star gazers can set up chairs and telescopes with a good view of the sky.


  • The GPS coordinates are 35°55′52″N 082°11′03″W
  • The physical address is: 66 Energy Exchange Dr, Burnsville, NC 28714
  • Detailed directions are available on the Mayland Earth to Sky Park page.

Suggested Places to Stay

No Camping is Allowed in the Earth to Sky Park

Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel, Spruce Pine – 15 minutes away – https://www.blueridgeboutiquehotel.com/
Terrell House Bed and Breakfast, Burnsville – 17 minutes away https://www.terrellhousebandb.com/burnsville/
Nu Wray Inn, Burnsville – 17 minutes away http://www.nuwrayinn.com/
Carolina Country Inn, Burnsville – 17 minutes away http://www.carolinacountryinn.com/
High Pastures, Burnsville – 15 minutes away  http://www.highpastures.org/
Richmond Inn Bed and Breakfast, Spruce Pine – 20 minutes away https://www.richmondinn.us/
Switzerland Inn, Little Switzerland – 28 minutes away https://switzerlandinn.com/
Toe River Campground, Burnsville – 16 minutes away http://www.toerivercampground.com/


See current conditions.

To find out about upcoming events, please call 828-766-1214.

IDA Dark Sky Association image: Milky Way galaxy as viewed from night sky

International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) Certification

The Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina have stood as silent witnesses to the uninterrupted, nightly rain of starlight for nearly a half-billion years, but artificial light now threatens this nightly show. In honor of notable local efforts to preserve the natural nighttime landscape of western North Carolina, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) designated the Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Observatory as the first IDA-certified Star Park in the southeastern United States. The Blue Ridge Astronomy Group (BRAG), a local amateur astronomy society, was instrumental in supporting MCC’s application to the Dark Sky Places Program.

The MCC Bare Dark Sky Observatory is the first program participant:

  • located in the southeastern United States
  • operated under the auspices of an institution of higher learning
  • includes outdoor lighting that consists entirely of fully-shielded, low-color-temperature light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures at the time the IDA award is conferred.

The Milky Way

The International Dark Sky Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona, advocates for the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public on the subject of night sky conservation and by promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. For more information about the International Dark Sky Places Program, visit http://www.darksky.org/night-sky-conservation/dark-sky-places.

The Mayland Earth to Sky Park and Bare Dark Sky Observatory’s outdoor lighting consists entirely of fully-shielded, low-color-temperature light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures. Jon Wilmesherr, MCC Director of Learning Resources Center and Distance Education, and who led the effort to secure the IDA award, is optimistic that the Park will serve as a model for lighting conservation and highlighting the urgent need for the preservation of the natural night sky. Wilmesherr retrofitted all the existing outdoor lighting at the park with new state-of-the-art Cree LED light bulbs, each using only 6 watts of electricity. The lights fit all the optimum specifications for brightness, color temperature, and low wattage. Cree is a North Carolina company with headquarters in Durham. 

For additional information about the Mayland Earth to Sky Park designation please visit: http://darksky.org/idsp/parks/blueridge/

Stargazing Guides