photo of a meteor shower by Nick Iliasov on Unsplash

Where to See the Leonid Meteor Shower in Arizona

Visible every November, the Leonid meteor shower is considered a major one, with about 15 meteors visible per hour. The Leonids, meteors visible in the constellation Leo, are some of the fastest meteors we know of, traveling at the speed of 44 miles per second. They tend to be very bright, and sometimes colorful, putting on a dazzling show usually between midnight and early morning each November.

This year, in 2020, the Leonid meteor shower is active between November 6-30, according to NASA Science. This is when our earth passes through the debris trail left behind by broken comet particles and asteroids. These particles interact with the earth’s atmosphere, and as they burn up they leave the bright streaks of light in our skies.

The comet responsible for the Leonids is called 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, discovered independently in 1865 and 1866, by Ernst Tempel and Horace Tuttle, hence the long name.

Watch the Leonid Meteor Shower

Now that you know where it originates from, you might wonder when and where can you see it.

Actually, if you live outside of major cities, you can see the meteor shower from your own back yard. Go out between midnight and dawn, and look towards the east. If you know where Leo (the constellation) is, look towards it. But regardless, you should be able to see it everywhere.

But what if you live in a major city, or worse, metropolitan area, like me? The light pollution of the city makes it difficult to see this spectacle. It’s bright enough that you might be able to see some of it, but for a great show, you need to leave the city. The good news is, Arizona is home to a few dark sky destinations, some even close to Phoenix.

Dark Sky Sanctuaries

Arizona is home to the first-ever designated Dark Sky Place, and a few others chosen over the years. In fact, the state helped start the dark sky preservation movement and the International Dark Sky Association in 2001.

The state has six of the sixteen of certified dark sky communities in the US. To be a certified dark sky community, these towns or cities had to show a commitment to the preservation of the night sky, with fewer lights on at night, education about the importance of keeping lights off.

The state also has 10 certified Dark Night Parks, including National and State Parks, where the sky is at its darkest, offering the perfect backdrop for the meteor shower.

We also have quite a few Observatories to get a closer look and learn more about the night sky in general, and meteor showers at this time of the year.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Park

I’ve never seen the night sky so clear than I did the first time I camped at Sunset Crater. Though the campground is closed for the winter this time of the year, you can still drive into the area to see it, especially if you stay nearby in Flagstaff. Drive in the area midnight and sunrise for an amazing night show. Look towards the east to see the Leonid meteor shower.

Wupatki National Monument

Moonrise over the desert vistas view from Wupatki NM photo (c) Győző Egyed
You can watch the Leonid meteor shower from Wupatki, for example…

On the same road you drive to Sunset Crater, you can drive a bit farther, and you’ll reach the ancient ruins at Wupatki National Monument. This is another dark sky park, where the show is at its brightest, and clearest. Drive up close to one of the ruins, sit and watch the show agains the silhouette of the ruins.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Or, you can drive to Walnut Canyon instead, for the same amazing show agains the backdrop of the canyon and its cliff dwellings. Bundle up and sit on a bench along the rim trail for a great show.


But if it’s too cold at night to drive out into these National Parks, stay in Flagstaff, and walk out for a few minutes into your yard or patio, chances are, you’ll see the Leonids, since Flagstaff is one of the dark sky communities in Arizona.

The city of Flagstaff in northern Arizona was the first one to have this designation, in 2001. Home toLowell Observatory, the city has outdoor lighting regulations, reducing over-lighting, use of yellow light instead of the brighter white wherever possible, and shielding of the necessary lights. The city still glows at night, but not as bright as it is expected of one of its size. Which makes it a good place to watch for the Leonid meteor show.

Grand Canyon National Park

As you would expect, the Grand Canyon National Park also has dark skies, as well, perfect for viewing. Stay in one of the hotels on the South Rim, and walk outside for a few minutes right before the sun rises. Or, if you stayed up late, look up into the sky after midnight to see the Leonids this month.


Designated as a dark sky community in 2014, Sedona is one of the best places to enjoy the night sky against the silhouette of the gorgeous red rock formations. Proud of its designation, the well-known tourist destination educates its residents and visitors of the importance of the dark skies. If you are visiting Sedona, look out into the night sky towards the east to see the meteor shower against the silhouettes of the red rocks the town is famous for.

Village of Oak Creek

A community just eleven miles from Sedona, the Village of Oak Creek, also known as Big Park, is home to mostly retirees and vacation-houses. This makes it relatively easy to keep the dark skies. Designated as a dark sky community in 2016, the village is one of the best places where education of its population about light pollution made a significant difference in keeping its skies dark. If you are in the area, it is one of the best places in Arizona to watch the Leonids (other than the parks, of course).

Camp Verde

Designated as a dark skies community on 2018, Camp Verde is another great place to watch the Leonids this month. Though it took the skeptical community four years of convincing, now Camp Verde is a champion of dark skies, bringing greater awareness to the issue of light pollution.


Another community in the Verde Valley, Cottonwood was designated a dark sky community in 2019. Originally a farming community, the town has grown in the past decades, but was able to keep its dark skies. If you are on in the vicinity, spend the night in Cottonwood, and watch the Leonids from here.

Fountain Hills

I was surprised to find Fountain Hills, on the outskirts of Phoenix, on the list of dark skies sanctuaries. Though close to Phoenix, they are separated from the worst of the city’s light pollution by the McDowell Mountains. The town’s residents always appreciates the dark nights in their neighborhoods. It was dark enough that I remember having star parties in Fountain Hills when the town was still small.

But even as the town grew, its residents didn’t want to lose their night sky, so they formed the Fountain Hills Dark Skies Association, educating the community about the importance of dark skies and smart lighting. And they got the town designated as a Dark Sky Community in 2018.

If you are in the Phoenix area, it is the easiest place to go to see the Leonid Meteor shower. Go just before dawn, sit by the fountain that gave the town its name, and look out towards the east sky.

Your Own Back Yard, No Matter Where You Are

While it is true that you will see more of them and they may show up brighter, it turns out the Leonids are bright enough to show up even in the most light-polluted cityscape. I can attest to this, since I saw one when I went outside around 4 am, in Phoenix. With my neighbor’s light shining too bright in the background. In one of the brightest cities in the Southwest.

If you can, it’s still worth going outside in a dark sky place to enjoy a bright night spectacle of the Leonid meteor shower. But if you can’t make it, walk outside after dark, or early morning if you wake up early; no guarantee, but you will most likely see at least one or a few.

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