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“Watching for things that go bump in the night”

Kitt Peak National Observatory
Ranked #1 of 1 things to do in Sells
Certificate of Excellence
More attraction details
Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: Located 56 miles southwest of Tucson on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, the observatory is a working research station situated high above on Kitt Peak.
Useful Information: Activities for older children
Reviewed 13 April 2014

We stopped at the observatory on our way from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to Saguaro National Park. The observatory has three guided tours. Each tour features a different telescope. Tours begin at 10:00, 11:30 and 1:30 in the visitor center. We arrived too late for the first tour so we took the opportunity to tour of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope on our own while we waited for the 11:30 tour to begin. It was a cloudy day so no one was working at the telescope. This was still an interesting self guided tour as there are very good static displays explaining the science behind the telescope and its construction and operation. Even though there was no one on-site, you could still see how things might work if the sun was out.

Our 11:30 tour of the 2.1 meter telescope started at the visitor center. There is a fee for the tours, a single tour is $7.75 for adults, 13 years and above, children ages 7 to 12 pay $3.00 and children 0 to 6 years can tour for free. The three tour package is a bargain. Adults pay $9.75 and children pay $3.35.

Our docent, Andy, gave an excellent overview of the observatory, its history and mission to the six of us who signed up for the tour. As we walked from the visitor center to the telescope Andy pointed out several of the 22 telescopes and discussed some the projects the researchers are working on. We were also cautioned to be quiet as we toured the grounds. The bulk of the people who work here are sleeping. Once inside the Telescope's dome, Andy used a model to show how it works to explore deep space. You do not have to be an astronomer or a fan of astronomy to appreciate this place and its significance.

When the tour was over there was still time to check out the big Mayhill 4-meter telescope. From the telescope's visitor gallery you get a 360 degree view of the observatory and a good portion of southern Arizona.

The visitor center is operated by the Tohono O'odham tribe as the observatory is on reservation land. This makes for an interesting gift shop, seeing deep space and Native American traditions share shelf space. You can picnic here but there are only a few snacks and drinks available for sale. 

This is a not to be missed experience and we highly recommend spending a half to a full day here.

3  Thank Davis K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Astro85719, Manager at Kitt Peak National Observatory, responded to this reviewResponded 14 April 2014

Clarification, the Kitt Peak Visitor Center is not run by the Tohono O'odham Tribe. It is run by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and the National Science Foundation. The Observatory however is on Tohono O'odham lands.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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185 - 189 of 339 reviews

Reviewed 11 April 2014 via mobile

We visited Kitt peak's 4 meter telescope onservatory after the last tour had been completed.

The remoteness of the site makes it important to plan to either bring food or eat prior to going.

Be prepared for cold temperatures, though it was 82 when we were there. There were also impressive wind gusts.

I loved the tremendous views from the observation area. My partner enjoyed the impressive technology.

There is a picnic area, open until 3. While we didn't get there in time to see it, I'm sure views are impressive.

First tour was about 9 and the last at 1:30, and the road is closed at 4.

1  Thank Claudia E
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 21 March 2014

I "discovered" Kitt Peak National Observatory & National Solar Observatory while reading a AAA Highroads magazine. My thought was, even though I'm not knowledgeable on astronomy, who wouldn't want to see the heavens through different eyes. Wow, what an experience. My husband and I along with a friend, made a special trip to Tucson to be able to visit Kitt Peak. We spent the entire day there doing all three docent-led tours (so we could learn about the different types of telescopes) and stayed for the nightly observing program. Experiencing all three day tours in one day had long moments of redundancy but how else to learn about the telescopes without multiple trips? The highlight, as should be expected, was viewing the heavens through a refracting telescope with our own eyes during the night observing program. Even though we were on the mountain during a night of hazy skies, I saw the rings around Jupiter and many other heavenly objects. Be excited. Daytime tours require a bit of walking and at altitude can be difficult for some. The nightly observing portion does require you prepare with warm clothing (hats, gloves, coats, etc), but this is as advertised. We found our docent for the day tours to be excited about sharing his knowledge and the staff during the evening viewing, knew their stuff. No question from the visitors went without an answer. The three of us would do the nightly observing portion again and again always wishing for clear skies.

5  Thank SandJDC72
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 8 March 2014

Visited there with a group for the night program recently. We all enjoyed it, but as they warn - dress warmly. We were all bundled with coats, hats and gloves and got very cold at the end of the outdoor viewing. Thought it was very good overall and certainly an unusual experience.

Thank Footlover78
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 8 February 2014

I had booked a star-gazing tour on Mt. Lemmon (north of Tucson), which got canceled due to cloudy conditions. I went up Kitt Peak the next day, and most of the time we were in patchy fog. Yes, you can get tours to the telescopes, but the docent I had was not very good....not much science background, and I'm sure a motivated teenager with a passion for telescopes could have given a better talk. (You don't have to take a tour, but it's the only way to get inside the telescope buildings). This guy went through the motions, but he wasn't worth the fee, in my opinion. However, I had lunch in my car (it was too cold to be outside in the fog and wind) at the picnic area, and realized I was a stone's throw from one of the radio telescopes, and as I sat there it began to snow. Pretty cool, snow in AZ at 7000'.
By the way: there's not much in Sells, AZ (closest town), so don't plan on fine dining there.

1  Thank Yvonne C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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