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Itinerary for A Summer Day at Lowell

Itinerary for Summer Day at Lowell

The weather is warming up and the days are getting longer. Since October, Lowell has been on its fall opening schedule: closed Monday and Tuesday, open noon to 10pm Wednesday through Sunday. As we shift into the summer season, the observatory will be open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from noon to 10pm, with special later opening hours Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 11pm. Lowell Observatory will transition to summer visiting hours on May 27th, 2024. Read on to learn more about this change, as well as an itinerary for the best way to spend a summer day at Lowell!

☀ 11:45am | Enjoy the View from Mars Hill Lookout

After driving up the winding road that leads to the observatory, you and your group pull off onto the scenic overlook located just outside of the observatory’s entrance. You step out of the car and the air is crisp and cool, the Sun is shining, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. You enjoy a sweeping view of downtown Flagstaff and snap some group photos.


☀ 12:00pm |  Purchase Tickets at Steele Visitor Center

You get back in the car and drive through a pair of pillars on either side of the road, one of which reads “Lowell Observatory.” The other features the planetary symbols of each planet in our solar system — including little Pluto, of course! You pull into the parking lot, park, and then head to the Steele Visitor Center on foot. You take a moment to admire a sculpture of planet Mars in front of the building, which also functions as a giant kaleidoscope. 

Once inside the visitor center, you’re greeted by the friendly face of a Visitor Experience Associate (VEA) at the front desk. They help you purchase general admission tickets for the whole group, and everyone gets a map and a visitor sticker to wear on their shirt. Printed on the back of the map is a schedule of the day’s programming, including talks, tours, open houses, and evening stargazing. The VEA tells you that the Rotunda Museum has just opened its doors, and it’s a great way to get some insight into Lowell’s history. 


☀ 12:30pm | Solar Viewing & Open House at the GODO
12:30pm – 6:30pm (weather permitting)

The path to the GODO begins near a small cluster of trees. You and your group walk at a leisurely pace along the path. When you arrive at the GODO, its garage-like front door is rolled open to reveal the telescopes inside. You’re greeted by an Educator in a red polo shirt, who directs you to the Solar Telescope, a small, portable device.

After each member of your group has a chance to look at the Sun, you wander inside of the GODO’s main structure. The telescopes aren’t ready to view the stars just yet, but it’s amazing to get an up-close look at them in the light of day. A nearby Educator explains that when it’s time for viewing, the entire structure rolls back on a rail system to expose the telescopes to the night sky. They also tell you that telescope viewing begins around sunset every night as long as the weather cooperates, but tonight’s forecast shows perfectly clear skies.

You check the programming schedule and see that the 45-minute Lowell Tour is starting in the Giclas Lecture Hall at 1pm, so you spend some more time milling around the GODO plaza and checking out exhibits before you head back down to the visitor center.



☀ 1:00pm – 1:45pm | Lowell Tour
45 minutes – 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm

You return to the Steele Visitor Center and enter the Giclas Lecture Hall, where you join some other groups of guests in the rows of seats. Another educator is there to greet your group, and you chat as more guests filter in.

When the tour begins, the Educator gives you a presentation that includes a brief overview of Lowell’s rich history. This includes the story of the observatory’s founder, the brilliant and eccentric Percival Lowell. You learn that Percival (referred to affectionately by some observatory staff members as “Uncle Percy”) was among the first astronomers to muse about the possibility of alien life on Mars.

After the presentation comes the walking portion of the tour, which takes you on a short walk to the Clark Telescope Dome. Once inside, you spend some time admiring the dome’s intricate wooden interior and taking in the sight of the towering 24″ Clark Refractor itself. The Educator guiding your tour tells you about the history of the telescope and its dome.



☀ 1:50pm – 2:20pm | Rotunda Museum Open House
12pm – 1:45pm, 3pm – Close

After the Lowell Tour concludes, you make your way back to the center of campus to check out the exhibits in the Rotunda Museum. Suspended from the ceiling of its dome is the Saturn Lamp, a stained-glass light fixture crafted by the Los Angeles Light Company in 1918.

Other noteworthy items on display in this venerable building are Percival Lowell’s first telescope, the blink comparator Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto (recently returned from the Smithsonian!), and an interactive OmniGlobe.


☀ 2:30pm – 3:15pm | Story of Pluto Tour*
45 minutes – 2:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:30pm, 5:30pm

Your educator comes to meet you at the Rotunda Museum as you finish up looking at the exhibits. As the tour begins, you learn about the groundbreaking discovery that put Lowell Observatory on the map. 

You also learn about Clyde Tombaugh, the tenacious 23-year-old Kansanite who discovered Pluto in 1930, and see the very telescope he used to find it! 

*Due to the small size of the Pluto Dome, this tour is limited to 30 people.


☀ 3:30pm – 3:55pm | Watch “Surviving in the Final Frontier” in the Steele Visitor Center
25 minutes – 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:30pm, 8pm, 9pm

You head back to the Steele Visitor Center and have a seat in the Giclas Lecture hall to watch ‘Totality!,’ a film that explores why a total solar eclipse has such a profound influence on those who witness it. It’s not just about the rare occurrence of the sun, the moon and the earth being in perfect alignment; it’s about coming to terms with this mesmerizing phenomena.


☀ 4:00pm – 4:45 | Putnam Collection Center Open House
5pm – 7:30pm daily

After the film ends, you head to the Putnam Collection Center for an open house. There, you browse a selection of fascinating exhibits, including Vesto Slipher’s spectrograph and Percival Lowell’s 1911 Stevens-Duryea automobile “Big Red.”

There are also rotating exhibits like Lowell’s Lunar Legacy and the Lampland Diaries. You can also catch a glimpse of the archive conservatory, which houses thousands of precious artifacts from our history, through a floor-to-ceiling window.



☀ 5:00pm  | Head Off-Campus for Dinner

Once the Sun begins to set, the telescopes will be open for evening stargazing! Since general admission tickets give you the ability to come and go as you like, you and your group decide to leave campus to grab some dinner. Careful to hold on to your visitor sticker, you get back in the car and head to downtown Flagstaff to find somewhere to eat (pssst — you can find a list of local restaurants here).


7:00pm – Return to Lowell for Evening Stargazing

The Sun has set and the stars have begun to appear in Flagstaff’s pristine dark skies — which means it’s time for some stargazing! Before heading back to campus through the visitor center, you put on gloves, hats, and warm jackets to stay comfortable as the temperature drops (you heard that nighttime temps can drop below 30 degrees!). The VEA at the front desk tells you that the six state-of-the-art telescopes at the GODO are now open for viewing. When you head to the path that leads to the observation deck, you realize that the path you saw earlier in the day glows in the dark! When you arrive at the GODO, you and your group have an opportunity to view different objects through each of the GODO’s telescopes, including one that projects images onto a screen.

Once you’ve had your fill of incredible views at the GODO, you head to the historic Clark Telescope Dome to view celestial objects as they were seen by Percival Lowell himself in the late 1800’s. You and your group are thankful that you packed warm clothes — the telescope domes aren’t heated, as heat waves would create interference in the telescopes’ lenses.


☀ 10:30pm | Shop for Souvenirs in the Starry Skies Shop

Satisfied with your day at Lowell, you return to the Steele Visitor Center to browse the Starry Skies Shop’s selection of products. It seems to have something for everyone, and each member of your group is able to find the perfect item to commemorate their amazing day at the observatory. After checking out in the giftshop, you take in the view of downtown Flagstaff’s glimmering city lights (which are in compliance with local dark sky ordinances, of course!) as you drive back down Mars Hill.