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Visiting the Pine Mountain Observatory

Note: Please do not use comments on this page to request tours. Call the PMO phone number instead, and leave a message if there is no answer.

Can the Public Visit Pine Mountain Observatory?

YES! We welcome visitors on Friday and Saturday evenings (we’re closed Sundays) from Memorial Day weekend in May through the last Friday/Saturday in September, weather permitting. Although we’re open on all these public nights (except in case of emergency), you should choose a night with favorable weather and mostly clear skies if possible. By looking at the information and camera images on our weather page, you should not normally need to call us in advance for onsite weather information. “Dark Moon” weekends are best. Full Moon weekends are least favorable. To see the Moon itself in the early evening, the weekend closest to First Quarter Moon will be best. A Moon phase calculator is available to help you plan your visit. Additionally, you may enjoy an observatory virtual tour.

Please let us know a day or more in advance if you plan to bring a group of more than eight people by calling (541) 382-8331, as we may be able to obtain an additional volunteer to assist with your group. We may be able to arrange visits at other times by advance reservation.

Programs commence at 8:45 p.m. (about sunset) through mid-summer, then move back to 8:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. start times by late August and September, as darkness falls earlier. Late arrivals after 10:00 p.m. are not recommended. Depending on conditions, telescopes may be shut down or put away by 11:00 p.m. or even earlier, however on clear moonless nights the 24-inch telescope will almost always be open until midnight. We regret that it’s usually not practical to open or re-open telescope viewing late at night if initially poor weather conditions improve, but groups camping can inquire in advance.

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How Much Does it Cost?

To defray expenses and improve our outreach program, we encourage a $5.00 donation per person. Donation boxes are provided in the gift shop and telescope domes. The fee for group tours on non-public nights is $125 for the first 20 and $5:00 per person more for groups greater than 20. Weather-related cancellations/rescheduling are allowed with notice by the early afternoon of the tour date.

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Where is Pine Mountain Observatory?

PMO is located 34 miles southeast of Bend, in Central Oregon. Take State Highway 20 east from Bend, toward Burns. 26 miles from Bend, just beyond the tiny Millican store (CLOSED) turn on the dirt road and follow it to the top of Pine Mountain, about 8 miles. This drive requires about an hour from Bend. Be sure you have enough fuel to return to Bend and be sure to bring warm clothing, food and water, as there is usually no food or water service onsite.

Google Map to Pine Mountain Observatory

ODOT Highway Information

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What can I Expect When I Visit Pine Mountain Observatory?

After parking, walk past the kiosk and go to the greeting center/gift shop. Here you will be given information concerning the evening’s activities and how to proceed. A large tent is positioned directly across from the greeting center. Programs in the tent may be offered on selected nights, but if not, please be sure to still ask us your questions about astronomy, about the PMO site, and about what sky objects will be featured during your visit.

Visitors are provided with a tour of the large telescopes, which includes a refurbished 15-inch scope that had been out of service for several years, but was restored to service in 2014. Shortly after sunset, viewing of the moon (if above the horizon) and bright planets begins, clear skies permitting. As the sky darkens, tour guides show visitors objects through the various telescopes, and a guided binocular tour will be available on some nights. They also point out a variety of celestial objects, including constellations, visible with the naked eye.

To enhance your experience, tour guides explain in detail about what you see. Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated. Our 24-inch telescope is the prime visual instrument for visitor viewing. It also has a CCD camera attached to a “piggybacked” 8-inch telescope to create wide-field images. [A number of these images have been posted on the blog.] Often, several smaller portable telescopes will be available nearby. The 32” telescope down the path to the east is used for research work Sunday through Thursday. It is configured with a camera at its prime focus which precludes visual observing.

Once again, check in at the greeting center/gift shop for a selection of DVDs and books about astronomy, plus many other souvenirs and educational items. We plan to offer a free handout sheet about general astronomy, as well as projects that you can do to observe the sky. Depending on available volunteers, the gift shop may be open for only a short time, and will usually close by 9:30 or 10 p.m., so arrive early.

When skies are clear, PMO guides may stay up all night viewing! Frequently, they set up their personal telescopes for visitor use.  Some portable scopes are as large or larger than the ones in the domes! Amateur astronomers are welcome to bring their own telescopes and binoculars; electrical power is available if needed. If you are bringing up your own viewing equipment, please arrive well before dusk to get set up. Please contact us in advance if you will need to drive inside the gate; vehicle access for telescope setup/removal may not be possible at night.

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Is There a Place to Camp Overnight?

Yes, a primitive Forest Service Campground, open on a first-come-first-served basis is located just across the road from PMO. It is rarely full but you may want to call and inquire how busy the Observatory schedule is, especially during the new moon dates. The camping area consists of 4 drive in sites that can hold trailers up to 27 feet in length, and there are 10 “hike” in sights for tent camping. There are no camping fees. Campground use regulations are the same as any National Forest Camp and are posted.  It has one outhouse, no power hookups, water or trash services. Please “pack it out.” Open fires are regulated by danger levels set by the Forest Service. Fire restrictions are posted in the campground and along the road just past the 3rd cattle guard on the way up. Don’t forget to bring water to drink and extra water to douse campfires.

Please note that the nearest hotels are in Bend, approximately an hour drive from the Observatory.

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What Precautions are Recommended?

PMO is at an elevation of 6,300 feet, therefore temperatures can drop near or below freezing, even on summer nights. Please bring warm clothing.

The buildings are separated by natural mountain terrain and stairs, and the buildings contain stairs. Please wear protective footwear and expect to climb steps. You should bring a SMALL flashlight to help you find your way in the dark; a red colored shield will be required to protect everyone’s night vision. Red cellophane and rubber bands will be available to cover your flashlight. Please no white lights after dark (unless the weather turns bad) and no flash photography after dark.

We welcome children (grade school and up), but small children and infants will probably not be comfortable in this environment. Children should be asked not to wear shoes with lights. We’ll try to have some tape suitable for covering shoe lights if needed.

Please do not enter the fenced-off area near the 32-inch telescope dome except as part of a guided tour. There are some steep slopes in that area, and the telescope(s) may be in use for research.

PMO is a smoke-free University of Oregon campus. Please smoke only in the campground, following any posted Forest Service rules. During the dry season, smoking may only be allowed inside vehicles.

Dogs or other pets should be kept in the campground area whenever possible at night or during busy periods. Dogs are not allowed in the telescope viewing areas at night, except trained service dogs.

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Why Red Lights?

In the dark, the pupils of your eyes open up to admit more light, and your retina also becomes more sensitive. This is what gives you “night vision” so you can see faint objects on the ground and in the sky. If the eyes encounter a white light, the pupils close down again and may take twenty minutes or more to fully open, and for your retina to regain full sensitivity. At Pine Mountain, we are very protective of night vision. Do not operate any white lights on the hill while observing is in progress. We have red cellophane that you can affix to the front of white flashlights with rubber bands. Gentle red light aimed down will allow you to see your way around, but will not trigger the pupil sensor.

Other tips:  when you arrive on the mountain, turn off your headlights as soon as you park, and do not turn them on again until you are ready to pull out. Keep your smartphone put away (or use well away from telescopes): the screen is actually quite bright in the dark. If your children have sneakers with lights, leave them at home (the shoes, not the kids).

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For Information/Questions or to Schedule Class or Group Visits:

Call 541-382-8331  or contact us via email at

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23 thoughts on “Visiting

  1. Can you accommodate persons with disabilities? Any wheelchair access, or access for someone with a cane and limited mobility?

  2. If you see any images on this website that you especially like (for example the Messier object composites), I can supply full-size versions on request that can be used for non-commercial purposes with credit to PMO. Thanks, Eric

  3. The outhouse in the campground and the one in the parking lot is wheelchair accessible. The path up to the viewing area is gravel and up hill and pretty difficult to navigate so I’d have to say no to the second question. The main viewing telescope (the 24″) is not wheelchair accessible due to the stairs up to the second story and a ladder that is needed to access the eye pieces at the scope itself.

  4. We are thinking about visiting on the weekend of July 4th but it’s a full moon. I know viewing on a full moon is considered the least favorable, but is it still worth the trip? Can we look at the moon itself? Are there less visitors? Thanks.

    1. On July 4 the moon will not be high enough to view until about midnight (a little earlier on the 3rd). There may be fewer visitors, but it’s hard to tell with the holiday; the campground may still be busy. Nonetheless, it might still be worth the trip if the weather is good and you don’t have other good options for visiting PMO. – Thanks, Eric

  5. Will you be open in August during the week for the Perseids meteor shiwers? And us the campground open all week? Thank you!

    1. The campground and observatory grounds will be open, however we’ll only be doing telescope tours on Friday and Saturday (Aug. 14-15 that week). For the Perseid meteors, which peak the morning of the 13th (best between midnight and 4 a.m.), all you need is a reclining chair and some warm clothes.

  6. We have 2 family members that need power to run cpap machines for sleep apnea is it possible to run a small generator in the camp?

    1. We try to discourage generators from use in the camp area as it is a quiet zone but in this instance you may have no choice. The quieter the generator the better (Honda) makes the quietest I have heard. Be prepared for some possible flack from other campers as most visitors come to the area for the dark skies and quiet. Are batteries an option? I know several folks who use 12 volt systems with their cpap systems.

  7. I’m planning on hauling my 8 and 6 year old out to Glass Butte for rock hounding and want to visit the observatory on Saturday night. Do you expect the campground to have many trailers in it this weekend? And isn’t there another primitive campground down the road towards hwy 20?

    1. It is impossible to say how many trailers or visitors there will be. It is Labor Day weekend and the weather will have much to do with how many campers/visitors will be here. Saturday night will be busy if it is clear. There are only 4 drive in spots in the campground that trailers less than 30 feet can accommodate and it is unlikely that they will be open if you arrive late Saturday afternoon.. There is no place for anything longer in the camp area. The good news is there are several dispersed camp areas along the road up to the observatory that you could park the trailer and then drive up for the tour.

  8. I’m confused. When I look into the sky early morning – which bright star/planet is it just below the crescent moon? It seems everywhere on the web, it is saying it’s Venus or Mars but I’m too inexperienced to see or know the difference. Can you please reply soon via email?

    Thanks so much!

  9. Do many folks camp throughout the week, or is it primarily a weekend spot? I want to bring my small trailer, but with only a few spots I’m wondering if they will already be filled when I get there on Friday. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Some folks do camp throughout the week, and we cannot normally guarantee/reserve spots. Probably best to call the site manager on Friday before coming, and arrive early. A large group is already scheduled for June 16-18.

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