The Great Lakes encircle Michigan, so Michigan’s coastline is surrounded in near total darkness, making it a top spot in the United States for stargazing. Michigan offers six dark sky preserves and three internationally designated Dark Sky Parks. While you’ll find other places great for stargazing in Michigan, especially in the Upper Peninsula, this article focuses on those areas named explicitly as dark sky preserves or International Dark Sky Parks.
Since getting engaged in stargazing involves some late nights, sometimes it’s easiest to plan to stay overnight. For that reason, I’ve mentioned camping options and other accommodations at each park. While I listed dark sky preserves and then International Dark Sky Parks, they’re in no particular order within each category.
1. Lake Hudson Recreation Area
Nestled in the green, rolling Irish Hills of Lenawee County in southeastern lower Michigan, you’ll find the Lake Hudson Recreation Area. In 1993, the area became Michigan’s first dark sky preserve. The site is approximately 2,796 acres, encompassing the 600-acre Lake Hudson.
The preserve offers low light, using special light fixtures with motion sensors to minimize light pollution. While this park doesn’t have strict light usage rules, they remind guests about minimizing lights at campsites and in their cars. Two of the best places to set up to view the night sky in the preserve are the beach or picnic parking areas, as you won’t find as many people in the evening.
If you want to maximize your dark sky viewing, they have a semi-modern campground with 50 campsites with electrical service. Unfortunately, the restrooms are vault toilets, and you won’t find showers. Instead, the water is via a hand pump. You’ll also find a semi-modern cabin with a lake view that sleeps three.
Pro Tip: Astronomer’s Forecast
Check out the Clear Sky Chart to determine the best time to view the night sky at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The chart provides hour-by-hour information on factors like darkness and cloud cover so that you’ll know the best viewing times to see galaxies and planets with your telescope.
2. Negwegon State Park
Situated on U.S. Highway 23, between Alpena and Harrisville on Lake Huron, Negwegon State Park offers 4,118 acres of undeveloped land, perfect for stargazing. If you’re looking to lay on the beach and watch the stars, they provide a mile-long sandy beach on Lake Huron.
The park features four hike-in rustic campsites open from April through November. The campsite hikes are one and two miles from the main parking lot.
While you’re in the area, a fun daytime activity while you’re waiting for the sun to set is the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, about 20 miles north of the park. They have 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, and admission is free.
Pro Tip: Sandy Roads
When you visit Negwegon State Park, be aware that the access roads are frequently sandy, and you may need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to enter.
3. Rockport State Recreation Area
Presque Isle County
Situated on the shores of Lake Huron, north of Alpena, the Rockport State Recreation Area is 4,237 acres and is the perfect destination for stargazers. The recreation area, along with Negwegon State Park and Thompson’s Harbor State Park, has some of the lowest measured light pollution in the Great Lakes. In addition, since the park is under dark sky protection, it’s a great place to view stars at night with the naked eye. Often visible are the swirls of the Milky Way. You may even see the aurora borealis, or northern lights.
During the day, amateur archaeologists and dinosaur-loving kids will enjoy the abandoned limestone quarry where they can dig for over 400-million-year-old fossils. In addition, the kids will love that you’re allowed to remove up to 25 pounds of fossils from the park each year. This park is Michigan’s 100th state park and is mostly undeveloped.
Pro Tip: No Camping Gear, No Problem
If you’d like to go camping, but don’t want to invest in all the gear, try renting one of the Michigan state park overnight options. They have everything from geodesic domes to safari-style tents and yurts.
4. Thompson’s Harbor State Park
Presque Isle County
With 7.5 miles of Lake Huron coastline near Rogers City, Thompson’s Harbor State Park is comprised of 5,109 rustic acres. Hikers will find 6 miles of trails to enjoy.
For those wanting to enjoy the night sky, you can stay overnight in one of two rustic cabins. The Cedar Haven Cabin and Stone Path Cabin each sleep up to six people with a pull-out couch and two bunk beds. Each cabin includes a gas stove and lanterns, outdoor hand pumps, and vault toilets. While you’re still roughing it, it’s a step up from a tent. The two rustic cabins are also available for winter camping.
5. Port Crescent State Park
Port Crescent State Park rests at the tip of Michigan’s thumb region, just outside Port Austin. Because this 640-acre park is a dark sky preserve, they take measures to protect it against light pollution. As a result, the best place to view the night sky is from the viewing platform near the day-use Parking Lot D.
The park also features a variety of camping options with lakefront views, from hammock-only sites to an entire amenity cottage and everything in between. They also have two accessible geodesic domes, a more unusual choice.
If you enjoy kayaking or canoeing, you’ll want to be sure to take a trip to Turnip Rock. This 7-mile out-and-back trip showcases a large limestone rock with trees growing from the top, making it resemble a turnip.
Pro Tip: Camping Reservations
A great way to enjoy the stars is to sleep under them. Many Michigan state parks feature campgrounds. Their sites fill up fast, so you’ll want to make a reservation well in advance.
6. Wilderness State Park
Situated 11 miles west of Mackinaw City, Wilderness State Park is a state-designated dark sky preserve just 9 miles from Headlands International Dark Sky Park. In addition to the 26 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, you’ll find more than 20 miles of hiking trails. The trails are between a quarter mile to 3.5 miles long, making it easier to find one that meets your abilities.
Wilderness State Park has over 300 campsites, from backcountry camping to full-hookup sites. They even offer cabins and bunkhouses if you prefer a roof over your head.
I enjoy exploring lighthouses, and you can see the Waugoshance Lighthouse from the park, which lightkeepers first lit in 1851.
Pro Tip: Recreation Passport
All six dark sky preserves require entering vehicles to have a Michigan Recreation Passport.
7. Headlands International Dark Sky Park
While Michigan has six state-authorized dark sky preserves, Headlands was Michigan’s first International Dark Sky Park, the sixth in the United States and ninth in the world. Today it is one of three in Michigan. Located less than 4 miles west of Mackinaw City, the park is over 600 acres of forested land. They are always open, and entry is free.
Each season, Headlands boasts a different group of dazzling stars on display. So, if you’ve been there before, you’re bound to get a new show each time you visit. And, with some luck, you’ll catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
They have an observatory with an 18-foot dome where you can view the night sky through a 20-inch PlaneWave telescope. They also feature special dark sky events in their event center.
I suggest you arrive during the day to orient yourself before dark. They have loads of activities. Throughout the 5-mile trail, you’ll find information on each of the planets. I found that very helpful while looking for planets in the night sky.
Pro Tip: Accommodations
While the park doesn’t allow camping, you can rent a guest house that will sleep more than 20 people.
8. Dr. T.K. Lawless Park
Located in southwest Michigan, 9 miles east of Cassopolis, Dr. T.K. Lawless Park is an 820-acre International Dark Sky Park. Since it’s a county park, they charge a small entrance fee.
All the hiking and biking trails have a lake view, and some feature scenic lookouts. The park is open year-round and is a popular area for cross-country skiing in the winter.
9. Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
While the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is on the National Register of Historic Places, it continues to re-invent itself. It’s now Michigan’s newest Internationally Designated Dark Sky Park.
Sitting at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper Harbor, the lodge built in 1934 was an element of the Works Progress Administration. Since I don’t enjoy camping, I found the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge the perfect solution to staying out and stargazing yet sleeping in a comfortable bed at night. Combining rustic with a touch of luxury, they offer a variety of cabin floor plans to meet your needs.
It makes walking back to your cabin easy after their onsite stargazing events and astrophotography courses.
Pro Tip: Educational Programs
In addition to dark sky events, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge offers a variety of learning experiences. An Outdoor Activities Center (OAC) features guided mountain bike rides, hikes, and other activities like golf.
You can also check out the International Dark-Sky Association’s website to learn more about what they are doing to protect the night skies.