The Great Lakes encircle Michigan, so Michigan’s coastline is shrouded in near-total darkness, making it a stargazing mecca in the United States. Michigan offers six Dark Sky Preserves and three internationally designated Dark Sky Parks. While you’ll find other great spots for stargazing in Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula, this article focuses on areas explicitly named as Dark Sky Preserves or International Dark Sky Parks.
Since stargazing involves late nights, it is sometimes easier to plan to spend the night. For this reason, I have mentioned camping options and other accommodations at each park.
While I’ve listed Dark Sky Reserves and then International Dark Sky Parks, they’re in no particular order within each category.
1. Hudson Lake Recreation Area
Nestled in the green Irish hills of Lenawee County in southeastern Lower Michigan, you’ll find the Hudson Lake Recreation Area. In 1993, the area became Michigan’s first Dark Sky Preserve. The site covers approximately 2,796 acres, encompassing the 600-acre Hudson Lake.
The reserve offers low light, using special light fixtures with motion sensors to minimize light pollution. Although this park does not have strict light usage rules, they remind guests to minimize lights at campsites and in their cars. Two of the best places to set up shop to view the night sky in the reserve are the beach or the picnic parking areas, as you won’t find so many people in the evening.
If you want to maximize your dark sky viewing, they have a semi-modern campground with 50 campsites with electric service. Unfortunately the toilets are vaulted toilets and there are no showers. Instead, the water is via a hand pump. You will also find a semi-modern cabin with a view of the lake that can accommodate three people.
Pro Tip: The Astronomer’s Predictions
Check the clear sky map to determine the best time to view the night sky at Hudson Lake Recreation Area. The graph provides hour-by-hour information on factors such as darkness and cloud cover so you know the best observing times to view galaxies and planets with your telescope.
2. Negwegon State Park
Located on US 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 offer a mile-long sandy beach on Lake Huron.
The park offers four rustic campgrounds accessible by hike open from April to November. Campground hikes are one and two miles from the main parking lot.
While you’re in the area, a fun daytime activity while you wait 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 visiting Negwegon State Park, be aware that access roads are often sandy and you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle to enter.
3. Rockport State Recreation Area
Almost Isle County
Located on the shores of Lake Huron, north of Alpena, the Rockport State Recreation Area covers 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. Plus, since the park is under dark sky protection, it’s a great place to see the stars at night with the naked eye. The whirlpools of the Milky Way are often visible. You may even see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.
During the day, amateur archaeologists and dinosaur-loving children will enjoy the abandoned limestone quarry where they can dig up fossils over 400 million years old. Plus, 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 want to go camping, but don’t want to invest in all the gear, try renting one of Michigan State Park’s overnight options. They have everything from geodesic domes to safari-style tents and yurts.
4. Thompson Harbor State Park
Almost Isle County
With 7.5 miles of Lake Huron shoreline near Rogers City, Thompson’s Harbor State Park comprises 5,109 rustic acres. Hikers will find 6 miles of trails to enjoy.
For those who want to enjoy the night sky, you can spend the night in one of the two rustic cabins. The Cedar Haven cabin and the Stone Path cabin can each accommodate up to six people with a sofa bed and two bunk beds. Each cabin includes a gas stove and lanterns, exterior hand pumps and vaulted 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 sits at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb Region, just outside of Port Austin. Because this 640-acre park is a Dark Sky Preserve, they take steps to protect it from light pollution. Therefore, the best place to observe the night sky is from the observation deck located near the day parking lot D.
The park also offers a variety of lake view camping options, from hammock-only sites to a full amenity cabin and everything in between. They also have two accessible geodesic domes, a more unusual choice.
If you like kayaking or canoeing, you’ll want to be sure to take a trip to Turnip Rock. This 7 mile round trip features a large limestone boulder with trees growing from the top making it look like a turnip.
Pro Tip: Camping Reservations
A great way to enjoy the stars is to sleep under them. Many Michigan state parks offer campgrounds. Their sites fill up quickly, so you’ll want to make a reservation well in advance.
6. Savage State Park
Located 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 Lake Michigan’s 26 miles of shoreline, you’ll find over 20 miles of hiking trails. The trails are between a quarter mile and 3.5 miles long, making it easy to find one that matches your abilities.
Wilderness State Park has more than 300 campsites, from backcountry camping to full hookup sites. They even offer cabins and dorms if you prefer a roof over your head.
I love exploring lighthouses and you can see Waugoshance Lighthouse from the park, which was first lit by keepers in 1851.
Pro Tip: Leisure Passport
All six Dark Sky Preserves require entering vehicles to have a Michigan Recreational 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 the ninth in the world. Today it is one of three in Michigan. Located less than 4 miles west of Mackinaw City, the park spans over 600 acres of forested land. They are always open and admission is free.
Each season, Headlands features a different group of dazzling stars. So if you’ve been there before, you’re bound to have a new show every time you visit. And, with a little luck, you will see the Northern Lights.
They have an observatory with an 18ft dome where you can view the night sky through a 20in PlaneWave telescope. They also offer special dark sky events at their event center.
I suggest you arrive during the day to get your bearings before dark. They have lots of activities. Throughout the 8 km trail you will find information on each of the planets. I found this very useful when looking for planets in the night sky.
Pro Tip: Hosting
Although the park does not allow camping, you can rent a guest house that can accommodate more than 20 people.
8. Dr. TK Lawless Park
Located in southwest Michigan, 9 miles east of Cassopolis, Dr. TK Lawless Park is an 820-acre international dark sky park. Since it’s a county park, they charge a small entry fee.
All hiking and biking trails offer views of the lake, and some offer scenic lookout points. The park is open year-round and is a popular area for cross-country skiing in the winter.
9. Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
Although Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it continues to reinvent itself. It is now Michigan’s newest internationally designated Dark Sky Park.
Located atop the Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper Harbor, the lodge built in 1934 was part of the Works Progress Administration. Since I don’t like camping, I found Keweenaw Mountain Lodge to be the perfect solution to stay outside and stargaze while sleeping in a comfy bed at night. Combining rustic with a touch of luxury, they offer a variety of cabin floor plans to suit your needs.
This makes it easy to return to your cabin after their on-site stargazing events and astrophotography lessons.
Pro tip: Educational programs
In addition to dark sky events, Keweenaw Mountain Lodge offers a variety of learning experiences. An Outdoor Activity Center (OAC) offers guided ATV rides, hikes, and other activities like golf.
You can also check out the International Dark-Sky Association website to learn more about what they are doing to protect the night sky.
For other places to see the dark sky, check out these other articles: