Northern Michigan offers many places throughout northern lower and the upper peninsula to experience star gazing without the interference of light. The area’s dark skies have been on the receiving end of some pretty amazing northern light shows the last few months. They were so bright and vivid that many were able to experience them right outside their door by just looking up.

The northern lights are best seen in late August through early April. Cold, clear winter nights provide the best conditions for a chance of looking up and north and seeing Mother Nature’s spectacular fireworks.

Michigan is home to several dark sky preserves and 3 Internationally designated dark sky parks.

On clear nights the stars, meteors, planets, moons and the auror borealis (northern lights) will seem as if you can reach out and touch them. These parks will have strict rules for light usage for campers to help preserve the dark sky.

Michigan is home to several dark sky preserves and 3 Internationally designated dark sky parks.

Dark Sky Preserves

In Northern Michigan there are 5 dark sky preserves. Dark sky preserves are specially designated areas in area state parks. These state parks have some of the lowest measured light pollution in the Great Lakes.

  • Rockport Recreation Area – Located in Rogers City in northeast Michigan along the shores of Lake Huron. The park is an old limestone quarry where you will find a series of unique sinkholes. Rockport Recreation Area is also home to Besser Natural Area. Arrive early and walk along the trails before settling down on the beach at dusk to gaze at the night sky.
  • Thompson Harbor State Park – Located in Rogers City in northeast Michigan along 7 ½ miles of undeveloped Lake Huron shoreline. The park offers 2 rustic cabins and 6 miles of trails.
  • Negwegon State Park – Located in Harrisville in northeast Michigan with 7 miles of Lake Huron lakeshore with 1 mile of it a beautiful sandy beach. Negwegon is rustic and undeveloped but offers impressive opportunities to view the night sky. There is a rustic hike in/paddle in campground and 3 trails for hiking.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Most of the Dunes provide amazing night viewing. Watch for night sky programs offered by the rangers. They have both weekly and monthly programs. Sleeping Bear Dunes offers many hiking trails most that will have pristine views of the sky and surrounding areas. For trail map visit Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trails
  • Wilderness State Park – Located in Carp Lake just 9 miles from The Headlands International Dark Sky Park. The park offers 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline with more than 20 miles of trails. They plan to add a track chair that visitors can borrow to explore the park where normal wheelchairs may not be able to go.

Other Dark Sky Preserves in Michigan include Lake Hudson State Recreation area located near Clayton at the Ohio Boarder. Port Crescent State Park in Port Austin in the thumb area.

International Dark Sky Parks

Northern Michigan is home 2 International Dark Sky Parks as designated by the International Dark Sky Association. The requirement is that the land is specifically protected from light pollution and recognized for its educational and natural environment. These parks may be publicly or privately owned. If privately owned the landowner must consent to the right of permanent ongoing public access.

  • Headlands International Dark Sky Park – Located in Mackinaw City in Emmet County. It was the state’s first designated International Dark Sky Park. The park sits on 600 acres of woods with 2 miles of undeveloped shoreline. The park is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Keweenaw Dark Sky Park – Located at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan and surrounded by Lake Superior on three sides. The park is headquartered at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and is open to the public year-round, 24 hours a day.

The third International Dark Sky Park is a county park in southwest Michigan. Dr. T.K. Lawless Park is located in Vandalia in Cass County.

Star Gazing in the Upper Peninsula

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a favorite area for night sky photographers and stargazers. Most of the 15,000 square miles that make up the peninsula is free of distracting lights making it perfect to see the stars.

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Munising – The cliffs and Lake Superior make is a prime location for viewing in all directions.
  • Isle Royal National Park – Houghton – This island is located in the middle of Lake Superior north of the Keweenaw Peninsula. It is one of the nation’s most remote national parks. They claim they have the darkest skies anywhere. Perfect for watching the meteors.
  • Whitefish Point – Paradise – The area is known as a migratory bird sanctuary in addition to the perfect dark sky location. While there make sure to stop and visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park – Paradise – The gazing at the sky against the backdrop of the root beer-colored falls makes this a favorite with night sky photographers. Come early to explore the more than 35 miles of trails and stay for the light show. The park has a track chair that visitors can borrow to explore the park where normal wheelchairs may not be able to go.

Dark Sky Night Cruises

For a different star gazing experience check out Inlands Seas or Sheplers Ferry for night time cruises on the Great Lakes.

  • Inland Seas Education Association occasionally offers an astronomy cruise out of Suttons Bay. You will sale in their schooner-style tall ship far enough out to be able to see the night sky with your naked eye and the on-ship telescope.
  • Sheplers Mackinac Island Ferry will host a Night Sky Cruise from the Mackinaw City Doc. Perfect for Perseids Meteor Shower in August.

2023 Meteor Shows

  • Quadrantids: Jan. 3-4
  • Lyrids: April 21-22
  • Eta Aquarids: May 4-5
  • Delta Aquarids: July 29-30
  • Perseids: Aug.11-13
  • Draconids: Oct. 8-10
  • Orionids: Oct. 20-21
  • Leonids: Nov. 17-18
  • Geminids: Dec. 13-14

The Perseid meteor shower takes place every August and is one of the biggest astronomical events of the year. Be sure to make your way to a dark sky park in August.

It is important to note that conditions for stargazing may vary, and it is advisable to check with the specific parks regarding any rules, regulations, or events before planning a visit.