Tree Milkyway See the Stars at Headlands International Dark Sky Park | Mackinaw City, MI

See the Stars at Headlands International Dark Sky Park | Mackinaw City, MI

As the end of summer approaches, I begin to slightly panic that my favorite Michigan season is quickly slipping by. It’s around this time that I put forth extra effort to cram in as many of the best summer things to do in Michigan as I can.

There is only so much one can do in a day, but what if there was something to do in the middle of the night? You can imagine how excited I was to learn of Headlands Dark Sky Park on the Straits of Mackinac – it’s one of the best things to do in Mackinaw City!

Dark Sky Milky Way. Photo courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Dark Sky Milky Way. Photo courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park

About Headlands International Dark Sky Park

The Great Lakes provide unlimited benefits, many of which we are pleasantly aware of. However, an uncommon and unique feature along the Lake Michigan shoreline is what is known as Headlands International Dark Sky Park.

Located in Emmet County, Dark Sky Park offers 600 acres for individuals to observe the beauty of the stars without artificial light interference. The Dark Sky Park offers programs, events, trails, and viewing areas for fresh-air enthusiasts to enjoy this unparalleled experience in many ways.

Headlands offers exceptional views of the night sky within its 550 acres of woodlands and two-mile stretch of shoreline along Lake Michigan. Right now the park is boasting exceptional views of the Scorpion and Sagittarius constellations, as well as the Milky Way, but come August, visitors will be wowed with numerous meteor showers and shooting stars.

This Emmet County Dark Sky Park is also one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan!

In 2011, Headlands became one of the first International Dark Sky Parks in the world after completing a rigorous application and review process. Due to this prestigious designation, the park will stay dark and protected forever. With only a few dozen of these areas in the world, we’ll have to thank our lucky stars one is right here in our backyard.

What Can You Do at a Dark Sky Park?

With the promise of a beautiful, warm summer on our agenda, Dark Sky Park is hosting a variety of great events that must be attended. Not only are these events a blast in themselves, but they are a great way to familiarize yourself with the Park if you have never been before.

For newcomers, the ideal event takes place on June 21st; the longest day of the year. The event is titled, “A Day in the Life of a Dark Sky Park,” and is designed to help individuals develop a further understanding of just what a dark sky park actually is. Additionally, there will be bonfires, storytelling, and telescopes available for use.

Once guests have experienced what takes place at the Dark Sky Park at night, they have an opportunity to explore everything the park has to offer during peak daylight hours. Surprisingly, for a park titled “Dark Sky,” there may be even more daytime activities to participate in. One daytime event, in particular, is called “Headlands by Day,” which will take place on July 18th.

Since the Dark Sky Park has miles of trails to traverse, as well as an inland lake, naturologist Maureen Stine will lead adventurers on a hands-on hike that will examine both land and water ecologies.

Park guests can participate in scheduled programs and events, such as trivia nights and viewing parties, or follow the nearly five miles of marked trails for self-guided evenings. For early sleepers, the park is also open in the daylight and welcomes hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, and photographers.

The park’s website notes that visitors may see native animals such as bald eagles, osprey, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and even black bears. And here’s the best part: admission is free!

When Should You Visit a Dark Sky Park?

Visitors are encouraged to visit throughout the darkest hours of the night for the best, unaltered sights, but Headlands Dark Sky Park is open 24 hours a day, year-round.

The park staff also recommends bringing blankets, chairs, drinks, and snacks, as well as warm clothing for the temperate Lake Michigan shore.

Northern Lights. Photo courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Northern Lights. Photo courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Although camping and overnight sleeping are not allowed at Headlands, downtown Mackinaw City hotels are only two miles east of the park entrance and there are several campsites nearby. The site also features a Guest House that can hold up to 20 people, but reservations fill up fast!

Why Should I Visit Headlands International Dark Sky Park?

You might find yourself asking just what the big deal about the Dark Sky Park is. Surprisingly, when Emmet County’s Dark Sky Park opened in 2011, it was one of six such parks in the United States, and one of just nine in the world.

In Michigan, we are blessed to observe the night stars from many different cities that are not heavily polluted by artificial light. However, many individuals who live in large cities have literally only seen stars in books or on television.

People travel from far away to see the wonders that Dark Sky Park has to offer. We, as Michiganders, have the good fortune of traveling within our own state to see such a sight.

How Much Does it Cost to Visit a Dark Sky Park?

The best part about Headlands Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City in Michigan? It’s always free, and so are its events.

It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; it is a chance to experience nature in one of its purest forms. Check out their events calendar to pick one that fits your participatory pleasure.

Their website is a great source for frequently asked questions, further information, and photos as well.

Dark Sky at Twilight. Photo courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Dark Sky at Twilight. Photo courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Have you been to a Dark Sky Park? Tell us what you thought in the comments!

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