When you make the journey as far north as possible into Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, you will be rewarded with a sparkling treat from the heavens.
The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park is one of the UP’s hidden gems — a designated park where the skies are quite literally as black as night, allowing you to witness a spectacular celestial display on any given evening throughout the year.
Here’s everything you need to know about this dark sky park so that you can plan your next stargazing adventure.
About Keweenaw Dark Sky Park
When you visit the park, you will feel as if you have reached the edge of the earth. At the tip of the peninsula, you will be nearly surrounded by Lake Superior without a lot of other guests and visitors around.
It’s a place where you can seek peace, privacy, and solace, and it’s one of the few places in the Upper Peninsula where you will need to arrive at dusk to make the most of your time.
Where to Find This Glittering Dark Sky Park
The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park may be tucked away in the far reaches of the Keweenaw Peninsula, but it’s not difficult to get to. You will find the park headquarters at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, which is located a few miles outside of Copper Harbor.
Once you reach the headquarters, you can scout out a spot for stargazing that is perfect for you and your family. The prime location of the park, the low horizon lines offered by Lake Superior, and the minimal light pollution in the Upper Peninsula make it one of the best places for stargazing in Michigan.
How the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park Came to Be
The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park is one of the most recent additions to the Copper Harbor tourism scene, having only been officially designated by the International Dark Sky Association in 2021.
The idea for creating a designated dark sky park in the Keweenaw Peninsula came from the employees at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. The lodge and the area surrounding it had long been considered a wonderful place for stargazing, attracting tourists from around Michigan and throughout the Midwest.
However, without an official designation, the team could not call it a dark sky park. The group of organizers worked to fill out the lengthy application from the International Dark Sky Association and eventually earned recognition as the UP’s first — and only — official dark sky park.
Things to Do at the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park
The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park is the perfect place to relax and be still. As a result, there are few activities and attractions within the park boundaries. Nonetheless, these are the best things to do at the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park.
Naturally, stargazing is the number one activity at the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park. There are dozens of stargazing locations throughout the park, allowing visitors to select a spot where they can search for constellations, gaze upon the Milky Way, or witness the natural grandeur of the northern lights.
It should be noted that every stargazing experience is different. The visibility of the stars will depend on the time of year, current weather conditions, the phase of the moon, and artificial light in the area.
Sometimes, the thrill of witnessing the stars above for yourself isn’t enough. Many park visitors wish to capture the elegance of the heavens with their cameras and showcase their art to the world.
Astrophotography, however, is one of the most complex forms of photography. It can require a great amount of skill to get clear shots that highlight the stars without diminishing the colors of the dark night sky.
Fortunately, several experienced photographers are associated with the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park and willing to help visitors perfect their own astrophotography skills.
TIP: Throughout the year, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge hosts night sky and northern lights photo workshops. These workshops take place in real time, allowing park guests to try their hand at night sky photography with the guidance of an expert who is familiar with the local landscape.
Moonlit Snowshoe Hikes
If you happen to be lucky enough to visit the dark sky park in the winter, you can enjoy one of the most unique winter activities in the UP. From the lodge/park headquarters, visitors can go on guided moonlit snowshoe hikes once per month from January through April.
The guided, interpretive tours allow you to experience a thrilling winter activity by the light of the full moon. Reservations for the hikes are required, and snowshoe rentals are available for those who do not have the proper equipment.
Things to Know Before Visiting the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park
The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park is a place that everyone can enjoy — it’s completely free to enter the park, and you don’t have to be a guest of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge to explore the 550 acres of space that comprise the park.
Here are a few additional things that you need to know to make your visit to the dark sky park a complete success.
A Lunar Calendar Is Helpful
The moon stages have an impact on your ability to view the stars, so it’s best to consult a lunar calendar before you plan your trip. The best time to go stargazing is during the new moon phase when it’s not possible to see the moon. This keeps the skies as dark as possible, allowing the stars to illuminate the sky.
TIP: The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge maintains a monthly lunar calendar so that you can verify which phase the moon will be in when you visit.
A Map Goes a Long Way
The maps created by the team of administrators at the park will give you insight into the best stargazing locations, many of which are broken down by the celestial experience that you are hoping to see.
For instance, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge Golf Course is considered one of the best stargazing spots in the park for observing the Milky Way.
Red Flashlights Are Preferred
Getting around the dark sky park at night can be tricky, and many guests prefer to bring a flashlight with them — which is understandable.
However, the entire experience at the dark sky park relies on minimal artificial light and light pollution, and the team who manages the park works to adhere to all lighting guidelines established by the International Dark Sky Association.
While flashlights are permitted, the park management team recommends that guests bring or borrow a red flashlight, which will improve visibility without disrupting the experience of others.
The Rules Enhance the Experience
You will have to follow a few rules during your time in the park, all of which are put in place for the safety of everyone and to allow each visitor an amazing experience.
For instance, you cannot camp overnight in the park, any dog in the park must be leashed, and food should be kept in your vehicle to keep wildlife away from the stargazing areas.
FAQs About Keweenaw Dark Sky Park
Can you see the Milky Way at the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park?
Milky Way season in the UP typically lasts from February until October. Obviously, your vantage point and the weather will have an impact on your visibility.
But, you certainly have an opportunity to see the Milky Way in this remote section of the UP.
Where is the best place to go stargazing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula?
The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park is the only designated dark sky park in the Upper Peninsula, making it one of the best places to go stargazing in the state.
What is the difference between a dark sky park and a dark sky reserve?
A dark sky park is a designated area where there is minimal light pollution and it is easier to see the stars from above. A dark sky park is typically located on public land, whereas a dark sky reserve is usually located on private land.
Visit the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park on Your Next UP Trip
Surrounded by Lake Superior on all three sides, the Keweenaw Peninsula is one of the most pristine and beautiful areas of Michigan.
Its remote location means that you will almost certainly avoid the crowds that pack into other top tourist regions in Michigan, and its endless natural beauty makes it one of the best places to relax and restore yourself.
Begin planning your trip to Copper Harbor and the Keweenaw Peninsula today, and don’t forget to add the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park to your itinerary. You won’t regret making time for this galactic experience.