Thompson'S Harbor State Park - Northern Lights
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10 Michigan Dark Sky Parks, Sanctuaries & Preserves for Stargazing

To see some of the most majestic spots in Michigan, all residents and visitors need to do is turn their heads skyward in Michigan dark sky parks.

Nestled in different parts of the state are parks where visitors can see magnificent displays of stars, constellations, and even the northern lights or meteor showers when conditions are right.

With six dark sky preserves and three dark sky parks, Michigan offers plenty of options for optimal night sky viewing. It’s an activity enjoyed by visitors of all ages and can be enjoyed year-round.

What Is a Dark Sky Preserve?

A dark sky preserve is an area around an observatory or a park that restricts artificial light pollution β€” sources of light pollution include exterior home lights, neon signs, illuminated signs, and street lamps.

Dark sky preserves are generally used to promote astronomy and prime spots to participate in astrophotography, marvel at the night sky, or even wonder what wonders lie beyond the Milky Way Galaxy.

According to Dark Sky International, there are more than 160,000 kilometers of protected night skies and land worldwide, including 22 countries on six continents.

At Michigan dark sky parks, the night sky is the star. But, because of their locations, these parks offer plenty to do during daylight hours β€” hiking, fishing, biking, lounging, and much more β€” for travelers who want to stay busy waiting for the skies to darken.

Lake Hudson Recreation Area-Lenawee County
Lake Hudson Recreation Area | photo via jayr_fotoz

Dark Sky Preserves in Michigan

Michigan has six dark sky preserves, including one in the Thumbcoast, four in Northern Michigan, and one in Southern Michigan.

Lake Hudson Recreation Area | Lenawee County

Situated near the Ohio border, the Lake Hudson Recreation Area is home to the first dark sky preserve in Michigan’s state park system. It is located by the picnic shelter, offers excellent night viewing, and is open 24/7.

The park is home to its namesake lake β€” a popular spot for paddling, fishing, swimming at a designated beach, and hiking on a 1.5-mile trail. Also, Lake Hudson has a hunting blind that can be reserved for free.

Negwegon State Park | Alcona County

Negwegon State Park is a rustic, undeveloped hidden treasure among residents and visitors who love to camp and swim along the Lake Huron shoreline. It was designated as a dark sky preserve in 2016 with a bill signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

In addition to providing excellent views of the night sky, Negwegon is popular with hikers, birdwatchers, and those who love the Lake Huron coastline. The park is supported by a nonprofit volunteer group, Friends of Negwegon.

Port Crescent State Park-Huron County
Port Crescent State Park | photo via cindybilinsky

Port Crescent State Park | Huron County

This scenic park is located at the tip of the thumb and set along 3 miles of Lake Huron’s sandy shoreline. Visitors can enjoy exceptional stargazing in the dark sky preserve β€” a viewing platform near Parking Lot D is one of the best spots to watch sunsets and stargaze.

Modern camping facilities allow for scenic waterfront views, and the park offers camper cabins, geodesic domes, and cottages for rent too. Visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing in the winter and seasonal fishing, hunting, and canoeing. Plus, the park is near Turnip Rock, which can be reached by canoe or kayak.

Rockport Recreation Area | Presque Isle County

Rockport was one of three areas in Northeast Michigan designated as a dark sky preserve by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2016. It also holds the designation of being Michigan’s 100th state park.

Located just north of Alpena on the US 23 Heritage Route, the property that makes up Rockport includes more than a dozen sinkholes, the Besser Natural Area, and opportunities for fishing, hiking, and boating. A 300-acre abandoned limestone quarry is also on the property and is a fun spot to hunt for Devonian Period fossils.

Rockport’s location on the Lake Huron shoreline makes it a perfect spot for viewing the night sky where the Milky Way Galaxy can be seen on a clear night, as well as bright star displays, constellations, and more.

Thompson's Harbor State Park-Presque Isle-Northern Lights
Thompson’s Harbor State Park | photo via mad.scenery

Thompson’s Harbor State Park | Presque Isle County

About a half-hour drive north of Rockport on US-23 sits Thompson’s Harbor. This Presque Isle County park was the third Northern Michigan dark sky preserve designated by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2016.

This natural area of 5,000 acres is a hidden outdoor paradise. It’s considered an example of a “forested wet swale” community, areas that include dunes and marshland within their borders.

Before settling in to marvel at the wonders of the night sky, visitors can spend the day hiking 6 miles of rustic trails or viewing one of the largest populations of Michigan’s state wildflower β€” the dwarf lake iris.

Wilderness State Park-Carp Lake
Wilderness State Park | photo via kirkd_photo

Wilderness State Park | Emmet County

Nestled just west of Mackinaw City, Wilderness State Park offers a little bit of everything for anyone who visits. It’s home to over 20 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, more than 20 miles of trails, camping opportunities, a swimming area, and a pet-friendly beach.

In addition, it offers incredible opportunities to see the majesty of the night sky and sits just 9 miles from Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Daytime viewing is nonetheless impressive. In some areas, visitors can see the Waugoshance Lighthouse to the west and the Mackinac Bridge to the east.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park-Mackinaw City
Headlands International Dark Sky Park | photo via 3rd_coast_images

Dark Sky Parks in Michigan

Alongside the dark sky preserves, Michigan has three spots designated by Dark Sky International as dark sky parks. With one in the Upper Peninsula, one in Southwest Michigan, and one in Northern Michigan, residents and visitors alike have some workable options for dark sky viewing.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park | Mackinaw City

Situated along 2 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Headlands offers excellent night views within its 550 acres of woodlands. Headlands became one of the world’s first international dark sky parks in 2011.

During the summer, visitors can view both the Scorpius and Sagittarius constellations in the Milky Way Galaxy. In late summer, Headlands is the perfect spot to catch views of numerous meteor showers.  

Keweenaw Dark Sky Park - Fbl 23

Keweenaw Dark Sky Park | Copper Harbor

The Keweenaw Peninsula has long been considered an ideal place for stargazing, and this Copper Harbor park on the shores of Lake Superior received its dark sky designation in 2021.

The park has dozens of prime stargazing spots, allowing visitors of all ages to have a good spot to see the northern lights, the moon, and much more. Every stargazing opportunity depends on the time of year and the phase of the Moon, making every experience unique.

Throughout the year, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge hosts northern lights and night sky photo workshops to allow guests to photograph the beautiful night sky. Astrophotography requires skill to get good shots, but the Lodge is willing to help people master their skills.

Plus, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge offers a real treat in the winter β€” moonlight snowshoe hikes. Under a beautiful night sky, visitors can go on guided snowshoe hikes once a month from January to April.

Dr. T.K. Lawless Park | Jones

Tucked away in the southwest corner of the state, the Dr. T.K. Lawless Park was designated a dark sky park in 2020. It offers several opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, biking, fishing, sports, and a kid’s play area.

While the park is open year-round, stargazing and dark sky activity is limited to specific dates, so keep an eye on the park’s Facebook page for upcoming dates for dark sky events and current dark sky conditions.

As one of two dark sky areas in Southern Michigan, Dr. T.K. Lawless Park is a great spot to catch unforgettable glimpses of the night sky without making a long journey up north.

Beaver Island State Wildlife Research Area International Dark Sky Sanctuary | Beaver Island

The most recent addition (April 2024) to Michigan’s collection of Dark Sky Parks, the Beaver Island Sanctuary is the first certified International Dark Sanctuary in the Great Lakes State — meaning that it’s in a remote location with few impediments to its dark skies. 

Beaver Island — accessible only by ferry or plane — is the largest island in Lake Michigan and is a peaceful destination, offering plenty to do for nature lovers and history buffs. The sanctuary covers more than 9,400 acres and visitors may be treated to views of the Northern Lights, comets, or meteor showers during their visit.

Bright Stars In Dark Skies On Beaver Island
Beaver Island | photo via ziptees

Visit One of the Michigan Dark Sky Parks or Preserves for Stargazing

Whether you’re itching to use a new telescope or test your astrophotography skills, or you just love the peacefulness of the night sky, a trip to a Michigan dark sky park is a must.

The beauty of the night sky at Michigan dark sky parks has to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. If you plan your trip just right, you may see sheer magnificence during a specific phase of the moon, catch a glimpse of the northern lights, or maybe even see a faraway planet.

If you’re looking for a unique way to experience Michigan, a trip to a dark sky park may leave you speechless and allow you to appreciate Michigan’s beauty in a whole new way!

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