Michigan is the best place to stargaze in the Eastern United States. Much of this is due to the vast openness of the Great Lakes and sparse populations in the north.
Expanding metropolitan areas create light pollution. This blocks a majority of stars around populated areas. However, Northern Lower-Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are relatively unpopulated. Additionally, they do not have major cities. This means we’re lucky enough to hold some of the best ‘night sky real-estate’ in the country.
Keep these tips in mind when adventuring to find the perfect spot to search for shooting stars, constellations, or even the Northern Lights:
- The further from a town, the better
- Double check to make sure the moon isn’t full
- Make sure your camera is charged for some long exposure photos
Winter is finally subsiding and the nights are getting warmer. There is no better trip than a night hike under the stars. Here are some of the best places to go if looking for a starry adventure:
Manistee National Forest
Manistee National Forest stretches across from Big Rapids to the lakeshores north of Ludington. That’s around forty miles of vast forests dotted with an occasional small town. This is the perfect place to pack a night picnic. From there you can take off down a random two-track. Then hop out, find a clearing in the woods, and spend the night counting how many shooting stars you can see. It’s far enough away from the light pollution of Michigan’s biggest cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. However, it is still close enough to be easily accessible for a quick and easy adventure.
Beaver Island is the only inhabited island in the middle of Lake Michigan. This makes it the perfect middle-of-where spot to watch the stars. The closest mainland point sits roughly twenty miles north across nothing but empty, open water. St. James, the island’s only town, is home to around five hundred people. It gives off little to no light pollution. Camp at one of the campgrounds or rent a car or moped and head out to one of the dozens of beaches. Beyond town, the fifteen-mile long island has nothing but dirt roads, cottages, and thousands of places to watch a million stars.
If you look where Copper Harbor is a on map, you’ll quickly see why it’s one of the best places to see the stars. Located at the very tip of the most northern U.P. point, Copper Harbor is a tiny town surrounded by not much else. The sparsely populated Upper Peninsula is a star gazing mecca. It is the absolute best place to see the stars east of the Mississippi. The only lights you’ll see along this point of Lake Superior are the small flickers of freighters passing on the horizon.
The Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Did you know Michigan holds one of the few International Dark Sky Parks? The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is just west of Mackinaw City. If you come here to stargaze, chances are you aren’t the only one. On nice summer nights, the open lawn along Lake Michigan holds dozens of groups. Take a look at the park page to know what nights a ranger will be on the ground. Rangers will point out constellations and information on stars. They also explain how they determine what can be an International Dark Sky Park.
Les Cheneaux Islands
After crossing the Mackinac Bridge, take a right to head east. Here you will find a series of over thirty islands off the coast of Lake Huron. The Les Cheneaux Islands are a mostly inhabited chain of islands. It’s a popular location for cabin rentals, kayak adventures, and stargazing campouts. From the shores of the islands, you may see a faint light glow to the south toward Mackinaw City. Other than that, there is nothing for miles to block out the stars. If looking for a weekend getaway with friends, this will be the best location to spend the days kayaking and swimming. Then spend nights stargazing while eating s’mores and drinking Bell’s (or your favorite Michigan-made beer).
Have you been stargazing at any of these locations? Where is your favorite place to observe stars in Michigan?