Experience Northern Michigan’s Starry Nights at Dark Sky Preserves

Ask star lore historian Mary Stewart Adams the best way to experience August night skies, and she’ll suggest you start at one of the state’s Dark Sky Preserves (there are six total in Michigan). 

There are three Dark Sky Preserves in the Northeast corner of the state. There, the moon will be rising as the sun’s setting in the west and you’ll see the bright glow of both Jupiter and Saturn. Finish the trip (or take another) on the state’s Northwest corner to watch the sun set and stars populate the thickest part of the Milky Way over Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay. There are also two preserves downstate in Clayton and Port Austin. 

THOMPSON’S HARBOR STATE PARK // ROGERS CITY

From dusk through sunrise, you’ll be treated to a sky show at this mostly day-use park with two rustic cabins and no actual harbor. Plan time to explore trails by day: this park has more of the state’s wildflower—the Dwarf Lake Iris—than any other spot in Michigan, then perch anywhere on the 7.5 miles of Lake Huron shoreline for the star show.

ROCKPORT RECREATION AREA // ROGERS CITY

This is a star- and fossil-hunter’s paradise that draws collectors on hunts for Petoskey stones by day, constellations by night. The former quarry offers hilltop views of Lake Huron that will put you just a little closer to the stars.

NEGWEGON STATE PARK // HARRISVILLE

There are four campsites here to hike—or paddle—to. Know that you need to bring your own supplies and water. The sites fill early, so plan ahead. But there are miles of Lake Huron beachfront good for stargazing. The park is also remote—there’s a 2.5-mile drive down a two-track and another hike to get to the beach. This is where to head if you want to make your star wishes in solitude.

WILDERNESS STATE PARK // CARP LAKE

These 26 miles of protected shoreline amid 10,500 acres just south of the Mackinac Bridge are also bordered on one side by the state’s only federally-designated dark sky park—Headlands International Dark Sky Park. It’s so dark that “it’s a different world there,” says Stephanie Yancer of the DNR. There are waterfront cabins and campsites, making it a good place to stargaze the entire night away.

Fun Facts!

Thank Your Lucky Stars (or Legislators): Michigan state parks are celebrating their 100th birthday in 2019 and a century of land protection. The legislature further authorized protection of park skies in 2012 when it created three Dark Sky Preserves and it added three more in 2016.

Trending: Lonely Planet named night sky tourism the top travel trend for 2019, noting that for 99 percent of people in Europe and the U.S., the night sky is obscured by artificial lighting.

Attend a Star Party: Watch for August Meteors and S’mores events held during August’s Perseid meteor shower, Aug. 9–14; michigan.gov/darksky.

Go Old School: Star apps are cool but not especially dark sky friendly. Better: Use a star map like ones sold by Abrams Planetarium.

Kim Schneider is a long-time travel writer specializing in Michigan adventures, food and wine. The Midwest Travel Journalist Association has named her Mark Twain Travel Writer of the Year, and she’s the author of the recently published book, “100 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die.”