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Explore Headlands International Dark Sky Park Michigan: 2023 Ultimate Guide

headlands dark sky park

Headlands International Dark Sky Park
15675 Headlands Rd, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
(231) 427-1001

Grounds Open 24/7/365; Admission Free

You can see the universe as it was meant to be seen at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, located in Emmet County in northern Michigan.

Don’t just imagine the night sky, see it come to life in a special dark sky viewing park, not far from the Mackinac Bridge.

Set along the shores of Lake Michigan, not far from beautiful Cecil Bay, this almost-600-acre park is home to pure Michigan natural beauty at its best, both on the ground and in the sky.

If you’re looking for a spectacular place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, see some shooting stars or simply gaze at the galaxy unfiltered, you’ll want to visit Headlands Park.

headlands international dark sky park michigan

About Headlands, an International Dark Sky Park

Set on the northwestern tip of lower Michigan just outside of Mackinaw City, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a beautiful coastal woodland that is free from lights or development.

Stretching from McGulpin Point Lighthouse for two miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline, Headlands is one of the best-kept secrets in Michigan. Home to a wide variety of rare plants and animals, you’ll also find endless miles of trails for hiking, biking, and crosscountry skiing at this special park near the Straits of Mackinac.

PRO-TIP: You can pick up trail maps for the park at the visitor’s bureau, where you’ll, where you’ll also find information about renting the on-site guest house or beach house.

dark sky parks

History of Headlands International Dark Sky Park

This historic park became one of the first international dark sky parks in the world in 2011, giving visitors a rare opportunity to see the night sky in a natural setting. Overseen by the Little Traverse Conservancy, this is the largest and least-disturbed tract of natural forest in the Mackinaw City area.

What is an International Dark Sky Park

So, what is an international dark sky park, and why visit one?

It’s no secret that the world is getting brighter every day. From cities to highways, to streetlights, and house lights, we inundate ourselves in light, night and day.

This increased light pollution has caused, over time, the degradation of our night sky. We have simply blotted out the light of the stars with LED’s and fluorescent lights.

These international dark sky parks, like Headlands, are meant to conserve the natural darkness of our night sky so we can continue to love and view the stars. At Headlands International Dark Sky Park there is little to no artificial light.

The park is 550 acres of woodlands with nothing but the natural sky all above.

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Why are Dark Sky Parks Important?

You may be asking yourself about the importance of these conservation acts and why we have gone through so much effort to designate and preserve land from light pollution?

One of the worst effects of light pollution is the reduction of biodiversity. There are a lot of plant and animal species that rely on the moon and stars to navigate and use these objects to thrive and grow.

Artificial lights can disrupt natural behaviors of certain important species and can affect their life cycles and population.

Light pollution can also affect us. Studies have shown that we sleep better in the dark. It is natural for us to be awake during the day and sleep at night. Artificial lighting can reduce the amount of deep sleep we get at night.

And, of course, with growing light pollution, we continue to lose our view of the stars and planets above us.

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Reducing Light Pollution

Over the past few decades, we have been losing more and more of our night sky due to light pollution. It is very common for most people to have never seen the Milky Way streaking across the sky, or the dazzling lights of a meteor shower. Increasingly, the most people can see of the night sky is the moon, and a few of the brighter stars and planets that make it through the glow of the city lights.

The Headlands International Dark Sky Park and other dark sky areas all over Michigan and across the world are a way of combating this loss and helping us to appreciate the night sky as our ancestors did.

There is more to be done to protect our night skies from light pollution, but one thing that we can do right now is head out to the beauty of a dark sky park, like Headlands, and wonder at the countless stars above and beyond.

Events at Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Headlands boast amazing dark-sky events all year round. From events focused on catching a view of the aurora borealis, to stargazing parties and lectures, there is always something exciting to do at Headlands with friends and family.

The onsite Waterfront Event Center is a stunning venue with both indoor and outdoor space available for rental.

The 3rd annual Mackinaw City Motorcycle Rally is scheduled for June 9-11. 203, in Mackinaw City, and Headlands is a popular side trip for visitors. If you’re visiting as part of the motorcycle rally or simply traveling in the area, there are a few other places and historical sites to explore near Headlands in our Ultimate Travel Guide Mackinaw City. Don’t forget to take the Mackinac Island ferry to the island for even more fun!

Guide to Michigan's Northern Lights

Where to Stay Near Headlands

Headlands is an easy day trip from Boyne City, Harbor Springs, or Cheboygan on the shores of Lake Huron. If you decide to stay overnight, use our guide to the best hotels in Mackinaw City or consider these on-site rentals:

The Stargazing House sleeps eight and is located on the grounds of Headlands

The Guest House at the Headlands sleeps 20 and is located near the beach.

What Time of Year is Best to Visit Headlands International Dark Sky Park?

Any time of the year is a great time to visit Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City. If you want to see the Northern Lights, your best time to visit is in the winter, spring or fall. If you are hoping to see the Milky Way, the best time to visit is in the summer.

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About the Author-
Colin Blassingame is Content Writer for and is currently finishing his BA in Writing at Grand Valley State. He enjoys volunteer work writing newsletters for small local organizations in his hometown of Grand Rapids. Colin intends to continue his schooling and begin pursuing a degree in Physics abroad in Japan with plans to focus on Astronomy. He enjoys talking long walks in the snow and listening to podcasts in his free time.