Summertime in Northern Michigan with its balmy days and cool nights is the perfect time to get out and get a little starshine! Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City is one of only 40 designated International Dark Sky Parks in the world. The park never closes. It is open 24 hours a day, every day.
The Headlands staff often set up their telescopes on the outdoor viewing platform on clear summer nights, giving visitors an opportunity to get an up-close view of the sky. Many are professional stargazers and astronomers who generously share their celestial wisdom and are happy to answer questions. Guests are free to bring their own telescope and binoculars anytime.
The park is not for sleeping. No campers or tents are allowed, but feel free to bring blankets, chairs, and sleeping bags. Since the park is situated on Lake Michigan’s shoreline, temperatures are about ten degrees cooler than expected, so a light jacket is a good idea in the summer months. People are welcome to bring food and beverages as well!
For the best night sky viewing experience, remember the sky doesn’t get completely dark until 2 hours after sunset. Everyone hopes to see the Northern Lights, but they are hard to predict. They occur when certain circumstances of the sun, solar wind, and the Earth’s magnetic field combine. The Northern Lights can happen without notice, but they often occur around the Spring and Fall Equinox — and usually after midnight.
Next month, is the annual Perseid meteor shower. A few nights after New Moon, it will peak on August 12/13, 2021. It is estimated there will be 100 shooting stars per hour. However, the Perseid will be active from July 17 through August 26, 2021.
Headlands limits the number of visitors by limiting themselves to 67 parking spaces. When they are full, cars must wait at the entrance until there is an opening. Headlands prefers cars to park with their headlights facing away from the shoreline to avoid disrupting the view for other people when coming and going.
Headlands asks visitors not to use flashlights unless they are red filtered. You can make your own by putting red plastic wrap over the end of the flashlight and holding it in place with a rubber band. You can also use red tape.
Headlands isn’t just for nighttime. There are 600 acres of old growth forest to explore during the day on 5 miles of well-groomed trails. You will see a cedar swamp, fern woods, and a huge rock bluff created by glaciers. The park sits on 2 miles of gorgeous Lake Michigan shoreline!
The Out of This World gift shop is open 2 PM — 10 PM throughout the summer, as well as during events and special observation dates. The restrooms are located under the observatory tower and never close. Leashed dogs are welcome!
Headlands often has special events such as live music. Check their website for more details. They are located at 15675 Headlands Road, Mackinaw City, Michigan.
If you’ve been to Headlands International Dark Sky Park, tell me about your experience in the comments!