Light pollution is one of the most overlooked changes humans have had on our environment and escaping it has become more and more difficult. Luckily, Michigan has some of the best night sky viewing opportunities in the entire country. Few people ever get the chance to truly view the night sky in all its grandeur. So grab your headlamp and check out these great places to see the stars here in Michigan.
Silver Lake State Park
Little Sable Point Lighthouse at Silver Lake State Park is hands down my favorite place in the Lower Peninsula. The park is home to over 3,000 acres of sand dunes right on the shore of Lake Michigan. This setting provides one of the most unique locations for a lighthouse and the ever-shifting sand means no two visits are going to be the same. This is a must see stop whenever I’m in the area.
Get off US-31 at exit 149 and turn east on Polk Road. Turn left onto Joy Road and then right onto Fox Road when you reach the first stoplight. In 2.7 miles turn left onto 34th Street and follow it into the town of Silver Lake. Go left at the roundabout onto Silver Lake Road. In 2 miles the road ends. Turn right and take Lighthouse Drive 1.1 miles to the parking lot.
This is my go-to place in Southeast Michigan whenever there’s a chance of northern lights and I can’t travel far. The southern breakwater is a great place to get a reflection of the stars over the lake. The Port Sanilac Lighthouse is also best viewed from here.
The entire drive along M-25 and Lake Huron provides some of the darkest skies in the Lower Peninsula and some really cool places to stop and see the stars. An hour north is Port Crescent State Park, which recently became one of Michigan’s few dark sky preserves.
From Port Huron, head north on M-25 for 29 miles until you reach Port Sanilac. Turn right onto Cherry Street and park in the lot next to the lighthouse.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Options for viewing the night sky at Sleeping Bear Dunes are bountiful. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is the heart of the park and will give you a variety of places to stop and look at the sky in every direction. Glen Lake, The Dune, Lake Michigan (where you can climb the dunes), and North Bar Lake Overlooks are my top choices at the park. The Empire Bluff Trail is another really great, easy hike. The trail is 1.5 miles round trip and ends at a boardwalk with stunning views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the town of Empire. North and South Manitou Islands also provide fantastic star gazing, however, they’re a little more tricky to reach and will require camping to see the stars.
From Traverse City, take M-72 west for 23.8 miles to the town of Empire. Turn right onto M-22 and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn left onto M-109 and the entrance to the scenic drive will be on your left in .2 miles. To get to the Empire Bluff, take M-22 south from Empire for 1.6 miles and turn right onto Wilco Road. It’s a somewhat sharp turn so take it slow while you approach. The parking lot will be on your left in a half mile.
Straits of Mackinac
No Michigan night sky list would be complete without mentioning The Headlands International Dark Sky Park. One of the first official Dark Sky Parks in the world, The Headlands is home to an observatory, educational programs, and trails along Lake Michigan. The park’s proximity to Mackinaw City makes it hard to get truly dark skies in my opinion, but there’s no shortage of places near the Straits of Mackinac to see the night sky in all its glory. The beach at McGulpin Point, Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and Bridge View Park in St. Ignace all have great night skies and views of the Mackinac Bridge.
From Mackinaw City, head west on Central Ave. for two miles until it ends at Wilderness Park Drive. Turn right to go to McGulpin Point and left for The Headlands. In .3 miles the road into The Headlands will be on your right.
Porcupine Mountains State Park
Michigan’s largest state park has no shortage of incredible views of the night sky. Its proximity to Lake Superior means it can often be cloudy, but when the sky opens up you’re in for a treat like no other. Light pollution is non-existent here. To the north is Lake Superior. To the south is Ironwood, a town of 5,000 people that’s still 40 miles away.
Lake of the Clouds and Summit Peak are both great places to see the stars. If you’re looking for some adventure, try night-hiking along the banks of the Presque Isle River and seeing some of our coolest waterfalls under the moonlight. For even more of an adventure, hike out and spend a night at Mirror Lake. The campsites on the north side are among my favorite I’ve ever stayed at and provide an incredible view of the Milky Way to the south.
From Ontonagon, head west on M-64 for 12.6 miles until you reach Silver City. Continue straight on Highway 107 (seasonal) for 10.2 miles until you reach the parking lot at Lake of the Clouds. Follow the short, paved path to the lookout.
To get to the Presque Isle side, turn onto South Boundary Road from Highway 107. After 11.5 miles, the road to the Summit Peak trailhead will be on your right. The trail is moderately challenging and just under one mile out and back. Continue on South Boundary Road for 12.7 miles until it ends at Presque Isle Road. Turn right and keep right until you reach the parking lot for the falls.
Isle Royale National Park
You’ll be hard pressed to find darker skies in the lower 48 than you will at Isle Royale. Light pollution is nonexistent here. To the south the closes land is the Keweenaw Peninsula, about 70 miles away. To the north is Thunder Bay, Canada, which is still 20 miles away. It’s often cold foggy on the island at night, but getting out of my sleeping bag to see if the stars are out is a sacrifice I’m always willing to make here. It’s hard to get here, but Isle Royale is hands down the best place to see the night sky in Michigan.
Because the island is so remote, getting there is 90% of the battle. I’ve taken the ferry out of Copper Harbor each time I’ve visited but there are also seaplanes and the National Parks Service ferry that leave from Houghton. Travel time by ferry is about 3.5 hours from Copper Harbor and 5 hours from Houghton. The seaplane will get you there in a half hour, but is restricted by weather and costs much more. You’ll have to factor in an extra day of travel just to get to/from the ferries so keep that in mind.
Some tips before you head out
- Bring a headlamp. Unless there’s a full moon you’re going to need it to see where you’re going. If it has a red light option, even better. Red light helps your eyes adjust to the dark better while still letting you see what’s ahead.
- Use this Dark Sky Finder to see how much light pollution is around you. Dark gray will give you the best dark skies, but blue and some green areas can be great as well.
- Know where to look in the sky. The Milky Way is one of the easiest things to see in a truly dark night sky. Give your eyes some time to adjust and look to the south. The core (which is what you see in most pictures) will look like a cloud or a dense cluster of stars just above the horizon. To the north, search for the Big Dipper and use this trick to help find the North Star. In my star trail images, this is the star all the others rotate around.
- Use a tripod if you want to take pictures. You’ll have to set a long shutter speed so your camera can capture as much light as possible.
- Bring extra layers and snacks so you can stay warm and full all night so you don’t miss a thing.
- Have fun! A night under the stars can lead to some truly magical moments. One of the best nights of my life was spent staying up until sunrise watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky.
You can see more of my night sky and astro photography here.