There are billions of stars in the sky but if you live in the city you can usually only see a fraction of them, if any. The lights found in inhabited areas reflect so much that they can block your ability to see the amazing wonders that are in the sky! Camping gives you an opportunity to get out of the city and into
a darker area where you can see the night sky better. But what if there was an even better place to check it out? There are parks that are called International Dark Sky Parks that are in areas that are outstanding for viewing the sky at night. The amount of light allowed in the park is regulated so as not to ruin this view. One of these parks is The Headlands International Dark Sky Park located in Mackinaw City, MI.
You can head to this park for hiking during the day while you wait for nightfall. There are five miles of trails found in this park where you can venture out and see the Mitten in all its glory! Keep your eyes peeled for the dwarf lake iris, which is a rare flower that only grows in the northern Great Lakes area. You’ll hike passed swamps, ponds, through forests, up a large rock bluff, and all along the beautiful coast of Lake Michigan! With the exception of some of the trails, you’ll typically find informational signs that will teach you about the planets, sun, and moon.
You can expect to find a breathtaking view of the sky at The Headlands International Dark Sky Park, but what do you do when you get there? If you have never experienced the night sky in a pitch-black environment away from lights you’re in for a treat! You will see things like meteor showers, planets that light up the sky, and depending on the time of year you visit, you may see a lunar eclipse! If you get lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the northern lights! See the Milky Way, the moon, and constellations like never before!
Since this park is meant to be as dark as possible there are a few rules. You may bring a flashlight, but it needs to be a red light flashlight. Red light will not affect the viewing like a white light flashlight. If you don’t have one that has a red light, you can convert the one you do have by placing some red plastic wrap around the end of it and keeping it there with a rubber band. Can’t find red plastic wrap? Get out some regular plastic wrap and a red marker! The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is not a park for camping. You may stay in the park all night but not to sleep! Tents and RVs are prohibited but you can bring sleeping bags to keep warm, food to snack on, and chairs to sit in. There is a 3-story guesthouse that sleeps up to 20 that can be reserved if you want to stay at the park with a large party. If you’re looking to camp however, there are plenty of campgrounds in the area that aren’t far from this park.
There are several campgrounds in and around Mackinaw City and they all have great ratings! This is a prime tourist destination so ensure you make reservations early as these campgrounds fill up fast!
Mackinaw City KOA
Located just a few minutes west of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is the Mackinaw City KOA. Here you will enjoy amenities such as a pool, modern bathrooms, laundry facilities, a camp store, and propane sales. This campground is equipped to handle RVs up to 70’ long so you should have no problem finding enough space! Sites range from simple tent sites to full hookups and everything in between! Check out their website for availability and reservations.
Tee Pee Campground
Don’t let the name fool you; they have space for RVs too! Located right on the straights of Mackinac with an amazing view of the sweeping Mackinac Bridge, this campground is like a paradise. You’ll find Tee Pee Campground just East of the Dark Sky Park and close to plenty of other attractions as well. Amenities include beach access, a rec room, camp store, horseshoe pits, free wifi, and modern restrooms with showers. A communal bonfire is held on the beach each night and they even offer deals on a nearby indoor water park! Click here for reservations and availability.
Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping
Just southeast from the park is Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping. This is an award-winning park with honors such as “Michigan’s Favorite Campground “ and “Top Family Friendly Campground.” Amenities include an 18-hole golf course, beach access, modern bathrooms and showers, a heated pool, a dump station, and much more. Sites include tent sites, RV sites with full hookups, and cabin rentals. Check for reservations here! Experience one of nature’s most beautiful sights by viewing the night sky in its natural form! You’ll be amazed at how much more you can see even if you live in a backcountry area. The lighting regulations really bring out all the nighttime sky has to offer at The Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Start planning your visit today!