The Headlands - Michigan's Dark Sky Park

Mackinaw City sits on the very tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The mighty Mackinac Bridge rises up over this small town, connecting travelers to the Upper Peninsula. The town boasts a reconstructed Revolution War era fort and ferry boats to shuttle visitors to Mackinac Island. To say the place is a magnet for tourists would be an understatement. But just two miles to the west the hustle and bustle falls away at one of the most pristine and darkest spots on the Lake Michigan shore. It’s known as The Headlands.

Located in Emmet County, The Headlands were established in the 1950s by Chicago industrialist Roger McCormick. After his death in 1968 the land eventually made its way into the hands of the county and a park was founded. But not just any type of park. In 2011 this area was designated as an International Dark Sky Park, the sixth one in the United States and 10th in the world. The reason for the designation is the remoteness and distance from city lights. To the west and south the visitor is looking across the expanse of Lake Michigan. To the north is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a lightly populated region. Even the relatively close town of Mackinaw City only has a population of about 800 people.

The Headlands are a stargazers dream. The lack of city lights and the clear air of northern Michigan provide visitors with a dazzling view of night sky. The park is open 24 hours a day and hosts evening interpretive programs and trails. It’s also a great place to visit when the sun is out. The park is crisscrossed by eight miles of trails suitable for hiking or mountain biking. McGulpin Point lighthouse is open to the public and sits on the north shore, providing a lovely view of the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

If you’d like to spend the night, the Guest House is available for rent. It’s nestled on a lovely little cove and sleeps up to 22 people. There is no camping in the park, but there are several options for accommodations in Mackinac City. Whether you take a day trip, a night trip, or spend the night, the peace, solitude, and stars, makes The Headlands an excellent vacation spot.

Note: The area has two correct spellings, probably due to long ago misinterpretations of the Native American language. Mackinaw (with a W at the end) is the name of the town. Mackinac (with a C) is the name of the island. Both are correct and both are pronounced the same way – Mack-ah-naw.

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