Waterfront Event Center

Please note that rates are subject to change annually. Please call to confirm current rates. 

Emmet County’s Parks and Recreation Department is pleased to announce that reservations are now being accepted for the Waterfront Event Center at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park for 2017 dates.

Callers may reserve dates beginning June 1, 2017 and later.

It is important to note that the Waterfront Event Center is located within a public county park, which means the public will have access to the grounds during your event. When you reserve the building for an event, you are reserving the interior space of the facility and the covered patio; not the amphitheater-style seating area, surrounding grounds, shoreline, forested acreage, observatory dome or 24-hour ADA restrooms. Rental of greenspace is additional (see below).

Here’s what you need to know about this new facility at Michigan’s only International Dark Sky Park:

What is the Waterfront Event Center:

  • The new facility at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Interior finishing work will take place through the spring, with expected opening by June 1, 2017.
  • The facility includes rentable interior and patio space for private events and programs. A fully licensed kitchen and ADA restrooms are available, along with a stunning indoor/outdoor fireplace and a captivating open beam ceiling.
  • An open-air amphitheater-style seating area is located on the Lake Michigan side of the building, and is included in the rental price.
  • A green roof will be planted with beautiful flora in the springtime, to add to the natural ambiance and environmental sensitivity of the setting.
  • An observatory dome will not be rented to the public at this time. Public programs will take place starting in 2017.

Rental and rate details:



  • The building will be available for rental from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily, year ‘round.
  • Full day rates from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. are:
    • Emmet County Resident: $1,200
    • Non-Emmet County Resident: $1,500

Rate includes use of indoor space, outdoor patio space only, restrooms and kitchen.

  • Partial day rates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.:
    • Emmet County Resident: $500
    • Non-Emmet County Resident: $750

Rate includes use of indoor space, outdoor patio space only, restrooms and kitchen.

  • Rental of greenspace for tents will be an additional $100 for both resident and non-resident.
  • The refundable security deposit for all rentals will be $300.
  • All events must end promptly at 10 p.m. Please remember the Headlands is an internationally designated dark sky park and it is frequented by stargazers.

Interior details:

  • Building capacity is 278 people.
  • Capacity for comfortable tables-and-chairs seating is 120 inside and 80 on the covered patio, based on six-foot round tables with eight chairs at each.
  • Renter is responsible for set up and tear down of chairs, tables, equipment. Rental price includes tables and chairs.
  • Square footage: Assembly area, 2,482; kitchen, 470; lobby, 908.

Architectural plans showing the interior layout space configuration. (Click image for larger version)

Site details:

  • Parking will be somewhat limited at the facility; 67 parking spots are available.
  • At this time the observatory dome is not available for rental by the public. The dome and telescope will be open to the public for scheduled programming only beginning in the summer of 2017. In the future the observatory may be rentable for private events; Emmet County will make that announcement if and when it is decided to do so.

Additional details to note:

Public open houses will be held at the Waterfront Event Center in the summer of 2017. Those dates will be announced when they are determined. The facility will not be open to the public on non-program nights; however, the 24-hour ADA restrooms located on the shoreline side of the facility will remain open all day and night, year ‘round.

Reservations can be made 18 months in advance. For example, in October 2016 you may make reservations into April 2018.

How to reserve:

  • To reserve the Waterfront Event Center at the Headlands, or the Guest House at the Headlands, contact the caretaker at (231) 436-4051 or email your preferred dates and contact information to headlands@emmetcounty.org
  • The Guest House is a large home on the property that accommodates up to 20 guests overnight. It is rented to one renter at a time regardless of group size. It is located on the Lake Michigan shoreline about a half-mile from the Waterfront Event Center. (At this time, it is unlikely that both facilities will be available on the same night, because of the popularity of the Guest House which is booked about 18 months in advance. Callers may inquire with the caretaker.)

The Headlands is an Emmet County Park Property located at 15675 Headlands Road, Mackinaw City, MI  49701. It is open 24/7/365 free of charge to the public. It is a 600-acre forested park with 2.5 miles of shoreline and designated dark sky viewing locations.

About the park

The Headlands is a 600-acre park on the Straits of Mackinac, two miles west of downtown Mackinaw City, at 15675 Headlands Road. The park is free and open to the public every day. While no camping is allowed, visitors are welcome to stay overnight to observe the dark sky overhead. The Headlands became the 6th International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. and the 9th in the world in May 2011, and each month free programs are held for the public.

(click here for all construction photos from the project)

Photos as of May 1, 2017:


headlands interior aug 2016