What you need to know
There is no camping allowed.
However, visitors are welcomed and encouraged to stay out through the night and early morning hours for night-sky viewing opportunities. You may bring blankets, sleeping bags, chairs, food, beverages, etc. Nearby campsites are listed with links below.
Plan accordingly and dress for temperatures 10 degrees below what you expect. The park is located on the shore of Lake Michigan and is always cooler than inland.
The public Dark Sky Park programs take place at the Guest House or Dark Sky Viewing Area (unless otherwise noted); follow the signs through the park. It’s about a mile drive in from the park entrance. Also, the programs are intended for naked-eye observation; however, you may feel free to bring binoculars or telescopes if you prefer to enhance the experience.
Please note: There are not yet concrete pads in place for telescopes.
If you are heading to the Headlands on a non-program outing, look for the signs for Dark Sky Viewing. There is a designated trail and viewing area along the lakeshore for the public to utilize. Because the Guest House is rented out by the county, it may be occupied at any given time. Please respect the privacy of the occupants and do not enter the building.
Where to camp nearby
Camping is not allowed at the Headlands. For those who would like to camp near the Headlands, there are several options:
KOA Kampground (approx. 5 minutes away)
Wilderness State Park campground (approx. 15 minutes away)
Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping (approx. 10 minutes away)
Tee Pee Campground (approx. 10 minutes away)
Camp Pet-O-Se-Ga, owned and operated by Camp Pet-O-Se-Ga is located about 30 minutes away in Alanson.
Burt Lake State Park (approx. 45 minutes)
Are pets allowed at the park?
Dogs are allowed at the Headlands as long as they are on a leash. And please remember to pick up after your pet so everyone can enjoy the park experience!
Dogs are not allowed inside the buildings at the Headlands.
Getting to the Headlands
The Headlands is located about two miles west of downtown Mackinaw City in northwest lower Michigan.
From downtown Mackinaw City, head west on Central Avenue — the main street through the downtown. Take it as far as it goes, to the T-intersection at Headlands Road. Turn left, or south, on Headlands Road. The Headlands will be a short ways down (about two blocks) on your right. Look for the sign at the entrance.
The physical address is 15675 Headlands Road, Mackinaw City, Michigan.
The Dark Sky Viewing Area: Distance, parking and restroom facilities
CONSTRUCTION – Because of ongoing construction at the Headlands, there is no parking near the designated dark sky viewing area until construction is completed in the Spring of 2017. Park visitors must plan to park at the entrance and walk about a mile in (and a mile out). When construction is completed, guests will be once again able to drive through the park to the shoreline viewing area.
The road through the park is paved and mostly flat, with an incline near the entrance. The road becomes gravel for a short distance as you approach the Guest House/temporary Dark Sky Viewing shoreline area. Guests are welcome to use bicycles and can utilize other wheeled carts, such as wagons, to carry supplies.
Portable restroom facilities are available 24/7 near the Dark Sky Viewing Area.
Can I use a regular flashlight?
The Dark Sky Park is indeed very dark! We recommend that visitors bring red-filtered flashlights only, so as to not disturb the vision of other park users. White light can ruin the viewing opportunities presented at the Headlands, for yourself and others. You can make your own red-filtered flashlight by taking red plastic wrap (or coloring clear plastic wrap red) and covering the tip of the flashlight. (Check for the special red wrap around the winter holidays in particular and stock up!) Here’s one way to get started making a night-vision flashlight
What is a Dark Sky Park?
Emmet County achieved designation for the Headlands as an International Dark Sky Park in May 2011. The designation is awarded by the International Dark Sky Association in Tucson, Arizona, the oldest organization dedicated to protecting and stewarding natural darkness in the world. When we achieved the designation at Headlands, we were just the 6th such park in the US and only the 9th in the world. As a result, we have enjoyed a great deal of success, and more importantly, we have been part of a very dynamic, international movement to protect natural darkness worldwide. From our northwest corner of the Michigan mitt, we have been able to influence state legislation that now protects the dark skies over an additional 30,000 acres of state-owned land, and we are working in partnership with the National Parks Service on the dark skies over their properties in the Great Lakes region.
The International Dark Sky Association now recognizes over 20 international dark sky parks worldwide, and while Headlands is the only IDA designated dark sky park in Michigan, we proudly participate at the international level supporting programming and the cultural history of humanity’s relationship to the stars through our program director’s participation in IDA committee work and through an extensive schedule of events on-site every month at Headlands, through weekly radio broadcasts in Northern Michigan, and at conferences around the world.
How rare is Dark Sky Park designation?
According to the IDA Web site, only 1% of US population lives in gold-tier areas; 16% in silver; and 21% in bronze. Compare that to Australia at 29%, 9%, and 25%; Canada at 3%, 14%, and 12%; and Germany 0%, 34% and 41%. Thus Gold DSPs will likely be designated in areas of sparse population.