Programs & Events
Dark Sky Park Program Coordinator
Welcome to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park! The grounds, trails, and viewing areas at Headlands are open 24 hours a day, every day. Visitors are welcome to stay out through the night for dark-sky viewing opportunities, but camping is not permitted. Units like tents and campers are not allowed in the park. The Headlands is not intended as an overnight sleeping destination but instead is designed as a place to stay awake and view the stars. You may bring blankets, sleeping bags, chairs, food, beverages, etc. When packing, keep in mind that temperatures are typically 10 degrees lower than expected due to our proximity to the lake shore.
To protect the darkness of the park, please use red-filtered flashlights during your visit to the Headlands. Learn more here.
Our programs take place rain or shine, and no reservations are required unless otherwise noted.
Please save some time during your visit to stop by our “Out of This World” Gift Shop!
The Observatory is limited to park staff and researchers. Visuals when the Observatory is open are projected onto the big screen monitors on the main level. Professional star-gazers and astronomers are available on site to enhance your viewing experience during scheduled observing nights.
While the grounds, trails, viewing areas and restrooms at Headlands are always open and freely accessible, the Waterfront Event Center is only open to the public during scheduled programming and gift shop hours. The Waterfront Event Center at the Headlands is available for private rental.
To stay up-to-date on news and events at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, register for email blasts by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow our Facebook page for more news and photos.
Harvest Moon is the Full Moon closest to Equinox each year, and the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City is planning a dance to celebrate the change of the season.
The Harvest Moon Dance will take place Saturday night, Sept. 17, under the festival tent with live music featuring the Jill Jack Band, of Detroit. Jill and her players will set the mood with their performance beginning at 7:30 p.m., followed by sunset at 7:47 p.m. and Harvest Moon rising at 8:30 p.m. The program is free and no reservations are necessary, but come early to get your spot on the dance floor. The program is scheduled until 10 p.m. The Jill Jack Band is known for entertaining with strong audience connection and their high-energy rock and blues that can segue into original folk ballads, demonstrating why Jill has won numerous Detroit Music Awards, including 2015’s Outstanding American Songwriter Award.
While most evenings visitors to the park must walk a mile in to the dark sky viewing area along the shoreline, on this evening a tent will be placed near the Headlands entrance.
“Jill is an exceptional talent,” said Mary Stewart Adams, Headlands Dark Sky Park Program Director, quoting from a recent Detroit Free Press article which reported that “her voice can soar like opera and smoke like the blues … one of the strongest voices in Detroit, or in the country for that matter.”
“Harvest Moon is all about celebrating the bounty of the seasons and the work of cultivating a healthy harmony in our lives and the things we must tend, ” added Adams. “Of all the Moon’s phases, Full Moon is like the release point, when everything we’re gathering up in the cycle is let go, so the natural world can have its turn. When it comes to Harvest Moon, we dance, to celebrate everything that goes into a success and challenge of getting to a harmonious experience of nature and its seasons.”
And what a season it’s been at the Headlands. With construction of the new Waterfront Event Center still restricting parking on site at Headlands, guests all season long have trekked one mile through the woods to the shoreline viewing area where falling stars, the Milky Way, and the elusive Northern Lights have held imaginations with wonder, Adams noted.
“I’m particularly looking forward to this event because it’s a great way to show our gratitude for the goodwill of everyone who came out this season,” said Adams. “We welcomed thousands and thousands of guests to the Headlands; it’s been another amazing summer under the night sky in Emmet County.”
Nationally-acclaimed and award-winning night sky and northern lights photographer extraordinaire Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo is back by popular demand for an exciting hands-on lecture and workshop at the Headlands Guest House , just as Spring Equinox approaches and the aurora get more active! The program will occur in two parts, with a free lecture open to the public, followed by a hands-on workshop that requires advance registration at 231-348-1713 due to the limited number of spaces available.
Malone says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t keen on capturing and recording the world around her through photography. “There’s always been a latent interest. Even as a kid I carried around a film instamatic.”
Malone turned to the dark side, the dark side of night, that is, to photograph nature at its most elusive and expressive in the late 1990s, when she photographed her first aurora, also known as the Northern Lights.
Since then, Malone has enjoyed an enviable reputation through national media, with award-winning recognition from Smithsonian Magazine, publication in National Geographic, and with her work appearing multiple times on NBC Nightly News. “I consider Smithsonian and National Geographic the two biggest (photography) institutions in the world. Their recognition was humbling.”
Malone, who sells her work around the world from her gallery and studio, Lake Superior Photo, in Marquette, MI, will share the ups and downs of this success, and the do’s and dont’s of night sky photography at the Headlands Guest House during a two-part event that will include a public lecture and a hands-on photography workshop. The workshop portion of the program is by advance registration only.
Malone says that her current focus in photography is on a “wet plate collodion” process with large format cameras. “It’s a turn-of-the-century process that preceded film and instead uses chemicals processed on tin or glass. I’m looking forward to getting back to the roots of the photographic process and image that is in a totally different direction from anything I’ve done in the past, kind of in rebellion against the digital age and lack of authenticity of photography with all the over-the-top manipulation that is occurring these days.”
Reservations are not necessary for the lecture portion of Malone’s program at the Headlands, but are required for the hands-on workshop that will follow, by calling 231-348-1713 or by email at email@example.com. Space is limited for the workshop and a suggested donation of $10 is requested.
It’s the season for celebrating the designation of Headlands as the world’s 9th International Dark Sky Park, and we’re inviting you to join us for an exceptional evening of learning how to photograph the night sky ~ from those in the know, featuring the talented John Hill. John’s been capturing the starry skies over Headlands in rare style, and his photos of us have been featured in the International Dark Sky Association calendar for 2017, the Detroit Free Press, and more! Says John: “The Headlands is my home for the stars. It’s the first place I saw the milky way. The first place I saw the northern lights. It’s where I fell in love with shooting the night sky.” A Michigan-based photographer , John spends his days at the advertising agency Leo Burnett, managing a social media team in metro-Detroit. In his free time, he travels across the state to capture unique landscapes and share the unique beauty of Michigan. John was named a top Instagrammer by Pure Michigan, has been featured in the International Dark Sky Association 2017 calendar, and has coined The Headlands as his favorite place to enjoy the night sky.
Reservations are required for the workshop portion of this evening’s program at (231) 348-1713. The first portion of tonight’s program, from 6 to 7 pm, is open to the public for free, and will be followed by the $10, reservations-only hands-on workshop starting at 8 pm, so participants can catch sunset in the west as gibbous Moon takes the night sky stage.
It’s a weekend full of fireworks across the land, and up in the sky the giant planets are also putting on a show: The Roman gods Saturn and Jupiter were known to the Ancient Greeks as Cronus and Zeus, a father and son with a dynamic fate that lends itself to celebrating a summer weekend of nature’s very own fireworks. Tonight, visitors to Headlands can peek through one of our portable telescopes in the event center viewing area, and take a tour of our Observatory Tower. The Saturn giant and his Olympian son Jupiter come together in conjunction only every 20 years (the next will be in December, 2020), creating a triangle form that precesses through the sky throughout history. Tonight we’ll prepare for the coming conjunction by learning about the connections between Saturn and Jupiter in mythology, their influence on the world of astronomy, and more! Program will be held both indoors and out. Please note that many Emmet County communities host fireworks displays on this holiday weekend, none of which are visible from Headlands. Also, fireworks are not allowed at Headlands, due to the sensitive habitat. Our main parking lot is open and accessible to the public (please park with your headlights facing away from the shore), and with 68 parking spaces, it can fill quickly. Once the main lot is full, guests park at the Headlands entrance and walk the one-mile paved route to the viewing area. Please be prepared with red filter flashlights and things you can easily carry. For more information, please call 231-348-1713.
Every year in October, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park dares visitors to take a one-mile walk through the woods along our candlelit path to the shoreline, where mischief and storytelling await, no matter the wind and weather. This year the October 21st event marks the 9th annual challenge, and participants are encouraged to commit to this year’s Egyptian theme, chosen because of the peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower the same night.
“The Headlands challenge was the very first ‘dark sky’ event we ever held at the Headlands. We started it in 2009, two years before we received our international dark sky designation. It was planned to coincide with the worldwide astronomy movement to get people outside viewing the sky in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo being the first person to use a telescope,” said Headlands Program Director Mary Stewart Adams. “But this year, it’s all about Egypt, because there is evidence that the Egyptians linked the constellation Orion to their sacred god of the dead, Osiris, and the meteor shower that comes from the Orion region of the sky will come to its peak on October 21st, the night of our event. It sets a terrific seasonal mood.”
The Headlands Challenge is part of the “Triple Fright Night” events taking place October 21st in the northwest region of Emmet County, and which include trick-or-treating at Heritage Village from 6 to 8 pm, the Headlands Challenge from 8 to 10 pm and the haunted McGulpin Point Lighthouse until 11 pm. Take in one, two, or all three events, which include games, treats, seasonal decoration, storytelling, stargazing, and the meteor shower.
“October skies can be dramatic, what with the high winds and clouds, and the thickest part of the Milky Way setting to make way for the deeper dark of the less populated star fields of the Orion region,” said Adams. “It’s just the perfect time of year to challenge yourself to be outside and brave the elements.”
The Headlands Challenge and Triple Fright Night are free events, family friendly, and open to the public. Events happen rain, sleet, snow, or shine. Participants can park at Heritage Village and trick-or-treat, then cross the street and walk the one-mile candlelit path to the Headlands Waterfront Event center for games and storytelling at 9 pm. The haunted McGulpin Point Lighthouse will remain open until 11 pm, and can be accessed from Heritage Village by free shuttle.
For event information and details, please call the Headlands International Dark Sky Park Office at 231-427-1001. You may also email at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Winter Solstice, the Sun achieves its position furthest south of the celestial equator, and here in the north, we enter the dark stillness of the snowy season. For this afternoon’s event, we will gather inside to engage the quiet dark and stillness with candlelight and rhythm, by handrolling beeswax candles, then drumming to the sacred rhythm of the season with Northern Michigan Drum Village. Sunset on this, the year’s shortest day, will happen at 4:57 pm, so there will be plenty of time for touring the solstice evening sky outdoors as well. $5 at the door (for supplies); we will have drums on hand, and you are encouraged to bring your own, if you have one! This event is sponsored by DTE Foundation.