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.
Fridays throughout the summer, starting July 1 (and unless there is a formal program scheduled) join us at the shoreline viewing area with your favorite team of family and friends for Starlight Trivia, designed to test and delight your knowledge of the stars! In the event of inclement weather, Starlight Trivia will take place at the Heritage Village Pavilion, across the street from Headlands main entrance. There are prizes to win, star names to learn, and plenty of fun to be had!
Remaining Starlight Trivia dates are July 29; and Aug. 5, 19, 26, and trivia will conclude with one last hoorah on Sept. 2.
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.”
Lantern walking through November woods at Headlands
We know it’s still football season under the big stadium lights of fall, but it’s also the peak of the lion’s meteor shower and you’re invited to join us under the dark of night at Headlands for a beautiful experience under the starry skies.
Program Director Mary Stewart Adams will meet guests at the Headlands entrance and give a guided tour through the beautiful moonlit woods to the viewing area at the shoreline, to catch the falling stars and hear further tales of the night. This is a one mile walk in the woods, and guests are invited to bring lanterns, to coincide with seasonal traditions of taking lantern walks into dark November nights. Please be prepared with walking shoes and layers of warm clothes. The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks overhead at this time, as earth travels through the wake of starry stuff left in the trail of the Comet Temple-Tuttle.
“The Leonid is a really variable meteor shower,” said Adams, “but it’s also one of the most historically significant, because it gave rise to the science and study of meteor showers when it caused an incredible outburst in the early 1800s. And it’s November, when tradition holds that taking a walk by lantern light is done to celebrate the strength of inner light despite the challenge of growing, outer darkness.”
The Moon will be Full just a few days prior to the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower, and while that can diminish views of the less bright meteors, there is still the promise of beautiful stargazing. Orion will be solidly over the horizon in the east, chasing the star cluster of the Pleiades across the sky, and the Andromeda Galaxy will be seen spiraling directly overhead. In addition to providing star maps and a guided walking tour by lantern light, we’ll have our telescopes out for peering deeper into the night while we wait for wishing stars to fall through the sky! Participants should dress for low temperatures. “These colder nights make for some great stargazing because there’s less haze in the atmosphere, and the dark seems to be more velvety and richer” said Adams.
The radiant of the Leonid Meteor Shower is in the sickle, or head region of the mighty Lion
In ages gone by, community life was centered around the observance of celestial phenomena, with the consequence that the sites from which this observing took place would naturally be the place for celebrating life’s most significant moments. At Headlands, we’re stepping into the wisdom of this tradition with our first program of the New Year, during which we will highlight all the terrific phenomena coming toward us in 2017, designed to support all of us in our effort to find harmony in the greater rhythm of things! Though not required, we recommend you bring calendars and writing instruments so you can be a scribe of the stars all year long by knowing in advance how to center your year around meteor showers, eclipses, and all the other starry events unfolding overhead. During this program we will provide specific dates and times for the celestial highlights of the year, with viewing tips and the cultural history of the phenomena.
January’s New Moon carries the promise of deep darkness for finding the stars and constellations that are used to determine the celestial new year, not only in the Chinese Calendar, but in the Native American and Christian cultures as well. Gather at Headlands just before sunset to learn about these different traditions, to craft star calendars, celebrate the year of the rooster, and to follow it all up with some winter stargazing. Some supplies provided, though you are welcome to bring your own. Suitable for ages 9 to 90…
In the heart of winter and the approaching Valentine’s Day, Headlands will host special guests, musician Laszlo Slomovitz and poet Jennifer Burd with their extraordinary project of setting the mystic poems of Rumi and Hafiz to song. “From the cultural perspective, poetry is the closest we can come to the stars, and through this program, Laszlo demonstrates the beauty of such an idea,” said Program Director Mary Stewart Adams. “Tonight is an ideal date night for couples and individuals young and old, newly in love or celebrating the enduring romance of a fixed-star union.” Guests to tonight’s program may bring snack and beverage and arrive early to catch sunset at 6 pm, or arrive 6:30-6:45 pm to park, get settled and wait for the show to begin’ plan to stay late, because the Moon will touch the heart star Regulus in the midnight sky! “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment…”~Rumi
Every year during the April New Moon, people around the world join in a celebration of dark skies, and at Headlands there will two opportunities for experiencing the stars with story, song, telescopes, and exceptional views. Because of the Moon phase, this year’s Dark Sky Week also coincides with the peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower, a wonderful stream of falling stars from the Comet C/1861G radiant near the border between the constellations Lyra, the harp, and Hercules, the mighty hero. Of all recorded meteor showers, this one has the longest recorded history, even though its peak is of narrow duration. Catch the peak of the shower at the opening program for International Dark Sky Week on Friday, April 21st from 8 to 10 pm (sunset is at 8:33 pm), or join us for crescent Moon setting into the lake at the close of Dark Sky Week on Friday, April 28th, also from 8 to 10 pm (sunset is at 8:42 pm, followed tonight by crescent moonset at 11:29 pm). Click here to access a nifty graphic illustrating the Lyrid Meteor Shower. Note: Headlands staff will be on site to greet you and direct you to parking for program access. If you have questions, please call 231-348-1713, and see you there!
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.
Join us in celebrating the terrific resources that make up Emmet County’s Headlands property at the Grand Opening of our new Waterfront Event Center and Observatory on Thursday, June 22 from 2 to 6 pm. The grand opening will include several terrific guest speakers, tours of the grounds and facilities, dedication of the Roger McCormick Planewave Telescope, and spectacular views!
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.