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The Best Time to Visit Headlands Dark Sky Park in 2024

The Best Time to Visit Headlands Dark Sky Park in 2024

What's the best time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park?

Headlands Dark Sky Park, open 24/7 year-round, offers distinct stargazing benefits across seasons. Summer is perfect for warmer weather, Milky Way views, and park events, while fall to spring enhances chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Winter boasts clearer skies for brighter star visibility. Choose early or late summer for comfort and events, but for the best star-gazing, including potential aurora sightings, winter is your go-to season.

City and suburban lights have made it increasingly difficult to enjoy the night sky at its finest. Fortunately, the International Dark-Sky Association has created areas around the world that keep skies dark so that everyone can access fantastic night sky views.

Headlands Dark Sky Park in northern Michigan is one of only a few Dark Sky Parks in the Midwest, and it’s a spectacular view that’s unmissable for visitors to the area. But when should you visit? We’ll show you this and the least busy, cheapest, and worst times to visit.

The Best Time to Visit Headlands Dark Sky Park

Silhouette as seen from the back of a person on the coast of Lake Michigan during the best time to visit Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Drone Delegation/Shutterstock

The best time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park is any time you choose to visit. It’s open 24/7, every day of the year, so any time you go has a benefit.

Most visitors to the park are in the area to visit Michigan’s other famous tourist destinations, such as Mackinac Island or the renowned state parks in the Upper Peninsula.

While summer may seem like the obvious choice for spending an evening under the stars, fall, winter, and spring offer some benefits that summer doesn’t have, making it slightly more challenging to choose when to visit.

On one hand, visiting in late summer through late spring will give you the highest chance of seeing the Northern Lights, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that few people get to experience.

On the other, winter (at least in the northern hemisphere) is better for seeing stars because there are fewer stars in the sky- making those that are visible seem brighter. There’s also less moisture in the air, which helps brighten your view of the night sky.

Summer and the warmer months will allow you to spend more time outside and are also the months when Headland Dark Sky Park hosts programs and events.

Summer is also better for viewing the Milky Way, as Earth’s angle in the Northern Hemisphere is facing the right direction.

Overall, if you’re not up for braving freezing temperatures and want to experience programs or events with Headlands Dark Sky Park, early and late summer will afford you the best balance of viewing and weather.

If your goal is to see as many stars as possible, schedule your trip for winter, and you might even get a sighting of the aurora borealis.

Cheapest Time to Visit Headlands Dark Sky Park

The cheapest time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park is in the off-seasons, particularly in May and October.

Headlands Dark Sky Park has one guest house and one stargazing house available for rent to make all-night enjoyment easy. The guest house requires a security deposit and a nightly fee.

And during the peak season, the fee is at its highest. You can save money by booking in the off-season (November through April) when the price drops. The stargazing house is a little more affordable.

It has a slightly lower nightly fee than the guest house. The price difference may seem insignificant, but depending on the number of nights you plan to stay, you could save a decent amount of money by opting for the stargazing house.

Unfortunately, camping is not permitted in Headlands Dark Sky Park. If you don’t plan to stay in the guest house, you will need to book a hotel room nearby or stay at a campground in the area.

If you plan to stay in a hotel nearby, Mackinaw City or Saint Ignace (on the other side of the Mackinac Bridge) is your best bet. Because of the nearby beaches and Mackinac Island (another popular tourist spot), hotels can be pricey at certain times of the year.

In Mackinaw City, weekends in the spring, summer, and early fall are expensive, often upwards of several hundred dollars. Hotel rooms also tend to sell out quickly, so make sure to book early to ensure you have somewhere to stay.

Because you have to cross the Mackinac Bridge and pay the bridge toll, Saint Ignace tends to be less expensive, especially during the cold season. If you plan to stay on the north side of the bridge, December, May, and April are the cheapest times of year to visit.

Least Busy Time to Visit Headlands Dark Sky Park

Starry night with the Milky Way overhead pictured during the cheapest time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park, the winter

Benjamin Fallarme/Shutterstock

The least busy time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park is in the winter, from November to February. As a park designed to view the night sky, Headlands Dark Sky Park tends to empty out during storms or poor weather.

If you have enough nerve to brave the weather (which can be close to 0, accounting for lake winds), you might even get most of the park to yourself.

If you want to visit in the summer but want to avoid crowds, later in the evenings (2 am to 5 am) on weekdays will afford you more privacy if you’re willing to stay up that late.

Worst Time to Visit Headlands Dark Sky Park

Cold day outside of the lighthouse in Headlands Dark Sky Park during the winter, the worst time to visit

Showcase Imaging/Shutterstock

The worst time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park is in the winter, from November until February. While winter and the colder season are better for viewing stars, they’re also, well, cold. Nighttime temperatures are usually below freezing in November well into April, making it hard to stay outside.

The Mackinaw City area is also notoriously snowy, typically getting more than 90 inches yearly. Unfortunately, during these times, you won’t be able to view the stars, so visiting is relatively pointless.

The coldest months in Michigan are January and February. If you were to visit at these times, you would need heavy winter gear, and even then would be subjected to suffering freezing temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions

Rock Harbor Lighthouse in Isle Royale National Park for a piece on the best time to visit Headlands Dark Sky Park

Steven Schremp/Shutterstock

These are some of the most popular questions those planning visits to Headlands Dark Sky Park ask:

When can you see the Northern Lights in Headlands International Dark Sky Park?

Auroras are strongest during spring and fall, but nights are clearest in the winter. Early spring and late fall typically have the best combination of clear-night factors and auroras to give you the best chance to see the Northern Lights.

What is the best time of night for stargazing?

The best time to stargaze is in the middle of the night, as far as you can get from sun up and sundown. Most people like to stargaze from 11 pm to 1 am to minimize interference from the sun.

What months are the Northern Lights most visible?

Winter is the best time to have a good night sky view, but aurora activity increases in the spring and fall. The best months to view the Northern Lights in Michigan are November, December, March, and April.

So, When Should You Go to Headlands Dark Sky Park?

Only a few places in the US regulate lighting to protect viewings of the night sky, and Headlands Dark Sky Park is one of the best.

If you visit in the winter, you’ll get the clearest view of the night sky and have the best chance of seeing the aurora borealis, but if you visit in the summer, you’ll stay warm and have access to lectures and events.

Whenever you decide to visit, you will be able to see the incredible view of the stars and make memories that will last a lifetime. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!