Ask most Michiganders and they’ll be able to tell you where the big and little dipper are. Some may even point out bright planets or other famous stars. But if you’re craving a glimpse of the real, unfettered beauty of a sky full of constellations, look no further! We have the perfect guide to get you started on an awe-inspiring night of stargazing.
First Things First: Get Inspired!
Everyone has a reason for stargazing. Do you want to learn more about our constellations? Get a good view of the northern lights? Finally see the milky way in all its glory? Take some time to read up on Michigan stargazing and find out what you want to see the most. This will help you find the best time and place to make your trip.
The International Dark-Sky Association is a good place to start learning more, and our Night Sky Field Guide is perfect for both beginners and experienced stargazers alike! The Constellations Activity Book makes a great guide for little ones. They’ll learn more about the stars in the night sky while doing dot-to-dot activity pages!
Prefer a more laid back viewing? Consider Meteors ‘N Smores, held in many Michigan State Parks each August to watch the Perseid meteor showers. Join other campers and stargazers for a night of tasty complimentary s’mores and beautiful shooting stars!
If you love the stories behind the constellations as much as the stars themselves, check out The Storyteller’s Night Sky, a blog written by star lore historian Mary Stewart Adams. You’ll find detailed updates on the most recent movement of the stars and planets, in addition to the fascinating tales behind them. Tune in each Monday morning at 6:31 and 8:31, for Mary’s segment of the same name, on Interlochen Public Radio! Do you know how the Lyrid Meteor Shower connects to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice? Mary will tell you!
Read Up On the Star Schedule
Those who don’t usually stargaze might assume that every night will have the same constellations. However, there’s so much more to Michigan skies than the same set of stars every night! Each season reveals an entirely new set of constellations to be viewed, as well as other types of star formations, planets, and comets. There are even ideal times for viewing certain spacecraft, like the International Space Station!
Publications like the Sky Calendar from Lansing’s Abrams Planetarium can keep you up to date on the season-to-season star movements. The New York Times even has a digital Solar System Schedule you can add to your Google Calendar!
The Headlands International Dark Sky Park of Mackinaw City has a nice primer for what constellations are generally visible in Michigan skies during which season. If you’re stargazing in the Michigan summer, check out this great interview with John French, Production Coordinator of the Abrams Planetarium, where he details the types of constellations and star formations you’ll see in the summer months!
No matter where you live and what season you decide to go, check the lunar cycle and try to go on a day where the moon is new or newer. The less light the moon gives off, the easier it will be to see other stars and planets.
Keep an eye out for International Dark Sky Week, too, as there will no doubt be a variety of events held by local planetariums and science centers during this time!
Scope Out the Perfect Site
No matter the season or the time of night, good stargazing is all about location, location, location! A site with low light pollution is key. One of the most ideal places to go is any of the Michigan State Parks designated Dark Sky Preserves! Parks like Wilderness State Park and Port Crescent not only offer beautiful views during the day, but are confirmed by the DNR to have some of the best qualities for nighttime viewing. The Headlands Dark Sky Park, and Dr. T.K. Lawless Park are even internationally designated dark sky parks!
A pro tip for Michiganders searching for Aurora Borealis: head up to the southern Shoreline of Lake Superior and look north. The Northern Lights don’t often appear right overhead in Michigan, but closer to the horizon. The unobstructed view of the horizon from Superior’s shoreline makes it perfect for seeing Aurora in action!
"The Northern Lights may look paler than you imagined they would. But if you are far from city lights and you let your eyes adjust to the darkness, an aurora is an incredible, mesmerizing sight. The shimmering, dancing movements of an aurora are nothing short of miraculous."
-Kate Armstrong, "Chasing the lights", Homecamp
Gear Up With Some Quality Tools
Stargazing is beautiful to the naked eye, but even more fascinating viewed up close! If you have an experienced buddy with a nice telescope, invite them along and share. If not, there are plenty of places to procure your own. The Abrams Planetarium has a good guide to buying your own telescope. It’s also worth noting that a good set of binoculars also works well for stargazing. If you’re not set on buying a telescope and can’t find one to borrow, binoculars are a great alternative.
If you’re looking to capture a picture of the famous Northern Lights, check out UP Travel’s guide on photographing Aurora Borealis, with specific tips on how to set up your camera for the best picture!
Don’t get lost in the dark of the parks, bring a flashlight! Red-light flashlights are best for stargazing, as the way red light affects your eyes allows them to stay adjusted to the darkness. This is an important distinction if you want to be considerate to your fellow stargazers. If you can’t find a red-light flashlight, red cellophane taped over a standard white-light flashlight will also do the trick.
Of course, the best tool to have in the moment is an easy to reference star chart! The Night Sky Pocket Guide is a perfect in-the-field companion. It’s laminated for durability and water resistance, and features an easy to read, brochure-like format that fits in any tote or backpack.
Stargazing out in the wilderness, especially in the midwest, will require you to be aware and prepare for a variety of weather conditions. Never forget that umbrella!
If you’re stargazing to catch those winter constellations or Aurora Borealis (which is most often found in colder seasons)...well, let’s just say you need to bundle up! Layering is your best friend. If you’re not familiar with this midwestern philosophy, follow me: long sleeved shirt, vest, jacket, windbreaker, then hat and gloves, plus a scarf, and a blanket. Yes, it’s a lot. We know. But if you’re star watching in Michigan November, you’ll need it all.
Our Wilderness State park long sleeved shirts are perfect for providing that base layer and celebrating Michigan starry skies! If you’re looking for something to keep your ears warm, try a Stormy Kromer Trapper Hat. Or, pick up a soft and warm blanket, perfect for an extra layer in the winter, or chillier spring nights! Don’t forget those toes, either. A good pair of thick quality socks will keep you cozy!
Michigan in summer is a different concept, and will most likely require a cooler, bug spray, and light wear. Check out our Starry Night t-shirt to stay cool on hot nights.
Make it a Midnight Picnic
Word to the wise: it’s always a good idea to pack some snacks. Standing out in the cold, especially after bedtime, can really leave you in need of a pick-me-up. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to the rescue! We recommend the Keweenau Coffee Co. Borealis Blend or Retea Vanilla Mallow Tea to give you warm-fuzzy feelings. If it’s one of those sweltering summer nights, there’s also no shame in enjoying a cold bottle of your favorite beer!
Don’t forget to pack some snacks to nibble at while you’re waiting for your turn at the telescope. Cherry Republic Salsa is perfect for the chips n’ dip fans out there, and Michi-Gummies are a good go-to for those with a sweet tooth.
Once you’ve got your supplies all good to go, gather it up in your favorite cooler and tote and hit the road!
Enjoy The Show
The preparation is arguably the most intimidating part of stargazing. Once you’ve got your supplies ready and packed, and found the perfect time and place, all you have to do is set up camp. So lay out your blanket, open up that star chart, and get gazing.
“The universe seemed close to us, bowing in under its own weight. Lights I had never seen before, and had no chance of remembering, clustered in my eyes. This was the sky that had guided early explorers, the beginnings of humanity. It was ancient and new, strange and familiar.”
-Lauren Whybrow, "The weight of the stars", Homecamp