Looking for a change a pace for the last night of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend? We've got you - our initial installation of our #EmbraceTheDark Series shines a spotlight on the best destinations for stargazing near Detroit.
"Holy crap, Dan - you've gotta get out here!"
Usually when my wife calls out to me from outside of a tent, red flags go off in my head. Animals. Intruders. Bugs. Something has inevitably gone awry on our backcountry expedition. Especially at night.
But her tone last summer in the Colorado wilderness was different. You could sense the excitement - that she was witnessing something unique, ethereal, unnatural to our normal surroundings. As I came to discover moments later, she had discovered the unhindered brilliance of the cosmos. Nature's greatest light show. A perfectly starlit night with zero light pollution.
Yes, we were camping in the heart of the Snowmass Wilderness of Colorado, hundreds of miles away from civilization. That complete absence of light pollution is unfortunately impossible to experience when trekking within a 1 hour's drive of a major international metropolitan area.
That being said...nature remains indomitable. Just a few acres of unadulterated green space can create a noticeable decrease in light pollution. So, the Expedition Detroit research team (aka, yours truly) went to work scouring the best stargazing opportunities based on available clear sky charts and light pollution maps. Lo and behold, we found some gems hiding in plain sight. Perfect destinations for a starlit hike or romantic adventure. All within an hour's drive of Downtown Detroit.
Happy stargazing, Detroit!
1. Point Pelee National Park | Ontario, Canada
Canada’s smallest national park packs one hell of a punch for its size. One more accolade to add to its list is that Point Pelee National Park tops our list as the best stargazing opportunity in the Detroit Region, especially as you venture closer to its southernmost tip protruding into Lake Erie. Unsurprisingly, the Windsor Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Point Pelee National Park as a “Dark Sky Preserve'' in 2006. The park hosts regular “Dark Sky Night” events throughout the year, with the remaining two for 2022 taking place on November 26th and December 17th.
2. Waterloo State Recreation Area | Chelsea, Michigan
Not to be outdone by our Canadian cousins, Michigan’s State Recreation Areas on the western frontier of Metro Detroit also provide ample stargazing vistas. Waterloo State Recreation Area is the foremost American park in the Detroit Region for enjoying a starlit night, although light pollution from Jackson does start to creep in around the park’s southeast sections. We recommend reserving a campsite at Green Lake to get the most bang for the experience, although only the Green Lake Yurt will be available for winter stargazing expeditions (other camping opportunities are also available depending on the season).
3. Pinckney State Recreation Area | Pinckney, Michigan
You may have noticed this trend across our research too, but whenever Waterloo appears on a “Best Of” list, Pinckney State Recreation Area isn’t far behind (or vice-versa). The pattern holds true here - Pinckney’s fortunate location on the western rim of the Huron River watershed also provides the park with refuge from the light pollution of Detroit’s adjacent suburbs. Again, we highly recommend incorporating your stargazing into a weekend camping or backpacking trip to the park (the 33.9 mile Waterloo-Pinckney Trail over a long-weekend is our top choice).
4. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge | Oak Harbor, Ohio
The farthest destination on this list is absolutely worth the drive for its stargazing opportunities. The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in northern Ohio is miraculously located between the severe light pollution epicenters of Toledo and Sandusky (rollercoasters and wilderness don’t tend to mix well). Although far better known for its wildlife viewing and year-round recreational activities, the 8,100-acre wildlife sanctuary provides fantastic opportunities to catch quick glimpses of both rare species and shooting stars. Note that while the trails are only open from dusk until dawn, the sanctuary’s regulations allow for hunters and anglers to enter the sanctuary 1½ hours prior to Ohio’s legal shooting time and 1 hour after the legal shooting time. In other words, you can double your chances at success by pairing a deer hunting trip with a side of star hunting.
5. Hudson Mills Metropark | Dexter, Michigan
Last but certainly not least, Hudson Mills Metropark closes out our list as the sole metropark to largely escape suburban light pollution. While Hudson Mills is located in the same relative “dark sky zone” as Waterloo and Pinckney State Recreation Areas, its convenient location just north of Downtown Dexter makes the park easily accessible for an evening outing from Ann Arbor or Detroit. Be sure to attend one of the park’s monthly “After Dark Series” events for guided nightlife and stargazing opportunities, with the last remaining for 2022 occurring on December 30th.
What are your favorite stargazing locations in the Detroit region? Did we miss any that you typically frequent (we'll try to keep it a secret)? Please let us know in the comments section below!