headlands dark sky trails, Michigan
Michigan made history at Lake Hudson in the 1990's, when it became the first state in the US to protect land, for the quality of its dark sky. Far to the north in Emmet County, they took this idea to the ultimate level and created the Headlands Dark Sky Park which meets the criteria of the International Dark Sky Association. Upon being designated a Dark Sky Park in 2011, it was one of only six such parks in the US, and one of 9 in the world at the time.
The Headlands consists of 600 acres of old-growth forest, several trails, and about 2 ½ miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline. There are more than four miles of easy trails, in several loops, from less than half a mile up to two miles. There is also a self-guided, via cell phone, Dark Sky Discovery trail. All trails are accessible from the main parking area. In addition to the trails, about a quarter of a mile of shoreline, in a quiet cove on Lake Michigan is available to trail users. All of this area has been protected specifically for nighttime star gazing.
Dark Sky Parks and other protected public lands offer exceptional opportunities for star gazing in a natural nocturnal environment. As of 2014 there were only twelve Dark Sky Parks in the world with nine of them in the U.S.
If you plan to drive the Tunnel of Trees be sure to visit the Cross Village General Store, for essential goodies, like hand-dipped ice cream cones. In 1999, The Howard Family, resurrected the Cross Village General Store in its current location – the first commercial building built in Cross Village since the 1920s. Back by popular demand – giant hand-dipped ice cream cones – a Lee Howard tradition in the village. They have a great deli, cold drinks, Michigan gifts, and this is the only place to refuel for miles and miles.
Directly across from the Dark Sky entrance, is the Mackinaw Historical Society Heritage Village. The complex consists of a variety of historic structures from about 1880 through 1917. This was a period of dramatic changes in transportation, communication, housing, health care, and nearly every other aspect of life. The village covers about 140 acres with lots of unique and one-of-a-kind buildings. The bone room is a small kiosk with hands on displays that will fascinate kids of all ages. The last existing Pestilence House in Michigan is part of the village.
Less than a mile north of the Heritage Village is the McGulpin Point Lighthouse. It is an example of a true lighthouse, with a light tower and attached lighthouse keeper's living quarters. It was built in 1869 and operated until 1906. The design, called Norman Gothic, was so successful it was used in at least three other lighthouses including, the Eagle Harbor Light, White River Light, and Sand Island Light. Down the hill from the lighthouse is the McGulpin Rock, on the shore of Lake Michigan, at McGulpin Point. The big rock has been used as a navigational aid for centuries. The McGulpin Rock is about five times the size of the more famous Plymouth Rock. French explorers in the 1600's used it to gauge water levels. Native Americans had used it for centuries before that.