The Best Midwest Stargazing Destinations
Whether you're enjoying stellar views through a telescope or from a blanket in a truck bed, these Midwestern parks, lakeshores and wildernesses offer the darkest skies for the best stargazing in the region.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
At Theodore Roosevelt National Park "half the park is after dark!" Thanks to great air quality and a relatively remote location, stargazers need not squint to see the celestial drama. Recommended viewing spots include Peaceful Valley Ranch and Oxbow Overlook.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana
Beachfront stargazing in the Midwest? Yes, please! On the coast of Lake Michigan, just far enough from the greater Chicago area to escape light pollution, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore offers a serene stargazing experience. While the whole 15 miles of shoreline is prime for watching the night sky, the small town of Beverly Shores has been officially designated as an International Dark Sky Community.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan
At Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Michigan, an Emmet County-wide outdoor lighting ordinance keeps light pollution at a minimum and starry-eyed wonderment at a maximum. The park itself is made up of 600 acres of gorgeous Lower Peninsula landscape: old-growth forest and untouched Lake Michigan shoreline. Not only do stargazers have free access to the park 24/7, but the park also regularly hosts nighttime events such as star parties, starry cruises and astrophotography nights.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the largest International Dark Sky Association sanctuaries in the world—over a million acres of forests and lakes with naturally inky-black skies overhead. The area was officially designated for wilderness protection in the 1960s, but stargazing is a local tradition that has stretched back centuries.
Newport State Park, Wisconsin
On a clear night at Newport State Park, visitors are privy to a whole landscape of night sky phenomena, thanks to Wisconsin's careful curation of the area. Newport is the state's only designated wilderness park, with hike-in campsites and a prime location at the tip of Door Peninsula. Open waters frame this Dark Sky Park.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Directions to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore? Head north in Wisconsin and keep going until you hit the water. A combination of forested islands and cave-studded shoreline, this remote nature area brings the night sky alive in a whole new way, with the soundscape of waves lapping at the rocks. Locals have recently petitioned to see it recognized as an International Dark Sky park.
White Rock Conservancy, Iowa
See the Milky Way stretching across the Midwestern sky at White Rock Conservancy, a 5,500-acre land trust near Coon Rapids dedicated to conserving and protecting Iowa's natural resources. Low levels of light pollution mean fantastic stargazing, and the Conservancy even hosts the Iowa Star Party each summer, when the public is welcome to peer through various telescopes and see galaxies, nebulae and stars millions of light-years away.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
When the sun sets at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the main event is The Milky Way. Set on 40 miles of Lake Superior shoreline on the Upper Peninsula, this national lakeshore offers plenty of space for visitors to spread out and look heavenward.
Brockway Mountain, Michigan
Michigan stargazing reaches a literal peak on 1,328-foot-high Brockway Mountain, a scenic lookout on the Upper Peninsula. Brockway Mountain Drive winds 10 miles up and along the mountain. By day, it shows off panoramic views of Lake Superior, inland lakes and Isle Royale National Park. But by night, all eyes turn to the sky, which sometimes even offers up a glimpse of the aurora borealis.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Where better to camp under the sprawling night sky than a remote island? At Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park, man-made lights are minimal as can be, especially given that access is only available via watercraft. Grab a camping permit and pitch a tent to watch the constellations unfold all night long adjacent to the Canadian border.
Homer Glen, Illinois
The small town of Homer Glen, Illinois, was built on the motto of "Community and Nature in Harmony," and that includes the vast expanses above. Because it's a designated Dark Sky Community, residents are committed to preserving the night sky—city officials cite health benefits as a reason to keep light pollution to a minimum. Chicagoans need travel only 30 miles southwest to escape the city and see the stars.