The Keweenaw is a place that does nothing in small degrees. The waters of Lake Superior engulf the horizon. Cliffs rocket to the sky. Forested valleys plunge deeply past mountainsides, rolling for miles like a sea. Blazing sunsets and sunrises are dialed to eleven. When night falls, the Keweenaw unfurls a sometimes overlooked gift – the truest, deepest, and darkest skies left in the world.
In our modern world, the biggest factor that prevents Dark Sky viewing is light pollution. Streetlights, billboards, high-rises, and traffic are all huge contributors to ambient light that prevents us from clearly seeing the beauty of a starry night sky. Here in the Keweenaw, our fabulous city centers have the benefit of being small in comparison to the overall scale of the untamed and natural land surrounding. Each of these communities are also widely spread apart, so that each bubble of ambient light doesn’t meld into the other.
Low light pollution makes it easy to view the Keweenaw night sky. This incredible shot of the Phoenix Church was taken by Nate Bett.
As the northernmost horn of the state of Michigan, the Keweenaw benefits from being geographically distant from larger cities and their glow. The greatest of lakes that surrounds us also means that for miles and miles, there is nothing to create or reflect light to impede night sky viewing. This same lake also creates vast, nearly limitless skylines. Here, photographers can get massive “real estate” in their celestial landscapes as there is nothing impeding their view of the low horizon. The physical location of the Keweenaw also is very amenable to aurora and other celestial viewing – situated at a latitude of 47 degrees, this proximity to the North Pole allows for some of the best Northern Lights and star viewing in the contiguous United States.
The Keweenaw’s northern latitude and limited daylight hours make it possible to see the Northern Lights dance across the night sky. This beautiful scene was shot by Nate Bett.
When you’ve got access to the deepest, darkest hours of the night what else could make it better? How about even more hours? The Keweenaw’s iconic fall, winter, and spring seasons are also accompanied by the lengthening of our nighttime hours. Our high latitude coinciding with the Earth’s tilt and rotation during the stretch of time from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice yields shorter days and longer nights. While that might mean our daytime play becomes more precious, it also means that dark sky celestial opportunities become even more plentiful!
The world’s newest International Dark Sky Park is in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. In June '22, the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, with its headquarters at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Copper Harbor, was certified by the International Dark Sky Association. It is the first International Dark Sky Park in the Upper Peninsula, and the third in all of Michigan, joining the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Northwest Lower Michigan and Dr. T.K. Lawless International Dark Sky Park in Southwest Michigan.
At the Lodge, visitors can participate in special nightly programming like astro-photography seminars, light control workshops, and night-sky viewing parties. Lodging guests can even borrow a telescope from the KML Outdoors Activity Center (OAC) to get a better view of the celestial shows above.
For more on the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, visit the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge's website.
Even if your adventure itinerary doesn’t include a photography excursion, be sure to step outside during your stay in the Keweenaw after the sun sets. Infinite stars dot the sky, and one can clearly see the opaque wash of the Milky Way with the naked eye. This is a time to find familiar constellations and allow yourself a moment of awe and peace.
A touch of Aurora Borealis Colors and countless stars dot the night sky in this spectacular photo by Nate Bett.
Many professional and amateur astrophotographers know that the Keweenaw is the place to go for curating celestial compositions and honing the craft. Regardless of the season, the dark skies allow stars and constellations to be at their most photogenic. Resident professional dark sky photographer Nate Bett finds that the Keweenaw’s access to not just Lake Superior, but the various rugged landscapes and historical monuments make for dynamic compositions.
The Keweenaw night sky offers many photographic opportunities. This impressive composition was shot by Nate Bett.
For the night owls feeling more adventurous, grab your camera and seek the lakeshores for the deepest dark nights. Peak aurora chasing begins in late October/early November. Through your lens, you’ll be able to capture even more unbelievable views than you could imagine. Those panoramic views across Lake Superior offer a wide canvas for the rippling greens, blues, and purples of the Northern Lights.
If you’re new to aurora chasing – here’s the basics:
For even more insight, incorporate one of Keweenaw Mountain Lodge's astrophotography or stargazing workshops into your time here. The astrophotography class typically gathers for several hours to go over camera logistics, and then a group night outing to hone your skills with the pros!
The Keweenaw night sky makes an excellent backdrop for the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse in this photo by Nate Bett.