When you think of Detroit, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s sports teams or automobile manufacturing. If you’re a fan of good food, you might remember that Anthony Bourdain visited Detroit, as have many other television food stars. You might instead think of negative headlines – economic and infrastructure issues –, of which there have been an unfortunate amount.
One thing that probably doesn’t come to mind is stargazing. After all, Detroit is not a destination known for its stargazing prospects, especially compared with rural areas of the Southwestern U.S. or other parts of the country.
Just because Detroit isn’t known for stargazing doesn’t mean you can’t go stargazing in Detroit. In fact, there are a few places for stargazing in Detroit, and even better prospects if you’re willing to drive a little ways out of the city.
So if you head a (good) headline about an upcoming astronomical event or just have a meteor shower marked on your calendar, Detroit is about as good as any other city in the country when it comes to finding spots for stargazing. Below I’ve detailed some of the best options – if you know of others or see an issue you’d like me to correct, please let me know in the comments below.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Peoria, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, Bodwéwadmi (Potawatomi), Myaamia, Wyandot, Meškwahki·aša·hina (Fox), Mississauga peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Detroit
Finding a place to go stargazing in Detroit is admittedly a bit of a challenge. It’s the largest city in Michigan and the endless string of lights in every street (in 2017 they added 65000 new streetlights) definitely make it hard for the stars to find their way in the sky.
Michigan Science Center
Detroit is truly lucky to have the Michigan Science Center. This place is awesome, for adults, kids, and everything in between. All the exhibits are fantastic, but since we’re here to talk about stargazing, don’t miss the one dedicated to NASA. The museum has a state-of-the-art planetarium where they project amazing shows about the universe. They’re child friendly, so you’ll have Sesame Street characters guiding you across the cosmos.
Many people see stargazing as a solid plan for a date. And they’re right. The romanticism of laying under a star-filled sky cuddling with your loved one is undeniable. While you won’t see the stars in all their glory, RiverWalk is a good alternative to stargaze in the city. You’ll also get one of the best views of the Detroit skyline and Windsor across the river.
Stargazing Spots Within 1 Hour of Detroit
You don’t have to go very far to enjoy better skies. Drive an hour outside of the city, even twenty minutes, and you’ll notice a difference in the stars and how bright they shine.
Addison Oaks County Park
Addison Oaks County Park is a hidden gem of 734 pristine acres in Oakland County. The county is doing a fantastic job protecting the wildlife and the forest. There’s no shortage of fun activities: walking and biking trails, fishing, birding, jungle gyms for the kids. The park has plenty of camping sites where you can gaze at the sky from. You can also go near the lake if you want a couple of artistic shots of the stars reflected in the water.
Bring out your nerdy side, because things are about to get academic. Angell Hall belongs to the University of Michigan, and houses the primary student observatory. It has a main telescope, a 0.4-m (16-inch) Ritchey-Chretien reflector, equipped with a spectrograph and camera, a small radio telescope, and a 20-cm (8-inch) Schmidt-Cassegrains.
The Student Astronomical Society hosts public open houses at Angell Hall on select Friday evenings. You’ll get to enjoy a viewing session and a planetarium show!
Cranbrook Institute of Science
Cranbrook Institute of Science is another of the “academic” Detroit stargazing spots. The museum has an observatory where it holds public viewings. You can attend them every Friday from 7:30 – 10pm. It’s also open on the first Sunday of the month from 1:00 – 4:00pm for safe viewing of the sun. Should you miss the dates for the observatory, you can always check the planetarium shows for a guided (and highly realistic) tour of the universe.
Island Lake State Recreation Area
Located about an hour out of Detroit, Island Lake is one of several state parks along the band of lakes and hills stretching from Pontiac down to Jackson. It has a wide variety of outdoor activities, from gentle beaches along lakes and ponds, to a slow-moving river just made for canoe and kayak paddling, to miles of hiking and biking trails.
The fun doesn’t end once the sun sets. At night, you can marvel at the beauty of the brightest stars. Head to the beach, to set up your telescope, and get ready for the night show.
Waterloo Recreation Area
Waterloo Recreation Area is a great place to go stargazing in Detroit if you love the feeling of being alone with nature. The area is really natural, with lots of trees and dirt roads. It also has well-groomed campgrounds and even free private showers with hot water. You’ll have better luck watching the stars far away from the campgrounds – these areas are pretty wooded. Try to find a spot near the lake for an open sky view.
Wolcott Mill Metropark
Most people go to Wolcott Mill Metropark to celebrate their wedding or to appreciate the stunning autumn foliage. Stargazers are another group who can have a blast in this lovely park. The park is located in Ray Township, a rural community that the pesky city lights haven’t reached yet. Stargate Observatory is also located within the park’s grounds; however, it’s open for members only.
Stargazing Spots Within 2.5 of Detroit
Those willing to drive a bit more will be rewarded with even better views of our majestic universe. Grab the car keys and let’s start this stargazing adventure!
Fox Park Public Observatory
Fox Park Public Observatory is a great spot not too far from Lansing to get out under some dark skies. They have a large 16-inch telescope and some of the volunteer members bring smaller telescopes so everyone can get a glimpse of the sky. You’re welcome to bring your own equipment as the observatory has enough open air space for everyone to spread out. The public viewing nights are held on Fridays and Saturdays. Check their website for the specific dates.
Lake Hudson Recreation Area
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place for stargazing in Detroit than Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The area symbolizes a milestone when it comes to the efforts for preserving the night sky. It became the first “Dark Sky Preserve ” in the United States in 1993. It’s highly popular among local stargazers and astrophotographers as you can get wonderful shots of the Milky Way in the preserve. Regulars recommend setting up at the Picnic or Beach parking areas as they tend to be less used in the nighttime.
Port Crescent State Park
Located at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb, Port Crescent State Park is one of the most beautiful Detroit stargazing places. The park is another of Michigan’s seven Dark Sky Preserves. But its beauty isn’t confined to the skies only. It’s all over you, up in the sky and down in the ground. There’s a stunning beach, with deep blue water and white sand. Oh, and the sunsets are breathtaking. Definitely save at least a day to make the most of this park.
How Good is the Stargazing in Detroit
As you might guess, stargazing in Detroit can be tricky; like most major cities, Detroit is plagued by lots of light pollution. Additionally, being not far from two of the Great Lakes (Erie and Huron) mean that Detroit receives lots of weather and cloud cover.
So if you have your heart set on seeing an astronomical event or just spending a night admiring the stars, it’s well worth your time to choose one of the spots for stargazing near Detroit (usually those within one hour are good enough to get you inland to clearer skies if the whole Midwest isn’t socked in!).
Best Times to Go Stargazing in Detroit
If you’re planning a trip to Detroit and one of your must-do activities is stargazing (which would, admittedly, be curious since there are much better places to plan a stargazing trip…), there’s one window of time each year that has a magical combination of less cloud cover, low humidity, and still-bearable overnight temperatures: you should plan your trip between mid-September and the end of October if you want the best chance for ideal stargazing conditions.
While September is a quiet month from an astronomical events perspective, October is a fantastic window of time for stargazing – there are a number of meteor showers throughout the month, and other things to see too.
Can You See the Milky Way in Detroit?
After all this, you might have one more question: can I see the Milky Way in Detroit?
I give the same answer for every single city: you can’t see the Milky Way in Detroit; there’s just too much light pollution. However, you can definitely see it in the two dark sky preserves I mentioned above, so if that’s on your space tourism bucket list, plan your Detroit trip to include a foray out to these dark sky spots and if the skies are clear, you should be able to see the Milky Way!
Have any other questions about stargazing in Detroit, where to go, or what you can see? Let me know in the comments!