Remote lodge at tippy-top of the U.P. is now official dark sky park

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge staffer Chris Guibert's photo from the Lake Superior shoreline in Copper Harbor shows one of many vistas that prompted lodge owner John Mueller to seek official recognition for the area as a dark sky park. The designation was officially awarded on June 6.
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge staffer Chris Guibert's photo from the Lake Superior shoreline in Copper Harbor shows one of many vistas that prompted lodge owner John Mueller to seek official recognition for the area as a dark sky park. The designation was officially awarded on June 6.

Past Calumet. Past Mohawk and Lac La Belle. Past the middle of nowhere and the spot where Jesus left his sandals.

Keep venturing upward and eastward in the Keweenaw Peninsula, the northernmost place in Michigan you can reach without a boat. When you get to the end of the map, right before you'd tumble into Lake Superior, that's Copper Harbor.

That's the centerpoint of the new Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, as officially recognized by a group called the International Dark-Sky Association. That's where the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has tamped its lights and ramped up its photography classes and become, as of a month ago, the designated dark sky headquarters of the only IDSA park in the Upper Peninsula.

By light of day — which lasts until almost 11 p.m. this time of year — the top of the tip of Michigan is awash in greenery and lapped by pristine blue waters.

By inky night, it is a place for contemplation. For reflection. For gazing at the endless starry sky and pondering the vastness of the universe.

Oh, and for bears. Big ones, with paws the size of Hot-N-Ready pizzas. But the whole point of a dark sky area is to tread lightly, and bears like peace and quiet, too.

"We focus on what our goal is," said John Mueller, owner of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. He needs to make money, of course, and he has a 9-hole golf course to maintain and 24 cabins to keep clean.

But the bottom line is found light years above the horizon: "We help people see the stars."

Better than Anchorage

Light pollution robs most of us of the chance to appreciate the skies the way humans did before electricity and so darned many of us.

Brad Barnett, executive director of the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau, moved to the area from Alaska in 2013. Even in Anchorage, he said, ambient light washed out the true cosmos.

In the Keweenaw, sprouting from the western end of the U.P., "you just realize the world's a little bigger than yourself," he said. Watching the northern lights dance is "a miraculous thing, and you get to experience it here if you take the time and get a little lucky."

There's a purple tint to the night sky in a shot from what's now the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, headquartered at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Copper Harbor. Photographer Thomas Oliver, an education leader at the Lodge, recently led a guest to nearby Hunter's Point on a cloudy night, just to show where future pictures might be taken. The clouds lifted unexpectedly, displaying the Milky Way in the southern sky and then, in the opposite direction, the northern lights.

There's a price to be paid in remoteness and 270 nonnegotiable inches of snow. But at the lodge, Mueller is willing to meet it, having grown to like the area as his son earned a degree at Michigan Tech in Houghton.

More: Tony Hawk helps dedicate new skateboard park in Detroit

More: Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to world's newest dark sky park: What to know

A Texan and Coloradoan, mostly, he bought the rights to the place from a man who won it at auction for $1.35 million and then — appropriately for the area — got cold feet.

Born as a Works Progress Administration project in the mid-1930s, the lodge now offers gourmet meals, mountain biking, a library of telescopes and classes on astrophotography. Rivian is scheduled to install an EV charger next month, Mueller said, and there’s talk down the road of electric snowmobiles.

After four years, he said, he can count on "a beautiful summertime, then fall colors, then wintertime with skiers and snowmobilers. Then for spring, you might have one day, or six depending on how much snow we had."

A designation as an official dark sky park seemed like both an affirmation of what he'd been doing and a boost for business. A hefty list of adaptations and improvements at the behest of the IDSA included more than two dozen new outside lights on the 500-acre property, muted and with LED bulbs, along with a commitment to education and outreach.

Fourteen arduous months after he applied, he received the all-clear.

Other Michigan viewpoints

Keewenaw is the third IDSA park in Michigan, after Headlands International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City and Dr. T.K. Lawless International Dark Sky Park in Cass County, with its irresistible address of 15122 Monkey Run St. in Vandalia.

Six other parks have been designated as dark sky reserves by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state recognition commits them to tamping down light pollution year-round.

"We looked into getting the international designation," said Eric Ostrander, unit supervisor for the DNR at Negwegon State Park near Alpena, "but their requirements are a lot more strict than what our law includes."

The effort will pay off, Barnett said, even if it's hard to quantify how many people come to Copper Harbor because its view of the stars has been formally endorsed by a nonprofit in Arizona.

“It’s still a fledgling industry. We don’t have good data,” he said. But if all it does is nudge the sort of travelers who already want to leave small footprints, that’s a worthy impact.

The dark sky park, he noted, is open to all, wherever they might be spending the night. The nearby motels and restaurants — with "nearby" very much a relative term — are eager to serve.

The lake entices. The stars await. The sky's the limit.

Contact Neal Rubin at, or follow him on Twitter @nealrubin_fp. Or both. To subscribe to the Free Press for an absolutely trivial sum of money, click here.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Upper Peninsula's Keweenaw Mountain lodge becomes official dark sky park