Starry Skies Viewing Sites

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Apostle Islands Starry Skies Initiative logo featuring silhouette of Honeymoon Rock and a starlit dark sky

Look up.

There is an entire universe over our heads and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers some of the best night sky viewing in the upper Midwest. Here are a few places to go and tips to get you started. And when you’re feeling inspired, be sure to support our Starry Skies Initiative to help preserve these dark skies for generations to come.

MAINLAND SITES

Meyers Beach: Parking area (fee for parking), stairway access to the beach that looks out over mostly open waters to the northwest.

Some light pollution from the north shore but easy access, great place to watch sunset, and star-gaze. Possible northern light sightings. Also access to the Lakeshore Trail (don’t try to walk this at night but consider going in during daylight hours after reserving one of the Mainland campsites along the trail.)

Aurora over Meyers Beach - Jeff Rennicke photo

Aurora over Meyers Beach – Jeff Rennicke photo

Little Sand Bay: Good views to the west and northwest. Some light pollution from local sources and the north shore of Minnesota.

Easy access to the beach, dune boardwalk, and the accessible overlook on the dock. Great spot for sunset, moonset, stargazing, northern lights.

Northern lights over Little Sand Bay beach - Jeff Rennicke photo

Northern lights over Little Sand Bay beach – Jeff Rennicke photo

SELECTED ISLAND SITES

Oak Island Sandspit: The open area of near Oak Island campground #1 offers an open view to the south and east offering good star viewing, moon watching, and sunrises.

Oak Island #6: Located on the northwest side of the island, campsite #6 offers some very dark sky views to the north and east. Good stargazing and potential northern lights.

Sand Island: While some of the sites at East Bay face south, site #6 and the soon-to-be-completed accessible boardwalk to the lighthouse grounds on the northern end of the island offer some good sky watching potential.

Outer Island #1: Situated on one of the most spectacular sand spits in the Apostles, this site offers dark sky viewing at its finest. Although set on the south end of the island, the site is so open you get nearly a 360 degree view of the sky from out on the sandspit.

Cat Island #1: A stage of sandy beach stretching from the southern end of Cat makes a perfect platform for sky watching far from light pollution.

Stockton Island – Julian Bay: Although a popular overnight anchorage, Julian Bay offers some wide open skies and safe beach walking as well as a board walk and privy.

Basswood Sites: Camps 1-4 on the southern end of Basswood offer some of the most accessible sky watching on the islands however the camps open to the potential mainland light pollution.

Docks: Many of the Island docks can be wonderful platforms for star gazing. Always be courteous of overnight boaters and others and tread carefully.

Milky Way over Stockton island - Jon Okerstrom photo

Milky Way from Stockton Island Presque Isle dock – Jon Okerstrom photo

A star-filled sky over the Outer Island dock - Jon Okerstrom photo

Stars over Outer Island dock – Jon Okerstrom photo

Lighthouses: Many of the lighthouses in the Apostle Islands can work well for Milky Way images. Some lighthouses may be occupied. Always be quiet and courteous. 

The Devils Island Lighthouse and Milky Way-Apostle Islands Print of the Year 2012

Devils Island – Mark Weller photo

Sand Island Lighthouse with Milky Way-Apostle Islands Print of the Year 2010

Sand Island – Mark Weller photo

Michigan Island Lighthouse and Milky Way

Michigan Island – Mark Weller photo

SKY WATCHING TIPS

  • Scout out potential night sky viewing spots during daylight hours to plan the safest route and viewing areas.
  • Carry flashlights and headlamps (check the batteries) to light the way but limit their use when you are on site and be respectful of other groups on the trail or campers along the way. Using red lights, rather than normal white lights, will allow you to see while preserving your night vision.
  • Dress warmly. Temperatures can drop significantly at night in the islands.
  • Carry water and snacks.
  • Be weather aware.
  • Give your eyes 15-20 minutes to adjust to the dark.
    Binoculars, small portable telescopes, even cameras with long lenses and a tripod can greatly enhance the viewing experience.
  • Be aware of the night sky calendar of meteor showers, moon phases, potential comet sightings and northern light forecasts.
  • Consult websites such as earthsky.org/ or the facebook page of Astro Bob King’s Astronomy is for Everyone and aurora prediction sites such as NOAA’s 30 Minute Aurora Forecast before you go. You can also  use northern lights apps that offer alerts.
  • Consider a small, portable star chart such as those available at the Earth Sky store and other sources.
  • Stay quiet to enjoy the moment fully and out of respect for other campers or stargazers nearby.
  • Plan to leave with plenty of time to return safely to your campsite or boat.
Milky Way over Devils Island east landing - Jon Okerstrom photo

Milky Way over Devils Island east landing – Jon Okerstrom photo

NIGHT SKY PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

  • Scout the area ahead of time to know the best and safest shooting locations.
  • Night sky photography apps like Photopills and Stellarium can help you plan and visualize where the stars and moon will be at a specific date and time of night.
  • Tripods, remote triggers and fast lenses are often used to achieve sharp long exposure night sky photography.
  • Use a fast lens (f/5.4 or lower) and wide open aperture settings to capture as much light as possible.
  • Turn ISO up to 800 or higher
  • Exposures are often 10 seconds or longer. When exposures are too long, star trails will result. You can use an exposure calculator like this one to determine the optimal settings for your equipment.
  • Before you start shooting, focus on a very bright star or distant object, check your focus, and turn off autofocus to avoid accidentally triggering it. Some people use gaffer’s tape on the lens to prevent accidental changes in focus.
  • For Smartphones, try “night photography” settings and use a small tripod.
  • To learn more about night sky photography, LonelySpeck.com has lots of great tutorials, lens reviews and examples. 

More Starry Skies stories

Dark Sky Week: from the first lighthouse beacon to the starry skies of today and beyond

Dark Sky Week: from the first lighthouse beacon to the starry skies of today and beyond

Now, 15 years after Weller and his team made that first, iconic image, he reflects on the first time he experienced the star-filled skies above Outer Island. “I had never seen skies like that. It was not lost on me that we were looking at sky that people a hundred years ago… a thousand years ago… would see.” Weller thinks back to the mariners who navigated Lake Superior by the stars before the first lighthouses helped to guide them through stormy seas. “That line from the hymn Amazing Grace echos in my mind immediately. “I once was lost but now I am found.”

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High school student Jennifer Barlow started International Dark Sky Week (IDSW) in 2003. In explaining why she founded the event, Barlow said, “I want people to be able to see the wonder of the night sky without the effects of light pollution. The universe is our view into our past and our vision into the future. I want to help preserve its wonder.”

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Reading the sacred skies: new book offered by Friends

peaks to both the human connection to the night sky and hopes for its protection.
Spirits Dancing: The Night Sky, Indigenous Knowledge, & Living Connections to the Cosmos features the photography of Travis Novitsky and text by Annette S. Lee. Novitsky, a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, uses his lens to capture the awe and wonder of the northern lights. Lee’s, both an astrophysicist and an artist, uses her text to range across the universe of night sky topics from indigenous knowledge to the science of northern lights and the responsibility of all to help keep our skies dark enough to experience them.

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Bayfield’s Carnegie Library embraces dark sky protection with planned lighting changes

Bayfield Carnegie Library’s motto is “A compass for curious minds.” One of the primary goals of library director Teresa Weber is to enlighten the public. Right now, Teresa is also trying to “enlighten” the walkways leading to the library without negatively impacting the dark skies over the city. Teresa recently spoke with Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore board member Neil Howk about this upcoming project. Neil also serves on the library board.

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Stories that capture the wonder and the possibilities of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are most-read in 2023

Stories that capture the wonder and the possibilities of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are most-read in 2023

As we raise a glass to embrace the new year, we look back fondly on the momentus year that was 2023 for Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and for the park we love. Thanks to your support, hard work by a growing team of passionate volunteers and by the Friends leadership team, we have a lot to celebrate.

With your support we helped more people discover the islands, learn about them, and work to protect them than ever before. We set a record for membership, did more outreach trips, more programs, and successfully completed the largest initiative in our organization’s history: Access for All. And there is even more to celebrate about the park and the people who make good things happen for a quarter million visitors each year.

We hope you enjoy this countdown of the top ten stories of 2023 on the Friends of the Apostle Islands website as a great way to start.

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“Discover the night” in the Apostle Islands during International Dark Sky Week

30 miles away from the mainland, Devils Island and Outer Island offer some incredible views of the Milky Way – and if you’re very fortunate, the spectacular northern lights – thanks to some of the darkest skies in Wisconsin. In fact, most of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers great night sky viewing too, although when you look toward the mainland communities, you’ll see the nighttime glow from city lights. That glow is visible from many miles away.

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