- Michigan Northern Lights Viewing: Where and How to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
- How and Where to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
- When is the Best Time of Day to See the Northern Lights in Michigan?
- About the Northern Lights in Michigan
- What are the Northern Lights?
- F.A.Q. About the Northern Lights Michigan
Michigan Northern Lights Viewing: Where and How to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
Hoping to take a peek at the elusive Northern Lights in Michigan?
If so, keep reading.
For night sky watchers (and the rest of us, too), there’s nothing more exciting than the chance to take a peek at the elusive Northern Lights in Michigan.
When the news that Michigan’s Aurora Borealis will be visible, it’s time to find out how and where to see this amazing celestial event.
Read on to discover the best places to see the Northern Lights and use our map (at the bottom of this page) to help plan your best Aurora Borealis viewing.
How and Where to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
Watching the Northern Lights in Michigan light up the sky is simply one of the most memory-making things to do in the months between August and April.
Thanks to miles of quiet, undeveloped Great Lakes shoreline and endless acres of pine and hardwood forests, Michigan is one of the best spots in the northern hemisphere to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.
Michigan is home to six state-designated dark sky preserves (including one internationally-designated preserve) and many other places that give you the opportunity to see the Northern Lights clearly and free of artificial light.
When is the Best Time of Day to See the Northern Lights in Michigan?
The best time of the day to see the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) depends on the strength and location of the geomagnetic storm that is bringing about the phenomenon.
While some claim times between 9 p.m. to around midnight, or 12 a.m., it is best to check with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northern Lights Aurora Forecasting tool here.
Using this tool will help you plan the best time to catch the northern lights in all their spectral glory.
Why Michigan is the Perfect Spot to See the Northern Lights
The best place to see the northern lights is any destination in the “auroral zone,” the area within an approximately 1,550-mile radius of the North Pole, according to Space.com.
Although the aurora most frequently occurs in this zone, during stronger solar storms, the northern lights phenomenon can be seen from points farther south., such as Michigan.
With endless acres of open wilderness, free from artificial light, Michigan is one the best places to see the northern lights.
About the Northern Lights in Michigan
Maybe you’ve always associated the northern and southern lights with Norway or Canada, but you can watch the glorious displays right here in Michigan.
The magical beauty of the lights dancing across the galaxy is the stuff of legend. The lights cast their rippling shades of purple, blue, and green across the sky over Michigan soil (and water) every year and it is a simply fabulous sight.
Beginning in ancient times, the unexplained mysteries of these astral projections have been culturally significant.
According to the Northern Lights Center, in medieval times, occurrences of auroral displays were seen as harbingers of war or famine; and the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed that the lights indicated the location of manabai’wok (giants) who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen.
Michigan offers some of the best viewing of the northern lights, and one of the best ways to experience the wonder of Michigan is seeing the northern lights over one of the Great Lakes.
What are the Northern Lights?
Understanding the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, scientifically called the Aurora Borealis, are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun entering the earth’s atmosphere.
They’re caused by the sun’s solar flares, swept through the expanse of space by the solar wind. In the southern hemisphere, this is called the Aurora Australis, or the southern lights.
From earth, we see colorful waves dancing in the sky like a magical ocean above us, but what’s really happening is a collision of electrons and atoms in the earth’s magnetic fields.
The electrons release aurorae, the light we marvel at, and while the displays are often unpredictable, they can usually be forecasted.
This means that you can roughly plan when you’ll see the lights (usually within two days), and discover the best locations for it.
When to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
October, November, and April are the peak months for viewing the Northern Lights, but they flare to life continuously between the months of August and April.
To really nail down the day and time to look north, download an aurora activity app and check out the Space Weather Prediction Center website and SpaceWeather.com.
Where to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
As you map out your space-viewing adventure, you’ll need to know where to go. If you’re searching “where to see the Northern Lights near me”, you can also use our map at the bottom of this page.
To find the best places to viewing, start by looking for low-light areas as far north as you can get.
If you’re in a big city, the urban light pollution will make it impossible to catch a glimpse of the natural phenomenon you’re chasing, due to light pollution.
While it’s possible to do a day trip (or maybe a night trip), a longer trip might be a better idea.
Our optimal viewing spots for the aurora borealis below also share tips for extended viewing trips.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the best places in the state to see the northern lights. Here are a few places to consider northern light hunting.
The Keweenaw Peninsula- Copper Harbor
There are several places with reported aurora sightings in the Copper Harbor area. Brockway Mountain Drive and Esrey Park are great places to begin.
Between Eagle Harbor and Eagle River, you’ll find places like Great Sand Bay and Fresh Coast Cabins, where the northern lights aurora borealis have often been enjoyed.
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: We like the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Copper Harbor because it’s cozy, clean and comfortable. It’s also a good base for exploring this stunning area.
Where to Eat: You’ll find lots fresh fish and pasties, the homemade and hand-held meat pies that are a favorite “*Yooper” dish. The Hut Inn, in Calumet is a must.
This 6000-acre mountain range on the shores of Lake Superior is an excellent spot to see the lights, with plenty of camping spots available.
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: We like to stay in Ontonagon, about a half-hour west on the shores of Lake Superior. You’ll find clean, comfortable, independently-owned cabins and a chain hotel.
Where to Eat: There’s some solid choices here; make it a point to try Syl’s Cafe. In addition to consistently excellent food, they also offer some delicious baked goods.
Isle Royale National Park
You can’t get much more remote than this island in Lake Superior. With more than 200 square miles to explore, the skies over this island are completely free of artificial light.
Fast-growing Marquette, Michigan is one of the best spots in the continental U.S. to see the northern lights, offering an amazing viewing opportunity from the southern shore of Lake Superior.
Besides the great aurora viewing potential, there’s so much fun to be had in this city. What better trip idea in Michigan than to take yourself (and maybe some family and friends) to see the northern lights in Marquette, where you can ski, hike, and shop while you’re there?
Marquette is quickly becoming one of the top travel destinations in Michigan, as more travelers discover how much this city on the shores of Lake Superior has to offer.
Home to Northern Michigan University, Marquette offers unparalleled opportunity for outdoors activities year-round; a bustling downtown with fun shops and cafe; a growing craft brewing scene and much more.
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: There are many lodging opportunities in Marquette, and we’ve developed a few favorite over the years, including the Hampton Inn Waterfront; the Holiday Inn and the Ramada by Wyndham. The best news about the Ramada? It’s pet-friendly.
Where to Eat: You’ll never run out of places to try in this growing area. Whatever you choose, make it a point to stop by The Portside Inn for the breadsticks.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls is one of Michigan’s most-visited spots, and with good reason. It’s pure Michigan beauty at its natural best, and its practically free: all you need is a Michigan state park pass.
It’s also a great place to experience the phenomenon of the northern lights.
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: We like to use Paradise, Michigan, located on Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay, as our base when we explore this area.
Where to Eat: Paradise is small enough to still feel like you’re really getting away yet big enough to have some of the amenities (like clean hotel rooms) for comfort.
You’ve probably heard of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising before, but have you ever thought to visit in colder months when the atmosphere puts on its light show over the shore of Lake Superior?
The national lakeshore of Pictured Rocks makes for a great northern lights location because you can see them from land or paddle out on a kayak and view them from the water.
Imagine drifting through the cool, clear waves of Lake Superior and becoming part of the display as the northern lights reflect off of the water, surrounding you in dark shades of luminous green and blue?
See the Northern Lights in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula
If driving over the majestic Mackinac Bridge isn’t enough, watching the sky light up with curtains of shimmering color adds a whole new level to the experience.
Whether you make a trip of it by touring Mackinaw City or journeying through Mackinac Island, this is the perfect area to enjoy the days while waiting for the night to usher the lights across the horizon.
Visit the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City to learn more about the night sky and the aurora borealis.
Yo can read more about Headlands, and other Michigan Dark Sky Parks here.
It’s not easy to forecast when the lights will appear.
The park’s clear sky chart may help you predict when is the best time to view the Northern Lights.
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: We recommend staying on Mackinac Island (you can use our guide to the Best Places to Stay on Mackinac Island to find accommodations) or in St. Ignace, across the Mackinac Bridge.
Where to Eat: This is your opportunity to try some of the best pasties in the world: take a trip over the Mackinac and head to Lehto’s Pasties. You’ll thank us later!
Port Crescent State Park
Northern Lights in the lower peninsula of Michigan aren’t as common as they are in the upper peninsula, but don’t underestimate what you’ll find in the skies at Port Crescent State Park. Port Crescent in located between the resorts towns of Caseville and Port Austin.
The earth’s magnetic field may be difficult to predict, but when it releases the Northern Lights, it’s like an extraordinary dance between the night sky and these intruding, though welcome, solar flares.
Port Crescent State Park has everything you’ll need for a beautiful northern lights trip – a campground far from light pollution; three miles of beach on Lake Huron; and a dark sky preserve for great northern lights conditions (including a viewing platform for stargazing.)
IF YOU GO
Where to Stay: Try and get an overnight camping spot at Port Crescent State Park. This is one of the nicest parks in the state park system: clean; lots of hiking trails and beach frontage; and ADA-accessible boardwalks.
Where to Eat: The Bank 1884 in Port Austin is one of our favorite restaurants in the area, be sure and try the Truffle Mac and Cheese.
Photographing the Northern Lights
Photographing the Northern Lights is one of the main reasons that many are drawn to hunt them down across northern Michigan.
If you’re itching to capture the lights through a lens, take note of the best camera settings for the task so that you’ll be ready when they show up.
For instance, a wide aperture and a shutter speed between 1-15 seconds will serve you well. You’ll also want to be intentional about your white balance and ISO settings.
Learn more about photographing the northern lights here, and if you need some inspiration, check out Shawn Malone’s night photography of the northern lights in the UP.
F.A.Q. About the Northern Lights Michigan
A. While you have a chance of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights between the months of August and April, your best bet to see the Aurora Borealis is during the months of April, October and November.
A. Late summer through early spring are the best times to see the Northern Lights. Your chances are especially good during the months of April, October, and November.
The farther north you are in Michigan, the better your chances of seeing the Northern Lights dance across the sky in a rainbow of color.
The southern shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula provide excellent spots for viewing the Aurora Borealis.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR-
Kyrsten Newlon is a Content Editor for mymichiganbeach.com. Growing up in Kalamazoo, she wrote and read everything she could. Now, she is a student at Grace College with Journalism and Communications majors and an English minor. She has been published by Grace College, the Winona Lake Newsletter, Input Fort Wayne, and various online blogs. Kyrsten loves raising puppies to be service dogs, spending time in coffee shops, and adventuring through Michigan.
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