Northern Lights in Michigan
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Awesome Mitten’s ULTIMATE Guide of When, Where, & How to See the Northern Lights in Michigan

The Northern Lights Michigan is famous for showcasing (aka Aurora Borealis) are a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun.

AuTrain Michigan Northern Lights - September 2022
Northern Lights in AuTrain | photo via Upper Peninsula Travel FB Group

What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights, commonly known as aurora borealis (and aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere), are a natural display of light in the night sky of the northern hemisphere.

Auroral displays come in a variety of colors, the most frequent of which are light green and pink. Red, yellow, green, blue, and violet hues have also been recorded.

A solar flare (energetic particles emitted by the sun) travels across space on the solar wind, ultimately breaching the Earth’s magnetic field. Electrons in the Earth’s magnetic field sideswipe oxygen atoms or nitrogen molecules.

The northern lights are caused by colliding particles (typically electrons) with atoms; after impact, electrons might revert to their initial, lower energy state, releasing photons or light particles known as aurorae.

The differences in color are caused by the different types of gas particles that are doing the colliding. We are blessed with some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan!

Crisp Point Lighthouse - Crisp Point Lighthouse, M-123 Tahquamenon Scenic Byway
Crisp Point Lighthouse | photo via @mark_o_foto

An Interesting Historical Perspective of the Northern Lights

Historically, Aurora Borealis has had many interpretations as people groups tried to explain this natural phenomenon.

  • The Maori, of New Zealand, believed them to be the fires and torches of people living far north.
  • Inuit tribes of Alaska looked to the lights to see representations of their ancestors and the animals that they hunted.
  • A little closer to home, the Menominee of Wisconsin thought the lights were the lanterns of a group of giants that lived to the north.

Regardless of how they work or the beliefs behind them, the Aurora Borealis is beautiful and the Mitten is blessed to have such a good seat in this natural light show.

Whitefish Point, Michigan - Northern Lights
Whitefish Point | photo via @wideeyedone_

Tips for Seeing Northern Lights in Upper Michigan

Seeing the northern lights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is difficult to predict as they are a naturally occurring phenomenon and a clear night sky is required.

Follow these tips to increase your chances of viewing an aurora borealis shower, regardless of where you are in the northern hemisphere.

  • Find a dark sky with a wide horizon to the north.
  • Check NOAA’s three-day forecast and 30-minute forecast for possible sightings.
  • Dress warmly and be patient.
Northern Lights - Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island | photo via @greendrinks

Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Michigan

The transitions from winter to spring and fall to winter seem to produce the best conditions in the atmosphere for seeing the Northern Lights in Michigan. Key months for Northern Lights activity in Michigan are April, October, and November.

The actual timing of the Northern Lights can be difficult to predict, and most predictions are made within 24-48 hours of the actual display. Pick a clear, crisp night for the best chance at catching the Northern Lights on display in Michigan.

The best app to predict the lights is Space Weather Live, which can predict them up to an hour before they become visible.

Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Michigan

Northern Michigan is full of quiet, remote, and dark places that are perfect for watching the Northern Lights in Michigan. So go grab the family and a blanket and find a spot that is free from any type of light and enjoy the Northern Lights in Michigan.

23 Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Michigan

  • Headlands International Dark Sky Park | Mackinaw City
  • Wilderness State Park | Carp Lake
  • Mackinac Bridge
  • Lake Superior | Upper Peninsula
    • Brimley
    • Whitefish Point
    • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
    • Au Train
    • Marquette
    • Big Bay
    • Skanee
    • Eagle River
    • Eagle Harbor
    • Copper Harbor
  • Keweenaw Mountain Lodge | Copper Harbor
  • Drummond Island
  • Isle Royale
  • Lake Michigan Shoreline
    • Ludington
    • Traverse City
  • Port Crescent State Park | Port Austin
  • Negwegon State Park | Ossineke
  • Rockport State Park | Alpena
  • Thompson’s Harbor State Park | Posen
  • Dr. T.K. Lawless State Park | Jones
Headlands International Dark Sky Park - Mackinaw City, Michigan - Northern Lights
Headlands International Dark Sky Park | photo via @sindusanjuu

Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City

The sixth International Dark Sky Park in the U.S., exploring Headlands International Dark Sky Park is one of the best things to do in Mackinaw City, especially if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Michigan’s lower peninsula!

Over 600 acres along more than two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in Emmet County provide a perfect stargazing paradise.

Wilderness State Park | Carp Lake

Situated west of Headlands International Dark Sky Park, this Emmett County park is spread out over 10,000 acres, including more than 20 miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline. There are also trails to explore and plenty of camping space. If you can’t make it to Headlands, this is a wonderful stargazing spot.

Mackinaw City, Michigan - Northern Lights
Northern Lights | photo via @chase_gagnon

Stop by the Mackinac Bridge

Headlands is one of the best spots in Michigan to see the Northern Lights, but if you want to “get closer,” try checking out the lights by the Mackinac Bridge.

Driving over the bridge is always a special experience, whether you’re a native Michigander or just visiting. But watching the Northern Lights while you’re driving over the bridge or situated closeby takes that special feeling to the next level.

No matter what side of the bridge you’re on, there are several exits and turnoffs you can pull off on to really take in the majestic view.

St. Ignace, Michigan - Northern Lights
St. Ignace | photo via @wanderingpelican

Lake Superior’s Shoreline in the Upper Peninsula

Northern Michigan is at an excellent latitude position since the auroral oval dips further south on nights of higher auroral activity.

Due to the relatively dark night sky, the Upper Peninsula is gifted with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south side of Lake Superior, which affords some of the greatest places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan.

With its proximity to the North Pole and its lack of light pollution, the Upper Peninsula is a prime place for watching the Northern Lights in Michigan. Lake Superior’s high shorelines give sky-gazers a full, unobstructed view of the night’s lights, making it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Eagle Harbor, Eagle Harbor - Michigan Tech Winter Carnival
Eagle Harbor | photo via @lpvisuals

Looking north over Lake Superior, one can see all the way to the horizon and enjoy a 180-degree panorama of the night sky. At our latitude, getting to a position without being obstructed by a treeline or hills is critical, as an auroral show will often sit extremely low on the horizon.

Some of our favorite places to see the Northern Lights in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula include:

Eagle Harbor, Michigan - Northern Lights
Eagle Harbor | photo via @nawrockstar

Historic Keweenaw Mountain Lodge | Copper Harbor

This U.P. park became just the third International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Michigan in June. This historic wilderness lodge offers stargazers a chance to see the Northern Lights at Michigan’s northernmost tip. The park also offers programs and photo workshops so you can take awesome Northern Lights photos when the time is right.

The Beaches of Drummond Island

At the far-east end of the Upper Peninsula on Lake Huron is Drummond Island, which offers arguably some of the best views of the Northern Lights anywhere in the world. If you’re looking to throw a blanket down and soak in the views, try Glen Cove Beach or Township Park Beach.

michigan northern lights at Wilderness State Park
Wilderness State Park | photo via @brett_marchel_adventures

Multiple Spots in Marquette

The largest city in the U.P. has lots of great spots to see the stars and Northern Lights, especially if you visit during the fall or winter. Winters in the U.P. can be treacherous, but the views up here are spectacular.

 Try hiking Sugarloaf Mountain during the warmer months or try any of the numerous pullout spots along M-28 if you’re driving from Munising to Marquette. Once you’ve found the perfect spot along the lakeshore, you won’t be able to beat the views.

The Remote (and Totally Awesome) Isle Royale

Believe it or not, Isle Royale National Park is actually one of the least visited national parks in the nation. But it’s located in the Mitten State and it’s a great place to see the Northern Lights!

This national park may be remote and rugged, but its the perfect spot to catch the wonderous aurora borealis. Your best bet to see it here is between mid-April and late October since the park is only open for visiting in warmer months.

Crisp Point Lighthouse - Crisp Point Lighthouse, M-123 Tahquamenon Scenic Byway
Crisp Point Lighthouse | photo via @mark_o_foto

Right Along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Did you know that Pictured Rocks was the country’s first National Lakeshore? This is a special place to visit any time of year for the colorful sandstone cliffs, but nightfall brings the chance to see the Northern Lights.

The park is open 24 hours a day, so stop by for a visit. Try stopping by Miner’s Beach, Twelve Mile Beach, or Grand Portal Points for some excellent views. 

The Lake Michigan Shoreline

In recent years, the Lake Michigan shoreline has become a popular place to see the Northern Lights. This colorful, natural phenomenon can look like it’s waving in the breeze, and it’s best seen right along the shoreline.

So if you’re camping in Ludington, Traverse City, or anywhere else on Lake Michigan, keep your eyes peeled for some magnificent views.

Lake Huron, Michigan - Northern Lights
Lake Huron | photo via @chase_gagnon

Port Crescent State Park in Port Austin

The dark sky preserve in Port Crescent State Park gives stargazers in East Michigan the perfect setting for catching a shooting star or a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Michigan!

Competent kayakers might even enjoy a nighttime venture to Turnip Rock for nature’s best light show.

Negwegon State Park | Ossineke

Located just outside of Alpena, Negwegon State Park was recently designated as a dark sky preserve. It’s perfect for hunting, hiking, and rustic camping and it’s a great spot for stargazing, so you may be able to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights on the Lake Huron shoreline.

Lake Huron, Michigan - Northern Lights
Lake Huron | photo via @chase_gagnon

Rockport State Park | Alpena

Located a few miles north of downtown Alpena, Rockport State Park has a lot to offer visitors. There’s a pier, sinkholes, plenty of beachfront, and more. It’s also a dark preserve and a great place to spend the night looking up at the stars and trying to catch a peek at the Northern Lights when the time is right.

Thompson’s Harbor State Park | Posen

Sticking along the Lake Huron shoreline, head north on US-23 toward Posen. This park allows visitors to have rustic camping or hiking experience if they wish. It’s also perfect for some lakeshore stargazing and a place to catch the Northern Lights if you don’t want to drive so far north.

T.K. Lawless Dark Sky Park | Jones

Believe it or not, you don’t always have to travel to Northern Michigan to see the Northern Lights or the stars.

Situated in southern Michigan in Cass County is the Dr. T.K. Lawless Sky Park, the only International Dark Sky Association (IDA) certified dark sky park in this part of the state. The designation was given in 2020 to the park. 

The park is spread out over more than 800 acres and lots of outdoor recreation activities for visitors. But if you’re looking for a stargazing spot in southern Michigan, this is the place to be.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park - Mackinaw City, Michigan - Northern Lights
Headlands International Dark Sky Park | photo via @sindusanjuu

Watch the Northern Lights in Michigan

If you’ve never seen the northern lights Michigan is known for and want to optimize your chances, learn about and pay attention to sunspot activity, as that is what triggers them.

Unable to catch the Northern Lights in Michigan live? Check out this time-lapse video of the Northern Lights from 2011.

More Photos of the Northern Lights in Michigan

In March 2021, the Aurora Borealis was on full display across much of Michigan, and the best Michigan landscape photographers did not let us down.

We’ve gathered some of the best photos of the Northern Lights in Michigan to share with you…

St. Ignace, Michigan - Northern Lights
St. Ignace | photo via @wanderingpelican
Northern Lights in Michigan: Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake | photo via @noahsorensenphoto
Lake Huron, Michigan - Northern Lights
Lake Huron | photo via @chase_gagnon
Northern Lights in Michigan: Marquette
Marquette | photo via @buckycalloway
Eagle Harbor, Eagle Harbor - Michigan Tech Winter Carnival
Eagle Harbor | photo via @lpvisuals
Northern Lights in Michigan: Copper Harbor
Copper Harbor | photo via @Shelbydiamondstar
Big Bay, Michigan - Northern Lights
Big Bay | photo via @katie_smull

Can you see the Northern Lights in Michigan?

Michigan is one of the best places in the northern hemisphere to see the Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, thanks to miles of undeveloped Great Lakes shorelines and vast acres of quiet forests.

Where is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights in Michigan?

Finding a dark place with a long-range view of the northern skies is preferred for seeing the Northern Lights Michigan is famous for. Examples include dark sky parks and various locations along Lake Superior’s southern shorelines.

When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Michigan?

The Northern Lights in Michigan can often be seen between the months of August and April, with the peak months being March, April, October, and November.

Solar activity tends to be highest during the transition from fall to winter and winter to spring, adding to the chances of catching Aurora Borealis in Michigan!

Do the Northern Lights happen every night?

While the Northern Lights do happen every night, they don’t generally make their way far enough south to be seen regularly in Michigan. Watch the skies on clear, cool nights for your best chance to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon in Michigan!

What month is best to see the Northern Lights in Michigan?

The northern lights are best seen during the winter months on dark, clear nights around a New Moon. In general, the months of September through April are the best for seeing the Northern Lights in Michigan.

To get the most out of this natural light display, begin looking skyward several hours after dusk.

How long do the Michigan Northern Lights last?

The Northern Lights Michigan boasts are most prevalent between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. They aren’t generally visible for long, and they may just show for a few minutes before drifting away.

A nice light show will likely last for no more than 15-30 minutes at a time, but if you’re very lucky, it may just linger for many hours.

Where have you seen the Northern Lights in Michigan?

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