NORTHERN LIGHTS MICHIGAN
Do you live in the United States and want to see the Northern Lights? There’s no need to travel all the way to Iceland or even Alaska, although I really would love too! Did you know that Michigan has some prime areas to view the northern lights? Cliffs, beaches, and forest give way to some of the darkest skies you can find in the area. Miles of unobstructed view over Lake Superior coupled with minimal light pollution provide the perfect backdrop to glimpse the phenomenon.
Why is Michigan such a great place to see the lights?
Well, there’s three ingredients required to create the perfect conditions for viewing the aurora. You need darkness, solar activity, and a cloud free sky. Half the battle of seeing the northern lights is finding a place with minimal light pollution and visual obstructions. Lake Superior helps ease those issues by providing some of the darkest skies in the continental states coupled with 180 degree views of unobstructed lake and sky.
Table of Contents
- Best times to see the northern lights
- Forecasting the northern lights
- Best Places to See Northern Lights in Michigan
- Hiking Trails to See the Aurora Borealis, Michigan
- Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights
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Best Time to See the Northern Lights
August through April are the best months to view the aurora in Michigan. April, October, and November being the peak months.
According to TheAuroraZone.com, the optimal time to see the light display is between 9:30PM and 1AM, though they state they’ve witnessed them as early as 4PM and as late as 6AM.
FORECASTING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
While there’s no set schedule the lights follow, there are ways to predict when a show will happen. It’s super hard to predict when they’ll occur, but NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has a handy tool that can help you.
Northern Lights in Michigan Tonight
Check out NOAA’s 30 minute forecast. It shows the probability of seeing the northern lights on an easy to see globe map.
Best Places to See Northern Lights in Michigan
Upper Peninsula Northern Lights
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Brockway Mountain Lookout
McClain State Park
South Shore of Lake Superior- Nearly anywhere along the shore will be optimal for viewing.
Lower Michigan/Mackinac Bridge Northern Lights
The best place in Michigan, south of the bridge, to see the northern lights is Headlands International Dark Sky Park.
Hiking Trails to See the Aurora Borealis, Michigan
Presque Isle Park Loop,
This easy 2.2 mile loop is short but stunning. It’s a mostly paved path around Presque park which is surrounded by Lake Superior. Wander along it until you find your favorite viewing spot. There’s a lot to choose from!
Shoreline Trail, From Wetmore Landing
Located in Escanaba River State Forest near Marquette, Michigan, this trail has gorgeous scenery and beach areas. What better place to glimpse the aurora than sitting right by the water?
Beaver Lake Loop
Beaver Lake Loop is a double lake hike near Grand Marais. The 3.6 moderate trail loops Beaver Lake while also winding along Lake Superior.
To see the Northern Lights here, you have two great options.
- Hike the entire loop and find a view along Beaver Lake
- Hike clockwise from the trailhead and find a viewing area on the shore of Lake Superior
Either option has fantastic views.
Grand Island Loop
In Hiawatha National Forest near Munising Mi, this difficult 21 mile hiking trail is perfect for backpackers trying to view the northern lights. If you’re not in the mood to hike the perimeter , or if you’re short on time, there is a shorter path through the island. This shortcut passes Echo Lake. Be warned though, it’s recommended to avoid the middle of the island if possible, because the bugs are usually terrible. However in the colder months, this won’t be an issue.
There is a ferry to access the island, otherwise, you’ll need a personal watercraft. With the best viewing times for the northern lights being very late, you should plan to camp overnight on the island.
You can find more info about the ferry here, and about camping on the island here
Lake Shore Trail
Another one for backpackers (and hikers!) You have to see this one to believe it’s beauty! Also near Munising, Lake Shore Trail features sand dunes, cliffs, rivers, hills, and beautiful Lake Superior vista providing amazing views of the lake and horizon.
It follows the south shore of the lake for about 40.5 miles, giving plenty of aurora viewing areas along the entirety.
Note: The biting flies are notoriously bad here, especially during early June. Be sure to bring plenty of bug spray and possibly a head net.
Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights
Watch Out for the Moon
In Northern Michigan during winter, it rises in the North East and sets in the North West. Because of this, lights with a full moon could compete with the aurora’s light.
If your hands or feet get cold, you’re going to be miserable. Bring gloves and hand warmers. You can get 40 pairs for around $20 and if you’re always cold like me, it’s a great investment. These warmers say they last up to 10 hours, but I found that I usually get around 8 hours of great heat and then a little longer of “just barely keeping me warmer than I would be with out them”.
Wear lots of layers, when you go to see the northern lights. You can then peel off or add your layers back on to help stay comfortable. One of my favorites is this Baleaf shirt. It’s super comfy and warm and it’s affordable.
Take Hot Beverages
A hot beverage in addition to layers, will be even better to help you stay comfortable in the cold.
What Night to Go
Choose a crisp, cold night with clear skies, with no threat of lake effect snow.
To see the Northern Lights, which are usually situated low in the sky, you’ll need to see the horizon. Since the lights are not normally directed overhead, you need the unobstructed views to be able to see low enough for the lights to be in your sights.
Give Your Eyes Time to Adjust
It can take a little while for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. Plan to arrive at your viewing place at least an hour early to let your eyes get used to the pure darkness surrounding you. Turning off headlamps, flashlights, and not looking at your phone screen will help you fully adjust to the darkness.
The best displays of light could be at the most unexpected times. TheAuroraZone.com says the best times to see them seem to be between 9:30PM and 1AM.
Getting to your viewing destination
Planning on overnighting to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights? These are for you!
Nearby Adventures and Hiking Trails