Stargazing & Northern Lights: Our Stunning Nightlife

Photo credit: Aaron Peterson

For many of us, gazing into the night skies from our urban or suburban locations reveals only a few luminous points. But spend time where light pollution doesn’t obliterate your view of our galaxy and beyond, and you will be mesmerized by all of the stars, planets, moons, nebulae and Northern Lights drenching the sky. Almost the entire 51,000 square miles of the Upper Peninsula offers front row seats to some of the most stellar shows on earth. Which is why the night sky is one of our biggest tourist attractions.

Best months to see the stars: On clear nights, all 12 months present breathtaking celestial viewing in Michigan’s U.P. However, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) designates the week of the new moon in April as Dark Sky Week. To learn this year’s dates, visit the IDA site.

Where to watch the night show: Anywhere there are open spaces: along Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior and inland lake shorelines, on top of our mountains and treeless hills, or in our fields. Favorite destinations include Whitefish Point or Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Paradise, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor and Isle Royale National Park accessible from Houghton or Copper Harbor.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources also offers Meteors & S’Mores nights in mid-August at designated U.P. state parks for campers and non-campers to watch the Perseid meteor showers. Check here for upcoming dates and parks to watch “falling stars” flash across the sky.

Dark Sky Week 2019

Northern Lights Viewing Tips

Photo credit: Bryan Mitchell Photography

If you want to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, you don’t have to travel to Alaska or Finland. You’ll see this spectacular phenomenon right here in the U.P.

What creates this sky show? The graceful, shimmering swirls of greens, purples, oranges and reds occur when sun particles, riding on the solar wind, collide with Earth’s atmosphere. It’s not an every-night event, so here’s how to plan your visit:

  • Best viewing months: In the U.P. you are more likely to see the Northern Lights between August and April, with the peak months being April, October and November. Choose a clear, crisp, cold night without the threat of lake effect snow.
  • Best viewing spots: The farther north you go, the more likely you’ll see them. Go to Lake Superior, away from town lights, where its southern shore offers an unobstructed view of the horizon to the north. In Michigan, the Northern Lights are rarely directly overhead (although it’s awesome when they are) so you need to be able to see down near the horizon. Some of our favorite spots are near Brimley, Whitefish Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, Au Train, Marquette, Big Bay, Skanee, Eagle River and Copper Harbor.
  • Best photos: You do not necessarily need a full-frame, just a camera with manual controls so you can adjust the ISO, exposure time and aperture settings. Set ISO between 1600-3200 with exposure lengths between 15 and 30 seconds. Pack a wide angle lens and set the aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6.
    Bring a sturdy, yet lightweight tripod (this is a must) as well as two to three fully charged batteries. Focus your lens to its infinity symbol (∞) and make slight adjustments to get a sharp focus. An intervalometer is also a wonderful tool for taking the best Northern Lights shots.
  • Best forecast sites:
    www.aurora-service.net
    www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast
    www.weather.gov/fsd/aurora   
    www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast

Hope we can share our incredible nightlife with you soon!