@Jason Paul

Come see the Northern Lights in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

 

Can you see the Northern Lights in Michigan?

Yes, you can! And the best place to see the Northern Lights in Michigan — and even in the 48 continental states — is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

What causes the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis)?

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 time to see the Northern Lights in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

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 Northern Lights viewing spots in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

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. Northern Lights in Michigan are rarely directly overhead (although it’s awesome when they are) so you need to be able to see down near the horizon. Here are some favorite viewing areas:

How to capture the best Northern Lights 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.

Drummond Island

Back to Top of List

This Lake Huron island in the far-eastern Upper Peninsula offers some of the best Northern Lights viewing in the world. Two places to plop down your blanket and look out to the horizon are Drummond Island Township Park Beach about six miles east of the ferry dock and Glen Cove Beach on the eastern end of the island, just north of Marble Head.

Brimley State Park

Back to Top of List

One of the oldest state parks in the Upper Peninsula, this park has 2,000 feet of sandy Lake Superior beach to watch the sky show on clear nights to the north.

Whitefish Point

Back to Top of List

Whitefish Point is located at the northeastern tip of the Upper Peninsula, 11 miles from the town of Paradise. Its Lake Superior rocky/sandy beach is renowned for rock collecting, freighter and bird watching, and seeing the Northern Lights.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Back to Top of List

The country’s first national lakeshore, Pictured Rocks pairs Lake Superior viewing with its historical, sandstone cliffs. If you think these views are stunning in the daylight, just wait for nightfall. With the park open 24 hours a day, you will have no trouble finding a spot to watch the Northern Lights and stargaze. Some popular viewing places are Grand Portal Point, Miner’s Beach and Twelvemile Beach.

Along M-28 between Munising and Marquette, take any of the Lake Superior pullouts to find a spot along the shore to catch the Northern Lights or star-filled sky. The nice thing about these pullouts is in winter you have the option to watch the sky show from the warmth of your car.

Located in the Hiawatha National Forest, Au Train Beach is easily accessible from M-28. It’s a good dark sky area.

The U.P.’s largest city has some of the best Northern Lights viewing, especially in the late fall and early winter months. Check out the M-28 pullouts mentioned above or hike in the summer months to watch this soul-stirring sky display from Sugarloaf Mountain.

The small town of Big Bay is 23 miles northwest of Marquette and is located on Lake Superior’s Big Bay. You can catch the Northern Lights from the Big Bay Point Lighthouse (now a bed and breakfast) or Squaw Beach.

One of the best places near Skanee to view the Northern Lights and stars is in Arvon Township Park. It is along the Huron Bay, one of the largest freshwater fjords in North America.

Keweenaw International Dark Sky Park, Copper Harbor

Back to Top of List

The U.P. is thrilled to have the newest place in Michigan to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park. The park, the third in Michigan, is headquartered at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge outside of Copper Harbor. The lodge opens its grounds at night to the public and offers stargazing workshops and events throughout the year.

 

Map of the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Isle Royale

Back to Top of List

Isle Royale National Park — Minong “the good place” in Ojibwe — is one of the least visited national parks in the country. Conversely, it is also one of the most revisited and on National Geographic’s “Best of the World” list for 2021. While this remote and rugged Lake Superior park is a premier location to watch the Northern Lights, it is only open to visitors in the warmer months. Your best bet is to see the aurora between mid-April and late October. 

Eagle River

Back to Top of List

On the west side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Eagle River and Eagle Harbor, along M-26 offer some Northern Lights viewing on their Lake Superior coastline. Look north toward Canada and watch the sky dance!

Lake Michigan also offers some Northern Lights viewing destinations. As you travel along US-2, duck down the Garden Peninsula and Stonington Peninsula east of Escanaba. When Northern Lights conditions are right, claim your viewing spot at Fayette Historic State Park & Townsite, Sac Bay County Park or Ludington Park in Escanaba. All three are open year-round.

Read more about the Best places for stargazing in Michigan’s U.P.

How to take the best Northern Lights photos in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

You do not need a full-frame digital camera to capture the Northern Lights. Just bring a camera with manual controls so you can adjust the ISO, exposure time and aperture settings. Set the 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 on 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.

Check the Northern Lights forecast for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Before planning your trip to Michigan’s U.P., use these Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights forecast services.

Aurora – 30-Minute Forecast

National Weather Service

Aurora Forecast

Keweenaw Dark Sky Park

Hope to see you soon under the stars in the U.P.!