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Come see the Northern Lights in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Most of us never see how amazingly bright and beautiful the night sky is. Street and parking lot lights, billboards, stadiums, shopping malls and traffic blot out the stars and planets overhead and dim the northern lights dancing on our horizon. 

So, one of the hottest tourism trends is to go where you can see a breathtaking view of our universe. Some of the darkest skies in the world are over the Upper Peninsula.

What makes the Upper Peninsula one of the best stargazing and Northern Lights areas?

Most of the Upper Peninsula is wilderness and it is surrounded by vast bodies of water. There are very few towns and most of them are small and emit very little light pollution. The Upper Peninsula is close to the North Pole which provides some of the best star and Northern Lights viewing in the contiguous 48 United States. And in the fall through mid-spring, our days are shorter and nights longer, which means there is more time to gaze up or out to our Great Lakes’ horizons, particularly to Lake Superior’s unimpeded northern views.

The combined result creates the deepest dark sky which makes the stars, planets, nebulae, shooting meteors showers and Northern Lights pop into clear view on cloudless nights all year round. It will take your breath away. 

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 the U.P.

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

Drummond Island

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Copper Harbor - Keweenaw Dark Sky Park

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The U.P. is thrilled to have a dark sky park certified by the International Dark Sky Association. It is the third in Michigan. The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park is headquartered at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge outside of Copper Harbord and extends to Brockway Mountain. The lodge opens its grounds nightly at no cost 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

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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

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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.

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

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

You do not need a full-frame camera to capture the shimmering beauty of the Northern Lights, although many professional stargazers prefer them. Use any 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.

One must-have piece of equipment is a lightweight, sturdy tripod. Add an intervalometer and two or three fully charged batteries to your camera case. 
Please share your photos using #uptravel. We may feature your shots on our social media, website or in our marketing photos. You can also upload your photos to our Crowdriff Collector below. 

We hope to see you under the stars soon!