3 Destinations to Chase the Northern Lights in Pure Michigan

Michigan is home to nearly 200 waterfalls, over 200 miles of trails and 11,000 miles inland lakes, but did you know it’s also one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights?

Without getting too technical, the Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights, are caused by the sun reflecting on particles in the atmosphere. We’re here to share three destinations within the Great Lakes state that give you a perfect glimpse of these celestial sky dances.

1. The Headlands International Dark Sky ParkMackinaw City

In 2011, the Headlands became the sixth International Dark Sky Park in the United States and the ninth in the world. This 600-acre parcel of old-growth forest sits on more than two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline in Emmet County. Here you will find the darkest of skies, undiluted by light pollution and preserved in perpetuity by Emmet County. Monthly, free Dark Sky Park programs and special events are held at the Beach House and on the shoreline. Signs in the park direct visitors to designated Dark Sky Viewing areas. No camping is allowed, but the park is open 24/7 year ’round, with five miles of trails throughout the property. The park provides dazzling night sky for photographers, astronomers and dark-sky enthusiasts alike!

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Jowett in Port Austin

2. Port Crescent State ParkPort Austin

Nestled in the Blue Water Area, on the tip of the Lower Peninsula’s thumb in Port Austin, is Port Crescent State Park. The park has a designated area where no electric light exists for miles, giving star-gazers an unobstructed view of the night sky. The dark sky preserve is located in the day-use area where there’s a charge for parking, but no overnight reservations are needed.  Consider a day filled with kayaking to Turnip Rock, and then sitting back and enjoying the wonders of the universe in the evening.

Photo Courtesy of Shawn Malone, Lake Superior Photo in Marquette

3. Remote spots on Lake Superior – Upper Peninsula

As photographer Shawn Malone explained  in a previous northern lights blog, Michigan has many positive factors when it comes to viewing the northern lights, the most important being:

1). Latitude

2). Relatively low light pollution

The Upper Peninsula is blessed with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south shore of Lake Superior, which provides some of the best northern lights viewing in the lower 48 due to the very dark night skies.  When looking north over Lake Superior, one can see right down to the horizon and take in a 180 degree unobstructed view of the night sky.  Having a dark night sky with little light pollution is necessary when looking for the northern lights, as the light of the aurora is equal to the brightness of starlight.

Inspired to begin your Aurora hunting? You’re in luck! March is one of the best months to see the northern lights because of its long, dark nights. There are even rumors that the beginning of spring brings greater solar activity as temperature begins to warm. Good luck, and be sure to share your northern lights photos on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels!

Where have you seen the Northern Lights in Pure Michigan? Share with us by commenting below!

Inside Secrets for Viewing the Northern Lights in Michigan

The aurora borealis is a breathtaking sight that many consider themselves lucky to catch. Today, Marquette-based visual artist Shawn Malone shares her secrets for viewing the Northern Lights in Michigan.

The aurora borealis – it amazes, energizes and astounds with no two events ever being the same. As we cruise through the solar maximum in 2013, the peak of an eleven year cycle of the sun and a time of the greatest auroral activity,  there is a heightened opportunity to catch a northern lights show right here in Michigan.

Michigan has a lot of things going for it when it comes to northern lights viewing, the most important being 1). latitude  and 2). relatively low light pollution in many areas.  Northern Michigan sits in a great location latitude-wise, as the auroral oval dips further south on nights of stronger auroral activity.  The Upper Peninsula  is blessed with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south shore of Lake Superior, which provides some of the best northern lights viewing in the lower 48 due to the very dark night skies.  When looking north over Lake Superior, one can see right down to the horizon and take in a 180 degree unobstructed view of the night sky.  Getting to a location without the obstruction of a treeline or hills is important at our latitude, as many times an auroral display will sit very low on the horizon. Having a dark night sky with little light pollution is necessary when looking for the northern lights, as the light of the aurora is equal to the brightness of starlight.

People often ask me how I’ve been able to see so many northern lights displays over the years and a lot of it has to do with what I mentioned above. I live in Marquette, Michigan which sits centered on the south shore of Lake Superior, and when looking north there’s nothing but lake for hundreds of miles. Marquette and locations nearby have many areas along the lakeshore still publicly accessible, allowing for the opportunity to view the aurora right from the shoreline.

If you’ve never seen the northern lights and want to maximize your opportunity to do so,learn and pay attention to sunspot activity, as that’s what drives the northern lights.

Get away from the light domes of the cities and head north on I-75 and get to a dark sky location in Upper Michigan. If you make it as far as the bridge, check out Headlands International Dark Sky Park, two miles west of  Mackinaw City.  This is a newly designated international dark sky park, one of the few dark sky parks in the country.

Once in the Upper Peninsula, anywhere along the south shore of Lake Superior is optimal: Brimley, Whitefish Point, Pictured Rocks, Autrain, Marquette, Big Bay, Skanee, Eagle River, Eagle Harbor, Copper Harbor are just a few of the places that come to mind. Let your eyes adjust to the night sky, set up a lawn chair and a blanket, and enjoy one of nature’s most spectacular wondrous light shows, the northern lights! It is an experience you won’t soon forget.

RADIANCE from LakeSuperiorPhoto on Vimeo.

Shawn Malone is a visual artist based in Marquette, Michigan.  Her photo/video portfolio of the aurora from Michigan has been internationally awarded and recognized, with the video, “North Country Dreamland” being a Smithsonian 2013 viewer’s choice winner. Her work has also appeared on network TV numerous times as well as web and print media across the globe. Malone has an art gallery in downtown Marquette, LakeSuperiorPhoto