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!

In Search of Superior Crystal: Four Photographers Tour the Grand Island Ice Curtains

If you head up north in the deep winter months, chances are you’ll find some ice…and lots of it! Today, guest blogger and landscape photographer Aubrieta Hope shares her journey to the shores of Lake Superior to find and photograph the awe-inspiring Grand Island ice curtains. 

In the heart of winter, when the drifts are as high as houses and snow-dusted pines line the roads, photographers travel to the Upper Peninsula in search of crystal.  Not antique-store crystal, but Superior crystal, the kind that occurs when the north wind turns every drop of open water into something sparkling and new.  During the coldest months, the great lake freezes, heaves and breaks, forming mountains of crystal rocks, so tall they seem like permanent landforms.  Icebergs and volcanoes rise in the harbors and bays, reflecting all the colors of the sky.  Waterfalls slow from a rush to a trickle, building columns that bubble and sing.  And, on the sandstone cliffs, springs that flow unseen in the summer months create glittering ice curtains.

During winter’s last stand, at the very beginning of March, I headed north to find Superior crystal.  My trip was inspired by winter photographs of the U.P. that I’d viewed online. I’d seen dramatic images of enormous frozen waterfalls, great Superior ice fields, and shining rivers wreathed in morning mist.  I wanted to experience and photograph all those scenes, but more than anything, I wanted to see the legendary ice curtains of Grand Island in Munising Bay.  These immense, aqua blue ice curtains form when cold temperatures freeze the springs that seep from the island’s rocky cliffs.  It can be tricky to get to the ice curtains, though.  The island is not accessible every winter because the currents are strong in the bay, preventing adequate ice buildup.  During last year’s historically cold winter, the bay froze sufficiently to allow foot traffic. For awhile it looked like Grand Island would not be accessible this year, but February’s arctic blast arrived just in time.

When I heard that people were safely crossing from Sand Point, I got ready to go, too.  Some were crossing on snowmobiles, others on foot or on cross-country skis.  I donned snowshoes and piled my camera gear into an old plastic saucer-sled rigged with bungee cords.  The crossing took me about half an hour, but I expect the memories to last a lifetime.  My photographer friends Neil Weaver, Craig Sterken and John McCormick made the crossing too. Here’s a glimpse of what we discovered.

The late afternoon sun illuminates majestic ice curtains and boulders. Photographed by Aubrieta Hope.

Michigan Scenery

The sunrise over Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and casts its glow over the ice curtains. Photographed by Craig Sterken.

Craig Sterken Photography

Grand Island grandeur. Photographed by John McCormick.

Michigan Nut Photography

A crystal cave. Photographed by Neil Weaver.

Neil Weaver Photography

Chunks of ice lay on the frozen surface of Lake Superior – previously a part of the magnificent ice formations above.  Photographed by Craig Sterken.

Craig Sterken Photography

Craig Sterken crosses the ice in front of an ice cave. Neil Weaver peeks outside to capture the moment.

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Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 3.36.12 PM

Aubrieta V. Hope is a landscape photographer with a special interest in northern Michigan and a lifelong incurable affection for winter! Aubrieta’s work can be found at www.michiganscenery.com.  To view additional images of the Grand Island ice curtains and other grand landscapes of Michigan, she highly recommends visiting: Neil Weaver Photography. Craig Sterken PhotographyMichigan Nut Photography (featuring the photography of John McCormick).

These Isle Royale Photos Are Sure to Inspire Your Next U.P. Getaway

Today, Michigan landscape photographer Joshua Nowicki shares some photos from a recent trip to Isle Royale. We’re sure his experience will inspire you to add the Upper Peninsula to your Pure Michigan getaway bucket list! 

Several weeks ago, I was invited to photograph a family wilderness program for the Isle Royale Institute (a partnership between Michigan Technological University and Isle Royale National Park).  It was my first trip to the island, and I was incredibly excited. I was delighted to discover that my expectations for the trip were far exceeded.

Sitting on the bow of the Isle Royale Queen IV and watching Copper Harbor, Michigan disappear into the distance as my cell phone signal faded filled me with joy.  As we moved further out into cool air of Lake Superior, a beautiful white all-encompassing fog surrounded the boat adding to the sense of adventure.  Approaching the island, even before I could see the land, there was a warmth in the breeze and a soft sweetness to the air.  As the island appeared out of the fog, the sky began to clear, and the air warmed.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

After disembarking from the ship, we received a short humorous and very informative introduction to the island from park ranger, Lucas Westcott.  Upon setting foot on land, I was struck by the beauty and wealth of wild flowers; a gorgeous layer of orange, yellow, purple and white blanketed sections of the landscape.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

On my first evening, I went for a walk along the Rock Harbor Trail and saw numerous loons, squirrels, and rabbits.  Additionally, upon turning a corner in the trail, I found myself standing within 30 yards of a cow moose and calf.  At night, I enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature and I could even occasionally hear moose walking through the woods near my tent.  I saw more moose on Isle Royale than I have in all of the trips that I have taken to the Upper Peninsula.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study is followed around the world, and I delighted in a trip to Bangsund Cabin to meet Rolf and Candy Peterson.  Standing in the Museum of Pathology and listening to Rolf discuss the project was a surreal experience I will always treasure.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

A short walk from Bangsund Cabin, leads to the Rock Harbor Lighthouse which is open to the public as a museum.  The tower of the lighthouse also provides visitors with a magnificent view of Rock Harbor and Lake Superior.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

The number of amazing experiences I had are too numerous to write about in one blog post. Some of the additional highlights of my trip were:

Hiking along the Greenstone Ridge and enjoying the fantastic view of the island and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Canada from the steps of Mount Ojibway Tower.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Marveling at the view of the night sky.  I have never seen the Milky Way so clearly and was even fortunate enough to see both the Milky Way and Northern Lights one evening.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Waking early to watch the sunrise over the forest.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Walking through sections of white spruce and balsam forest covered with Old Man’s Beard Lichen.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Having the rare opportunity to watch a group of pelicans fly over the island, finding greenstones along the beach near Rock Harbor Lighthouse (all stones were left at the beach as per park guidelines), sitting and watching hummingbird moths busily flying from flower to flower, watching curious squirrels explore our camp, and meeting park superintendent Phyllis Green and discussing how a trip to Isle Royale is an incredible place for a family adventure…just to name a few!

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

If you love hiking and camping, Isle Royale is an absolute paradise where you can enjoy the uninterrupted beauty and sound of nature.  However, if camping is not for you, you can experience the island from the comfort of the Rock Harbor Lodge.  There are a variety of trails that are easy to access from the lodge or by water taxi.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

I look forward to my next trip to explore more of this beautiful national treasure.

Joshua_NowickiJoshua Nowicki is a St. Joseph, Michigan based photographer specializing in landscape, nature, architecture, and food photography. His photos can be viewed online on Facebook or his website.