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!

Getting to Turnip Rock: One Amazing Adventure

Over the summer, Awesome Mitten has been traveling around the state on #MittenTrip adventures of “awesome” proportions. We set out to cover the travel experiences of Team Awesome writers in twelve different cities over twelve weeks – it’s been a blast so far!

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I had the lucky charge of heading to Port Austin to learn more about the “tip of the thumb.”  The only way to get to the rock and its friends is by the water since the area surrounding is private property, and the best means is by kayak.

Harbor Beach, Photo Courtesy of Karen Murphy

Harbor Beach, Photo Courtesy of Karen Murphy

Although the Fourth of July weekend was an exciting one to be in the area (the Farmer’s Market and fireworks were great), I wanted my experience with the beautiful limestone structures to be a little more private than what a holiday weekend might elicit. In order to avoid the crowds, I rose early on Sunday morning to enjoy the trip in the morning calm. This brilliant idea wouldn’t have been possible without the excellent guidance of the folks at Port Austin Kayak who not only supplied all of the equipment for my escapades, but they were also generous with some sound advice about other things I needed to see and do while in their beloved village.

Kayakers Paddling on Lake Huron, Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Hamilton

After signing up from the kayaks and getting a quick rundown of the journey I was about to take on, I made my way to the launch area. Port Austin Kayak’s launch site is right behind their building and is the closest place to get in the water for the trek to the rock formations. If you rent from them, they are gracious enough to let your friends with their own kayaks launch from their spot, too. There was a quick lesson on how to use the equipment, and the paddling was in full effect.

Leaving from this spot, I was able to acclimate to my morning adventure in a small river leading to the Port Austin Marina and the harbor area that is protected by the Port Austin Breakwater. This calm beginning was just a precursor to the picture-perfect paddle toward the rock and tree formations that I was working toward. Along the coast, I was amazed by the clear-blue shallow water and the trees seemingly jutting out of the water in tiny strip-like islands. It was like being transported to another time and place that was quieter than the one we all deal with day to day.

Around every bend, I kept anticipating the huge rock formation to emerge from the water in front of me, but it kept evading me. I will admit, I might have paddled a little faster than necessary in anticipation. Believe me, it was well worth it when I finally made it around that bend after some intriguing sea caves. Turnip Rock is even better in person, and I started joining the other kayakers in taking photos and celebrating that I made it to a place I had only been dreaming about.

Turnip Rock

Turnip Rock. Photo Courtesy of Joanna Dueweke.

After drifting around a bit and discovering other beautiful sights around Pointe aux Barques and Alaska Bay, I started my journey back to Port Austin Kayak.  I didn’t rest because I was hungry for a hearty breakfast on the mainland (The Lighthouse Cafe is a good choice).

Blueberry French Toast, Photo Courtesty of the Lighthouse Cafe

Port Austin Kayak doesn’t rent out tandem kayaks for this particular trip because the waters get shallow, but the paddle isn’t too much work and it equates to about six miles round trip. I think it might be fun to try on a stand-up paddle board, but you should probably be pretty proficient at that as well. I’m not sure how much fun the adventure would be by any other means because the waters are shallow on the way to the rock, and getting close is half the fun. This experience alone was worth the #MittenTrip to Port Austin, but my other adventures were awesome as well.

Where is your favorite place to kayak in Pure Michigan?

AuthorAbout the Author: Joanna Dueweke lives and works in Detroit where she finds great joy in working, studying Library and Information Science at Wayne State, exploring the city, and traveling. Her days are spent working for Detroit SOUP where she helps fund creative projects in the city and its neighborhoods. When she’s not writing for The Awesome Mitten, or attending any number of events in Detroit, Joanna enjoys visiting other places in the state, sampling Michigan’s fine wines and craft beers, and getting in the water as much as the summer will allow.


Still Paddling…

Port Austin HarborOn June 13, 2009, I woke up in a tent overlooking Port Austin harbor.  The water was glass and the day was already hot. Twenty five other tents were set up around me.  The park had become a large rustic campground for kayakers from around the Midwest and Canada.  We had all come together for the 2nd Annual Port Austin Kayak Rendezvous in celebration of the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail

 At 10am, 60-70 of us gathered at the shore with our kayaks.  It was an amazing sight to watch the mass of kayakers paddle out of the harbor heading toward Point Aux Barques.

Point Aux Barques is at the very tip of the thumb.  It has magnificent rock formations, sea stacks and sea caves.  It has been called a mini Pictured Rocks. Boats can’t get to it so it is a perfect kayak destination.  Along the way we told stories and shared paddling experiences.  Once at our destination we paused to enjoy the scenery and share a snack. 

Port Austin Reef LighthouseFrom there some paddlers headed out to the Port Austin Reef Lighthouse.  Others paddled back along the shore.  Some of us were treated to an eagle flying over head and a deer that meandered out of the woods.

 Later that afternoon some kayakers headed out for a short paddle to Broken Rocks.  This is an area where huge boulders were left behind by the glaciers.  Others stayed on shore and watched a kayak safety demonstration.

 That evening most of us went to dinner together at a local restaurant. After dinner, the sunset was amazing and many could not resist one last paddle for the day.  We entertained ourselves throughout the evening with contra dancing and a bon fire followed by a sound night sleep.  It was a perfect day.

Chris Boyle, member and former Vice President of the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail.   Chris is currently paddling the entire trail compiling an inventory.  He has completed ¾ of the trail as of this date.  He also owns a kayak rental shop in Port Austin that services the trail.