Can You See the Northern Lights in Michigan?
You wouldn’t normally plan a vacation to see the Northern Lights in Michigan. No, you’d think of places such as Alaska, Finland, or Iceland that are well-known for their Northern Lights displays.
But it may come as a surprise that Michigan is one of the best places in the U.S. to see this incredible phenomenon.
So we gathered the details of when and where to share with you.
Let’s jump in!
What Are the Northern Lights?
Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, is a fantastic light show occurring in the northern latitudes between 60° to 75°. Sunspot activity on the sun creates solar flares that release their magnetic particles into the solar wind.
The solar wind then carries those particles to Earth. These electromagnetic particles interact with our atmosphere, causing brilliant swirling colors.
The Northern Lights are best seen in Upper Michigan, where there’s relatively low light pollution and expansive views of the horizon thanks to The Great Lakes. In fact, the aurora borealis sightings are so common there that many businesses are named “Northern Lights”, including a florist and condominium complex.
When is the Best Time to View the Northern Lights?
Most people recommend chasing the Northern Lights during non-summer months. However, this is primarily because summer nights are shorter, giving you less opportunity to view the lights. If they decide to come out.
Winter is best, though not cloudier months like December. But we don’t suggest parking your RV in Michigan in the winter unless you’re prepared for snow and frigid temperatures. Instead, you might visit during the fall for beautifully clear and slightly longer nights.
Historically, the best time of night to view the Northern Lights in Michigan is between 10:00 pm and 3:00 am. However, they’re a bit unpredictable and there’s no guarantee they’ll show. So you might want to reserve your stay for at least 3 to 5 days to increase your chances of seeing them. Other than that, patience and flexibility go a long way.
Pro Tip: Headlands International Dark Sky Park has a list of resources that attempt to forecast or alert you to aurora borealis occurrences.
Where in Michigan Can You See the Northern Lights?
Wherever you go to view the Northern Lights in Michigan, you’ll want an unobstructed view of the sky including the horizon. In addition, you’ll want to avoid having trees or hills between you and the sky to the north.
It goes without saying that the darker the sky, the better. So steering clear of towns with light pollution is helpful too.
Copper Harbor is at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, “Michigan’s Top of the World.” Viewing the Northern Lights here is an excellent choice due to its isolation and lengthy coastline.
Stay at an RV park, such as Fort Wilkins State Historic Park, if it’s not the height of winter. During the day, you can explore the park, the lighthouse, and Manganese Falls.
Marquette is the largest city in the Upper Penninsula (aka the U.P.) That said, it has almost no light pollution and miles of public coastline along Lake Superior. The hour-long drive between Munising and Marquette, Michigan, also has numerous lakeside pullouts with excellent Northern Lights views.
In addition, the area is home to a local airport where you can fly in from Detroit or Chicago.
The town offers numerous RV parks, such as Rippling River Resort, plus hotels and inns for those not wanting to camp. While you’re waiting for sunset, explore Northern Michigan University and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Headlands International Dark Sky Park is just two miles west of Mackinaw City and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The observatory is only available to park personnel and researchers, but they project views onto screens for the public.
Rangers and local astronomers will often set up telescopes and are available to answer questions or point out objects in the sky. In fact, if you have a telescope, you’re welcome to bring it with you.
Check the park’s website to find out more about nighttime events, concerts, and more. During the daytime, explore Headland’s five miles of trails, including the Dark Sky Discovery Trail. This mile-long trail contains indigenous art and local photos that represent our relationship to the stars. Docents are often at each station to provide more information and answer questions.
Camping isn’t allowed on the park property, but they offer a couple of locations for a family or small group to stay. In addition, Mackinaw City provides a few RV parks and many hotels.
French Farm Lake Campground is about 10 minutes from the park and has dry camping sites available. For hookups and more amenities, you can reserve a spot at the Mackinaw City KOA.
Michigan Offers Incredible Northern Lights Viewing
Viewing the Northern Lights from Michigan’s shores is an amazing experience without the cost of getting to Alaska or another country. It takes a little planning and flexibility, but we’re sure it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.
Have you seen the Northern Lights? Where were you?
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