Find Northern Lights in Michigan's UP NOW (2021)

northern lights

The Northern Lights are a spectacle that many desire too see but unfortunately never do. The Elusive nature of this natural phenomenon is all about timing, patience, and luck. Before giving up on your search, remember to stay positive and continually check forecasts. Let’s dive into the best practices for finding the Northern Lights in Michigan!

With high probabilites of viewing this week into the weekend, consider refreshing best practices to see them at their best by brushing up on some basics below.

What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights form when electrons moving along earths magnetic field, collide with air particles that combine into one of the most fantastic displays in nature. 

The different colors you witness form from the various gaseous particles in the earths atmosphere.

The equally stunning, Southern Lights, form below the Southern Hemisphere and are known as the Aurora Australis.

Best Places to see Northern Lights in Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Michigan has a number of excellent spots to see the Northern Lights. Some of the best spots are in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can catch the Northern Lights in other parts of Michigan but your best opportunities will be farther North

Marquette – Wetmore Landing, Little Presque Isle, and anywhere where light is not abundant

Copper Harbor – At the northernmost tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, sits Copper Harbor. This is a very low light pollution area and a premiere spot to take in the sight.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – For the visitors who want to make the most of their time in Pictured Rocks, try to plan for a trip when Aurora i forecasted. Not only will it be extremely dark in the night you will be in one of the most beautiful places during the day.

Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights in Michigan

Geomagnetic Activity – Monitoring the strength of Aurora is based off of two Geomagnetic readings. The KP Index (1-9) & the NOAA POES Aurora Activity Level (1-10)

Patience – One of the most overlooked aspects of chasing aurora is patience. I’ve gone out on countless nights where forecasts were solid and suddenly changed. 

Comfort – Timing the lights is usually in the late hours of the night and in cold climates. Make sure you’re comfortable and warm to enjoy this spectacle especially in the fridgid environment of the UP

Low Light Pollution Areas – The darker the better. Areas of low light pollution will allow the stars and aurora to fully engulf the chaser. Keep heading north in Michigan 

Location – Areas of high latitude (closer to the north pole) tend to have increased chances of sightings

Best Time of year to see Northern Lights in Michigan

You are likely to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Michigan between August-April. The best viewing months for the Aurora Borealis is April, October, and November!

Ideally the weather is crisp, clear, and cold with no cloud or snow activity! 

Resources to Monitor Aurora Borealis activity

Unless you are the only person in the world who goes for night walks every night on hours end and gets lucky, you’re going to need to track the Aurora activity to have a shot at witnessing it. Here are some resources you can utilize to improve your likelihood of success:

Photography Tips for Northern Lights

There’s nothing worse than not being ready to photograph this incredible phenomenon. To ensure you are ready, follow these tips to maximize your chances of taking your best shot

Use a fast lensAperture of 1.8-4 is ideal but not necessary

Wide LensA wide lens is preferred but like above, not needed. A wide lens will provide an easier composition choice to include foreground or any other surrounding elements

ISO Settings – Dependent on how fast your lens is, keep your ISO lower to limit noise introduction. A safe bet is usually between 1600-3200.

Shutter Speed – Dependent on your ISO, and Aperture, test your shutter speed to match the shot. Usually a 15-30 seconds will give best results. Anything longer than 30 will lead to star trails 

Best Places for Astrophotography in Michigan

The Northern Lights are absolutely amazing, but are always a tricky thing to plan for. But just because you didn’t capture or see them, there’s probably a high chance you were situated for some phenomenal Astrophotography in the state. Here are some of the best places you can go that offer some of the darkest skies in Michigan:

The Upper Peninsula – Most of the UP is very dark but use the resources above to find very dark zones. Pictured Rocks for example can be a dramatic spot to compose a stellar astrophotography shot.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – The skies along Lake Michigan’s Sand Dunes are some of the least polluted in the state and so good they offer night sky programs for people to revel in the beauty. Weekly and monthly options are available to visitors!

Port Crescent State Park – Michigan has 6 Dark Sky Parks and this one has one of the most memorable landscape features at the tip of the state’s mitten. That feature? Turnip Rock!

Headlands International Dark Sky Park – The only internationally recognized Dark Sky status Park is this Mackinaw City gem.


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