The northern lights in Michigan are a wonder to behold. You might think you have to travel to Alaska, or even Iceland to see the Aurora, but with a bit of knowledge on how to interpret the northern lights forecast, and a smidge of luck, you, too, can see these arctic wonders in the not-so-arctic Great Lakes region!
I’ve spent the past four years exploring and photographing the northern lights in Michigan, learning how to read northern lights forecasts, and finding the best locations and the best dates to photograph the northern lights in Michigan.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to enjoy and photograph the northern lights in Michigan.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
The best months to see the northern lights in Michigan are September to April. However, since the midnight sun isn’t a problem for mid-latitude locations like Michigan, the aurora borealis can be viewed all year!
Each month has its unique conditions. Keep reading to find out the best moments to see the northern lights in Michigan:
- August, September, and October – Late summer and fall are both great times to see the northern lights in Michigan. The Fall Equinox coupled with the days getting shorter, offer more time to see the aurora borealis in Michigan. Temperatures are still moderate and comfortable, and then there are the beautiful fall colors!
- November, December, and January – Long, cold, nights and wintry landscapes take hold. This is also the cloudiest part of the year for Michigan, so this can make chasing northern lights in Michigan difficult. However, with low humidity, and freezing temperatures, those nights that are clear tend to be spectacular.
- February, March, and April – Spring still tends to be quite cloudy, but better than the Winter months. Ice caves, snowy landscapes, and frozen waterfalls are the highlights of the late winter and early spring. The Spring Equinox can supercharge the Aurora.
- May, June, and July – Seeing the northern lights in Michigan in summer can be a bit more difficult because of the short nights, but not impossible. The insect problem is the worst in May and June, and less so in July and August.
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Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Michigan
Knowing when to photograph the northern lights in Michigan is only part of the fun and the process. To take inspiring northern lights photos, you also need to know the best locations to photograph the northern lights in Michigan. This state has some breathtaking locations which aren’t known to many.
1. Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls state Park
Nestled along the shores of Lake Superior, this lighthouse and beach are an easily accessible spot to see the northern lights in Michigan. The north-facing beach coupled with extremely dark skies, makes spotting the faint glow quite easy! Just watch out for the people rock-hunting.
To the south of Whitefish Point lies Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Between the river access points, campgrounds, and waterfalls – there’s no shortage of landscape subjects!
Marquette is one of the Upper Peninsula’s largest cities. The pros of chasing the northern lights in the city are that you’re never far from convenience and comfort. So for new chasers, this may be where you want to start.
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can head over to Presque Ile, Little Presque Ile park, or hike up to Sugarloaf Mountains and take in the 360-degree views of Lake Superior. The downside is light pollution.
3. Straits of Mackinac / Wilderness State Park
Mackinaw City is another tourist hot spot. As such, you’ll never be far from a store, hotel, or fuel. Mackinaw City is a tad less bright than Marquette, but it is still quite bright in terms of light pollution. However, the Mackinac Bridge – Michigan’s 5-mile-long pride and joy always makes for a whimsical photo subject. And it’s easy to access via Fort Michilimackinac Park.
If you desire a darker location, head over to Wilderness State Park. You’ll immediately notice a difference in ambient light! The Headlands is an International Dark Sky Park, but it mostly faces the wrong direction for a clear view of the Aurora.
4. Upper Lower Peninsula – Leelanau Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes
Most of my recommendations are in the Upper Peninsula – and for good reason. That’s where the darkest skies are! However, for those in Michigan’s Lower Mitt, there are some gems to think about!
The darkest areas will be on the Leelanau Peninsula and Grand Traverse Bay. These areas will clear you of the light pollution from Traverse City and give you a clear view north. Leelanau State Park, Mission Point Lighthouse, and Good Harbor beach are some great starting points.
Heading further west and down the coast of Lake Michigan, you’ll be treated to the beautiful sand dunes and beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Although not entirely north-facing along the shoreline, there are some great spots to take in the northern lights. D.H. Day Farm is a gorgeous, restored barn that is a popular subject. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is another popular place.
5. The Keweenaw Peninsula
Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is my personal favorite place to chase the aurora borealis. It’s arguably Michigan’s most wild and remote place, with the darkest skies. A few cities dot the peninsula north of Houghton, and each has this old-world charm.
Copper Harbor reminds me of a “little Alaska ” in the look and feel of this harbor town on Lake Superior. You truly get a feeling of being at the edge of the world once you reach the end of US-41. Some of my favorite places to hunt for the aurora borealis in the Keweenaw are Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Esry Roadside park, Hunter’s Point Park, and Brockway Mountain Drive.
If you have a solid 4X4 rig and are feeling a bit more adventurous, head out to High Rock Bay or Horseshoe Harbor. Be advised – it’s remote, and the road is really rough.
6. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Are you a hiker and enjoy waterfalls and nights camping in the woods? Then Pictured Rocks is for you! Granted there are some very easy spots to access – like Hurricane River, Miner’s Beach, Sand Point, and 12-mile beach.
But for those with a more adventurous streak, consider hiking out to Chapel Beach, where you’ll get to see Chapel Rock – a majestic tree that is clinging to shore via roots after a park of the shore eroded away. It’s unique and magical! Other spots to consider are Mosquito Beach (aptly named at certain times of the year!), the Coves, and Au Sable Lighthouse.
7. Porcupine Mountain State
“The Porkies”, as is lovingly known, is home to over 31,000 acres of forest and wilderness. The park is home to the largest stand of old-growth northern hardwood in North America west of the Adirondack Mountains!
The remote and wild nature of this park draws many hikers, backpackers, and campers every year. For people chasing the aurora borealis, the beaches – like Union Bay prove to be popular because of their ease of access. Lake of the Clouds overlook is spectacular for photographing the Milky Way.
If the Aurora is strong enough, it can be viewed from here as well. The overlook is not entirely north-facing, so it’ll be more off to the side in your images. You could spend a few days hiking down to Mirror lake, or perhaps camp at Presque Ile campground and take in the lights as well.
How to Photograph the Northern Lights in Michigan
Photographing the northern lights in Michigan is fairly easy if you follow these simple steps. Read our article on how to photograph the northern lights to gain more in-depth knowledge about this subject.
In summary, this is what you need to do to photograph the northern lights in Michigan:
- Prepare your gear. The most important thing you can do is make sure you have a good camera to photograph the Northern Lights.
- Mount your tripod.
- Set your focus so you get sharp images.
- Shoot in RAW if you want to edit your pictures later.
- Raise the ISO according to your camera sensor.
- Open up the aperture of your lens completely to capture more light and get better results.
- Set different shutter times. Longer for weaker Aurora; shorter for strong Aurora
- Think about composition when shooting the aurora with the many lakes, trees, and rock formations!
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Michigan Northern Lights Calendar
While the Northern Lights happen virtually every day, they are mostly confined to the Auroral Oval. This oval is why certain locations are desirable, since you don’t need high activity to see a good show.
Mid-latitudes need decent activity for naked eye viewing. KP4 and above is typically sufficient enough to see them with the naked eye. However, it’ll be faint and confined to the horizon with a pillar or two. The Northern Lights at these lower levels will show as a whitish-gray on the horizon; similar to light pollution. But this light pollution moves!
Nights with KP > 5
Hours of Darkness
Average Cloud Cover
Northern Lights in Michigan in January
Northern Lights in Michigan in February
Northern Lights in Michigan in March
Northern Lights in Michigan in April
Northern Lights in Michigan in May
Northern Lights in Michigan in June
Northern Lights in Michigan in July
Northern Lights in Michigan in August
Northern Lights in Michigan in September
Northern Lights in Michigan in October
Northern Lights in Michigan in November
Northern Lights in Michigan in December
|HISTORICAL DATA OF NORTHERN LIGHTS IN MICHIGAN BY MONTH|
If you are interested in a great naked-eye show, then you’ll want to target nights of predicted G1 (KP5) or greater activity. G2 and up would be ideal. Of course, this is much rarer. I have seen them overhead at latitudes of 47 degrees with a good G2 level event. You can learn more about this in our article on how to predict the Northern Lights.
Best tips to see the Aurora in Michigan
Chasing the northern lights in Michigan can be exciting, but it can also become frustrating if you don’t know where to start. I’ve been photographing the northern lights in Michigan for a few years, and I’ve learned a handful of things along the way which I hope you’ll find helpful.
- Become familiar with apps such as SpaceWeatherLive. You don’t need to know the real technical aspects, just to know what kind of trends you need to see for a show to happen. I.e. A negative BZ is needed to charge up the lights. But you don’t need to know WHAT BZ is.
- Compare weather forecasts. Download a few weather apps such as Windy, WeatherUnderground, and Clear Outside, there are more, but these are my personal favorites. For this area, I find that the European model tends to be a bit more accurate overall.
- Have a plan “B”. Chasing aurora borealis in mid-latitudes is much more difficult than in the Arctic. We do need decent activity to see them. I always have a Milky Way idea or another astrophoto project in the back of my mind for those times when the data just isn’t great, and the lights are a no-show.
- Watch the moon cycle! A full moon at mid-latitudes will wash out any sort of faint light activity. The only exception would be if there was a major event forecasted: think KP8 or 9. G3 or above. You can use our Milky Way Calendars to find the darkest nights to out.
Best Images of Northern Lights in Michigan
My obsession to chase the aurora borealis started in 2018, when I saw them in the rearview mirror driving back from Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise, Michigan – I think it’s not a coincidence I saw them in “Paradise” 😉. I’ve also spent countless hours on the road and in the field playing with gear and experimenting with settings for different effects.
These are some of the best images of the northern lights in Michigan I’ve captured over the years:
Best Northern lights hotels/campgrounds/accommodations in Michigan
If you are planning an overnight stay, you should check out the best accommodations Michigan has to offer to see the northern lights.
This is a list of the best accommodations to see the northern lights in Michigan.
- Keweenaw Mountain Lodge – As of June 2022, Keweenaw Mountain Lodge gained its IDA Dark Sky place designation! This place offers monthly night sky programs and is also currently setting up an all-sky camera to monitor for Aurora!
- Fresh Coast Cabins
- Roam Inn
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
- American Inn – Ontonagon
- Fort Wilkins State Park
- Porcupine Mountains State Park
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park
- Wilderness State Park
Northern Lights Tours in Michigan
Finding a Northern Lights Tour in Michigan is not as easy as in other Auroras destinations like Iceland or Norway. However, feel free to contact me if you are interested in a Night Sky/Aurora based workshop! I am open to private and group adventurers!
You can find me here:
- Instagram: @Shelbydiamondstar
- Facebook: Shelbydiamondstar Photography
- Twitter: MKiczenski
- Vero: Shelbydiamondstar
Northern Lights in Michigan FAQ
When can I see the northern lights in Michigan?
The northern lights in Michigan can be seen all year round, but the best moments to see them are between August and November.
Which are the best locations to see the northern lights in Michigan?
These are some of the best locations to see the northern lights in Michigan:
- Keweenaw Peninsula
- Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls state Park
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Porcupine Mountain State Park
Is Michigan a good place to see the northern lights?
Michigan is a great location to see the northern lights. Being a mid-latitude location means there is no midnight sun so you could potentially see the northern lights any night of the year.
How do I photograph the northern lights in Michigan?
If you want to photograph the Northern Lights, a good starting point is: aperture f/2.8 or the widest possible in your lens, ISO 3200-6400, and a shutter speed between 1-15 seconds depending on the Northern Lights activity. The quicker the Aurora moves, the faster your shutter speed should be.
Seeing the northern lights in Michigan truly is a magical experience. In this article, I’ve covered everything you need to know to enjoy this natural light show.
Remember, as a summary, this is mainly what you need to know to see and photograph the northern lights in Michigan:
- Plan ahead of time.
- The best months are March, August, September, October, and November.
- Find the best locations with low light pollution.
- Get familiar with weather apps and weather forecasts.
- Avoid the moon!
- To photograph the northern lights, use longer exposures with faint lights and shorter exposures when the northern lights are very active.
- Have a plan B.
Most of all, have fun. Chasing northern lights in Michigan is truly beautiful, but it can sometimes be frustrating as well when the forecasts are mistaken. Remember to have fun in those moments.
If you have any questions related to the northern lights in Michigan don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.