Northern Lights from Fresh Coast Cabins. Photo by Jason Makela.

Explore the Keweenaw

See the Northern Lights in Michigan

Our favorite spot to watch the northern lights in Michigan? Here, of course!

This guide to aurora chasing is full of tips for catching a spectacular show of the northern lights. Many Upper Peninsula visitors come for the adventures and tranquility this beautiful corner of the world offers, but seeing the auroras should also be high on your list.

Fresh Coast Tip

The best time to see the northern lights in Michigan is anytime the sky is dark (no moon) and not cloudy. However, they are usually more visible during the winter months.

Dark skies, unobstructed Lake Superior shorelines, and our location just south of Canada are what makes the Keweenaw a northern lights viewing destination for Michigan locals and visitors alike. Fresh Coast Cabins sits at 48 degrees latitude, just one degree south of the northernmost latitudinal point in the continental U.S.

That makes this little cabin-loving spot on the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the Keweenaw Peninsula about as good as the northern lights get in the lower 48!

So, what are the northern lights exactly?

The aurora borealis, commonly referred to as “the northern lights” or simply “the auroras,” is the spectacular result of interactions between the Sun and Earth’s outer atmosphere. It occurs around 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface—about 10 times higher than a jet aircraft flies—and can extend hundreds of miles into space.

They show up as spectacular, colorful bands of light that dance in the dark night sky. The most common color displayed is the brilliant yellow-green we most often see in photographs, but the aurora borealis can also produce red, blue, and purple patterns.

The space weather science behind the auroras

This seemingly magical phenomenon happens when a solar flare (energetic particles from the sun) floats through space on the solar wind (a flow of particles that comes off the sun at about one million miles per hour), eventually penetrating Earth’s magnetic field. Electrons in the magnetic field sideswipe oxygen atoms or nitrogen molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The bursts of colorful light—the northern lights—are colliding particles (usually electrons) and atoms; at collision, electrons can return to their initial, lower energy state, and in the process, release photons or light particles we know as aurorae. The intensity of solar flares varies the intensity and extent of activity within the Auroral oval, the ring-like area above the geomagnetic north where auroral activity is concentrated.

When you join us for Superior Fridays around the fire, Jason will happily nerd out with you about all things satellites and the night sky, being a rocket scientist and all.

Northern Lights from Fresh Coast Cabins. Photo by Jason Makela.
Northern Lights from Fresh Coast Cabins. Photo by Jason Makela.

When is the best time to see the northern lights in Michigan?

The best time to see the northern lights in Michigan is anytime the sky is dark and clear! However, they usually show a greater frequency during the winter months when the nights are longer and the skies are generally void of haze. The transition from winter to spring and fall to winter creates the ideal conditions for aurora borealis.

Planning your trip

Plan your visit to see the northern lights between August and April for the best chance of a show. March and September—the months of the spring and fall equinoxes—tend to see stronger activity because the tilt of Earth during this time lets more solar energy into Earth’s atmosphere. Plus, it’s simply darker during these months which makes seeing the lights easier. The months of October, November, and April are particularly great for spotting the vivid display of natural lights. At Fresh Coast Cabins, we’ve had epic northern lights seen over Lake Superior in July so they can be seen at any time throughout the year.

Where to stay

With us, of course! The Fresh Coast Cabins season runs from Memorial Day Weekend through October, making it an ideal location to come at the beginning of the peak northern lights season. If you’re looking to visit the Keweenaw during our off-season winter months, hit us up! We’re happy to point you to our favorite spots that stay open year-round.

Where is the best spot?

Earth’s northern latitudes, like here on the tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, see some of the most remarkable occurrences of the auroras in the contiguous 48 United States (aka The Lower 48). Northern Michigan sits in a great location latitude-wise, as the auroral oval dips further south on nights of stronger auroral activity. That’s nerd for northern lights in Michigan is a regular thing!

The Upper Peninsula has 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. Getting to a location without the obstruction of a treeline or hills is important at our latitude, as many times an auroral display will sit very low on the horizon.

Spots on the southern shore of Lake Superior, including Marquette, Skanee, Eagle River, and Brimley, offer jaw-dropping views of the aurora borealis.

Dark skies at night bring an auroral delight

The most important key to seeing the lights is to find the darkest night sky you can with minimal light pollution. Any artificial light source has the possibility of creating light pollution, and artificial skyglow—the brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas—is particularly what we’re trying to avoid. The light of the aurora is equal to the brightness of starlight, which is why a dark sky is so important!

Did you know?

More than 80% of the world and more than 99% of the U.S. and European populations live under light-polluted skies.

Science research article, “The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness

The Headlands International Dark Sky Park, located on the Straits of Mackinac near Mackinaw City at the northwest tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, is one of the world’s first dark sky parks. With two miles of undeveloped Lake Superior shoreline on 600 acres of pristine woodlands, it is considered by many to be a must-see northern lights destination.

Watch the northern lights from your bed

If you want to see the lights without leaving the comfort of your bed, we’ve got just the spot for you! What can we say, it’s cold sitting outside and waiting for the auroras to rise up into the sky, so we launched the Aurora Major Suite at Fresh Coast Cabins this year.

From your king-sized bed on the second floor, you can gaze out onto an uninterrupted view of the Lake Superior shoreline without having to get out of your jammies, or even your bed. This is also conducive to another pro tip: staying in a destination for as long as possible will help increase your chances of spying the northern lights.

Is 2024 a good year to see the northern lights in Michigan?

Short answer: Yes! Space weather experts say that 2022-2027 will be the best years to go aurora hunting. This is because the Sun’s next cycle peak will be in late 2024(ish), so from 2021 to 2027, your chances of peeping the northern lights are better than average.

Long answer: The sun goes through a roughly 11-year cycle, which includes three to four years of solar maximum. This creates a lot of northern lights activity, followed by a couple of years of transition, then three to four years of solar minimum. The most recent solar minimum occurred in December 2019, which kicked off the start of a new solar cycle, known to experts at NOAA and NASA as Solar Cycle 25. We’re currently closer to the minimum and will ramp up to the next expected maximum in July 2025.

Northern Lights Michigan: Resources

Use these handy resources to learn more and plan your northern lights adventures in Michigan.

  • Aurora – 30 Minute Forecast: Short-term forecast of the location and intensity of the aurora provided by the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
  • SolarHam: Real-time space weather news and data from various sources, all in one location for easy navigation.
  • Soft Serve News: Real-time aurora borealis predictions and forecasts with an option to sign up for customized aurora alerts on your smartphone.
  • Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard: Another site by the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center with graphs including ACE real-time solar wind for the bz component model.
  • FAQs about seeing the Northern Lights in the Keweenaw: On the Fresh Coast Cabins blog, we answer some of the most common questions we field about peeping the auroras in our neck of the woods.

Contact Us

Do you have a question we didn’t answer about viewing the northern lights in Michigan? Thinking about planning a trip to the Keweenaw and don’t know where to start? Reach out to us—we’d love to talk!