Northern Lights in Petoskey
Chasing the Aurora Borealis
This spring, Northern Michigan got its finest display of the Aurora Borealis in years on March 23-24, 2023. It was bigger, brighter and more prevalent than anyone could recall in recent memory – or maybe ever! It made the news and social media was flooded with gorgeous pictures! And it wasn’t just the tippy top of the Upper Peninsula that was treated to the view, people even in downstate Michigan got a sight of the wild greens, yellows and violets in the night sky.
The unexpectedly vivid display has “lit” (pun intended) a fire under sky gazers everywhere this spring, hoping for another! April, October and November are the top months for seeing lights in Michigan. And, Petoskey is far enough north that it’s more likely that you can catch the lights with a little prep and a lot of patience. Here are some tips for the “hunt”!
- Look North (although in the recent display, people reported seeing the lights in other directions even).
- Seek areas like shorelines with no trees to obstruct the view.
- The aurora happens close to the horizon.
- Avoid light pollution. The darker the better! Get as far away from the cities/towns as you can.
- Go after midnight – the show usually starts long after you should be in bed!
- Take blankets, chairs and even an umbrella or tent to camp out along Lake Michigan. The tent and umbrella will keep the dew off you when the coolness of the night arrives. And even the warmest days turn into cool nights along the Great Lakes.
- Take your camera. The naked eye can’t always catch the colors, but more and more people are posting pics using an everyday iPhone!
- Watch the weather. If it’s cloudy or rainy, you are out of luck.
- Visit websites like this one and sign up for alerts in your area to get predictions. Often the experts can guess when the conditions are going to be ripe for the Aurora Borealis as far as a day or two out – but sometimes the lights happen with no notice whatsoever. They are as elusive as Bigfoot!
Take heart – some people spend a lifetime chasing the lights, only to spend many a night shivering on the lakeshore with no luck. But, guess what, those are pretty good memories, too!
The best spot near Petoskey:
There are several places you can watch for the Northern Lights on the Great Lakes, but the best is about 50 minutes north of here at Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinac City. This 550-acre Emmet County park hosts over 2 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline (south and west of McGulpin Point Light in the Straits of Mackinac). No camping is allowed at the park, fyi.
They host monthly, free Dark Sky Park programs and special events, as well as a great website with several links and explanations on this Northern wonder! Check it out here.
We hope you’ll find a night or two this summer to enjoy the silence and delight of a starry night, and, with a little luck, the aurora too!