One of the Earth’s natural wonders, the Northern Lights cast radiant, multi-colored lights over the northern landscape. They most commonly appear between 60-75 degree Longitude, making the North Shore a hot spot for seeing a display.
Also known as Aurora Borealis (meaning “dawn of the north”), Northern Lights form when charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with the earth’s gaseous particles. Typically the lights are green, but every so often viewers will get to see red, yellow, blue, and violet lights. The colors are determined by the height in which the particles collide. Green lights, which are the most common color, appear when the colliding particles are about 60 miles above the earth. Rare reddish lights appear when the colliding particles are higher, usually about 200 miles above the earth.
If you want to see the northern lights, you'll want to check the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center website for the daily Aurora forecast to determine the likelihood of the Northern Lights being visible. It is also important to check the local weather forecast to verify the skies will be clear. Doing these things will increase your odds of spotting the gorgeous lights. It is also important to know that displays are most vibrant between 11:00pm and 3:00am.
To increase your chances of seeing brighter lights, it helps to get out of town as many cities are “polluted” by light and the shield of street light can hide your view of the atmosphere lights. There are a number of places on the North Shore we recommend visiting when the chances of spotting Northern Lights are the greatest. They include:
1. Hawk Ridge, Duluth
Known as a spot to view migrating birds, this ridge offers magnificent views over the entirety of Duluth and is a great spot to see the Northern Lights. Hawk Ridge is located on East Skyline Parkway on the northeastern side of Duluth and features an overlook where viewers can park to see the lights from their car.
2. White Sky Rock, Lutsen
White Sky Rock offers 360 degree views over Caribou Lake. At 1,400 feet above sea level, it almost feels as if you are a part of the lights. To get there, park at the Caribout Lake public boat launch located on Caribou Trail. Cross the highway and start hiking up the hiking trail, staying to the right when the trail splits. Getting to the rock overlook will require a .15 mile hike which gains about 230 feet of elevation.
3. Artist’s Point, Grand Marais
This point in Grand Marais offers tremendous lake views during the day and is a great spot to view the Northern Lights at night. Though it won’t be the darkest spot along the North Shore to view the lights, it’s easy to access, especially for those who are in the Grand Marais area. The east side of the point shields viewers from most of the “polluted” lights from downtown Grand Marais and provides a great spot to view the lights to the north over the abyss of Lake Superior. For easy viewing, visitors are able to drive right up to the beach and park near the Coast Guard Station.
Visit Cook County has also put together a wonderful list of driving routes for people in the Tofte, Lutsen, Grand Marais, Hovland and Grand Portage area who wish to view the lights. We highly recommend checking it out here.