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 degrees longitude, making the North Shore a hot spot for seeing a display.
What causes the Northern Lights?
Also known as Aurora Borealis (meaning “dawn of the north”) the Northern Lights are created by solar winds interacting with the earth’s magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is the sphere that gives earth its magnetic field and protects us from space. The magnetosphere ensures that these winds are drawn to the poles, where particles rain in the upper atmosphere, causing this phenomenon.
Typically the lights are green, but every so often viewers will get to see red, yellow, blue, and violet lights. The height at which the particles collide at determines the color you see. 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.
When is the best time to watch the Northern Lights?
It is important to know that displays are most vibrant between 11:00 pm and 3:00 am so plan to be up late! 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. Make sure you also check the local weather forecast to verify the skies will be clear.
The lights can be seen at any time of the year but March and September will give you greater odds of spotting them here on the north shore. 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 lights can hide your view of the atmosphere lights. It also helps if the moon is not bright, the darker the sky the better.
Where is the best place to see them?
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 Caribou 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 a great spot to view the Northern Lights at night. Though it won’t be the darkest spot, it’s easy to access. The east side of the point shields viewers from most of the “polluted” lights from downtown Grand Marais. This 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.