The Northern Lights

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.

What Are the Northern Lights?

Also known as Aurora Borealis (meaning “dawn of the north”), these colorful 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. However, on rare occasions, 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, for instance, 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.

Seeing the Northern Lights

If you want to see the auroras, you’ll want to check the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center website. This site provides daily Aurora forecast to determine the likelihood of the Northern Lights being visible. Skies will also need to be clear to see the Auroras. So, be sure to check the local forecast, as well. Doing these things will increase your odds of spotting the gorgeous lights. It is also important to know that displays are most vibrant between 11:00 pm and 3:00 am.

To increase your chances of seeing brighter lights, it helps to get out of town. Many cities, and even small towns, experience light pollution. This can hide your view of the atmosphere lights.

Luckily, there are a number of places on the North Shore we recommend visiting when the chances of spotting Northern Lights are the greatest. These areas are not affected by light pollution, and are located further north.

Northern Lights form when charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with the earth’s gaseous particles.

Where to See The Northern Lights

 
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.
 
George Crosby Manitou State Park
Located near the town of Finland, this lesser-known State Park is great for Northern Lights viewing. You are far away from any city or town and fewer people are lingering about, especially in the winter. Note that the road to George Crosby Manitou State Park is not maintained in the winter. You may need to ski or snowshoe in to enjoy the Northern Lights.
  
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. 
 
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.
 
Anywhere on the Gunflint Trail
Take a drive up the Gunflint Trail, and pick a lake. There are many to choose from! Mink Lake, Poplar Lake, and Seagul Lake all of public areas that are great for viewing the Northern Lights. Just look for directions to a public boat launch.
 
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.
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