Northern Lights cast radiant, multi-colored lights over the northern landscape. Also known as Aurora Borealis, they 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. Particles typically collide around 60 miles above earth and create green lights. Other warmer colors are created when the particles are higher in the sky. Rare reddish lights only make an appearance when particles are about 200 miles above the surface of 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. Doing so will help you 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. If you’re planning on heading out to look for the lights, you’ll want to do so late at night or very early in the morning. Northern Lights are typically most vibrant between the hours of 11:00 pm and 3:00 am.
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:
Hawk Ridge, Duluth
Known as a spot to view migrating birds, this ridge also offers magnificent opportunities for viewing northern lights over the city of Duluth. It can be found on East Skyline Parkway on the northeastern side of Duluth and features an overlook where viewers can park their cars.
White Sky Rock, Lutsen
White Sky Rock offers incredible views to the north over Caribou Lake. At 1,400 feet above sea level, viewing the lights from this location almost makes it feel like you are immersed in the lights. To get there, you’ll need to take a short hike on a spur trail of the Superior Hiking Trail. Park at the Caribou Lake public boat launch located approximately 5 miles up the Caribou Trail from Lutsen. Once you park, cross the highway and start hiking up the hiking trail the opposite side of Caribou Trail, staying to the right when the trail splits. Getting to the overlook will require a short hike (less than a quarter of a mile) which gains about 230 feet of elevation.
Artist’s Point, Grand Marais
This point in Grand Marais is a great spot to view the Northern Lights at night. Though it won’t be the darkest spot in the area, it’s easy to access, especially for those who are staying in the Grand Marais area. The east side of the point shields viewers from most of the light pollution from downtown Grand Marais and provides a great spot to view the Northern Lights over Lake Superior. 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 list of driving routes for people in the Tofte, Lutsen, Grand Marais, Hovland and Grand Portage area who wish to view the Northern Lights. We highly recommend checking it out here.