Breathless! That’s the reaction when you watch the dancing colors of the Northern Lights perform across the night sky. Once experienced, they are not forgotten.
For me, there were two memorable experiences. Once camping next to the Mackinac Bridge while watching the night show with my family. The second was flying through the lights with my adult son while getting ready to land in Anchorage, Alaska.
According to those “in the know,” this promises to be a banner year to create new Northern Lights memories. According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the sun will reach what is called a “solar maximum.” An 11-year cycle that creates stronger than usual Northern Lights activity.
Also known as aurora borealis, the Northern Lights need ideal conditions for optimal viewing. Obviously, a clear sky. But more than that there needs to be a dark sky, clear from ambient light pollution accompanied by population centers. As luck would have it, the Traverse City region has an abundance of dark sky options.
Drive to the northern tip of Old Mission Peninsula and reach the shore in front of Mission Point Lighthouse, when you look to the north it’s a long way before you reach any land. That makes it a great dark sky and a popular hangout for any celestial viewing. Visitors show up to watch meteor showers, advancing lightning storms, or expected Northern Lights.
Another popular viewing location takes you to the western edge of the Michigan map along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Wisconsin is the next land mass and it’s a long way across Lake Michigan until you get there. That makes the stars and night shows pop out in the dark sky. The National Park Service feeds your astrological passion with a Monthly Summer Star Party Program. Timing will be critical for viewing the show at the Lakeshore. While there are always vast areas along 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline at Sleeping Bear, know that depending on the time of year, some of the drives and parking may be closed to car traffic.
The spotlight is currently on Traverse City as a great option to experience the Northern Lights. Men’s Journal highlights the region. BestLife places the region as one of the best in the world for viewing.
Capturing the Aurora experience in a picture takes a different skill, but many local and regional photographers use the light show to display their mastery of the night sky. In fact Grand Rapids-based photographer, Justin Miller, was recently credited for his work as the 2023 Northern Lights Photographer of the Year, by Capture the Atlas. Traverse City photographer Tyler Leipprandt of Michigan Sky Media also takes advantage of rare celestial events to capture his images.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional photographer hoping to capture a special image, or a parent looking to wow the kids. This year looks to be a great year to make Northern Lights memories in Traverse City.