Here in the U.S. the best time to see the Aurora Borealis, a.k.a the Northern Lights, is during the cold season from September through April with September/March being the best months due to the equinox.

Don’t miss out on this dazzling light show and get up here to Alpena this March!

Where to see the Aurora Borealis:
the northern lights dancing over Alpena MI

The Northern Lights dance over Northeast Michigan, photo by Rick Houchin

The best place to see the Northern Lights is at our designated dark sky parks. Alpena is centrally located to three dark sky parks – Rockport State Recreation Area, Negwegon State Park, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park. These state parks have received official Michigan Dark Sky Designation and are now protected from artificial light pollution, making Alpena a prime destination for seeing the Northern Lights.

A State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Recreation Passport is required to enter the parks. Just $12 when purchased with in-state license plate renewals at Secretary of State. Find out more HERE.

When to see the Aurora Borealis:

Anytime between now and April is the prime time, BUT conditions must be right! First of all, we need a clear night sky with no cloud cover. Secondly, you need to track the solar activity. Tracking and predicting the Aurora Borealis is easier than ever now with apps and websites tracking the Kp range such as NOAA’s Aurora Dashboard and Aurora Forecast.

What is the Kp Index:
Northern Lights over Rockport State Recreation Area

The Northern Lights dance over Lake Huron at  Rockport State Recreation Area. Photo by Pure Michigan

“The K-index (Planetary K-index) is used to characterize the magnitude of geomagnetic storms. Kp is an excellent indicator of disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field and is used by SWPC to decide whether geomagnetic alerts and warnings need to be issued for users who are affected by these disturbances. The K-index quantifies disturbances in the horizontal component of the earth’s magnetic field with an integer in the range 0-9 with 1 being calm and 5 or more indicating a geomagnetic storm.” – NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

How to photograph the Aurora Borealis with your smartphone:

Capturing the Northern Lights on camera can be tricky even for the most experienced photographer! Here are a few tips for the novice using a smartphone.

  • Consider bringing a tripod so your phone is steady as the lights dance around the sky.
  • Set your camera settings on your phone to manual mode if possible or go into PRO settings and set ISO to 800.
  • No flash. If your camera has night mode you can also use this.
  • Adjust exposure time to around 10-15 seconds.
  • There are many resources online that can tell you how to capture the Northern Lights on your smartphone so you can also GOOGLE your specific make and model of phone and how to capture the Aurora with your phone’s camera settings.

If you catch the Northern Lights at one of our Dark Sky Parks, please tag us on Instagram @visit_alpena or Facebook – Visit Alpena: Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.

Looking for a place to stay? We have a variety of hotels, motels, cabins, and cottages for your trip!  Find your Northern Lights lodging here –