You don’t have to travel to the Arctic Circle to see the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights. With the right conditions you can find them bright and clear from anywhere in Cook County / Grand Marais, Minnesota. Their far-northern location and open, dark skies make this one of the world’s best places to view northern lights.
Improve your odds of finding the best northern lights viewing experience by following these tips:
Check the forecast: Best viewing is found on clear nights with little to no moonlight. That means Minnesota’s long, dark winter nights present the perfect opportunity to hunt for the northern lights.
Stay up late: Best times to see Northern Lights is often between 9 pm – 4 am, so bring along plenty of coffee or tea. This time of evening and early morning is often the coldest part of the night in Minnesota, don’t skip the next tip about bundling up.
Dress warm: Northern Minnesota nights get very chilly (that’s cold for Southerners!). If you’re not used to it (or if you come unprepared) it could be dangerous. A warm jacket, hat and good pair of mittens or gloves are a must Heat escapes through your extremiti. We also recommend bringing blankets and a thermos of your favorite warm beverage to keep things cozy. If you get here and realize you forgot an important piece of gear, local shops or outfitters and guides will have what you need.
Look North: Grab a compass and find a spot with a good view to the north, someplace without hills or trees blocking your line of sight. Forgot your compass? The night sky has you covered. You can use the Big Dipper, a prominent northern constellation, to find north and the direction to search. The two stars on the far edge of the big dipper’s bowl point directly to Polaris, the North Star. Before you venture out, check out our list of favorite northern lights viewing areas in each Cook County community.
Turn off your lights: Artificial light will make it more difficult to see the northern lights and your eyes need time to adjust to the natural darkness. Once they do, you’ll be able to see more than you ever thought possible. Be sure to turn off car lights, house lights, flashlights and keep your cell phone screen dim. Any exposure artificial light may disrupt your night vision and could jeopardize your moment to see the northern lights.
Be patient: Part of the mystique of the northern lights is the absolute unpredictability of occurrence. Sometimes, you wait all night for the tiniest flicker of movement in the sky. Other nights, you’re witness to a wondrous dancing display of intense color across the sky.
Know what to look for: The northern lights appear in a broad spectrum of colors, so you never quite know what to expect. Most typically seen is a faint green-yellow or white-grey display that can almost be confused with bonfire smoke, or clouds. However, deep purples and vivid reds have also been known to regularly appear in Cook County.
Tell a friend: When venturing into the woods to find that perfect spot, be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. It is also recommended to scout your location during the day to be sure all roads are open, accessible and safe.
Tags: North Shore Northern Lights, Grand Marais Northern Lights, Cook County Northern Lights, Minnesota Northern Lights, North Shore Winter Activities, Grand Marais Winter Activities
Grand Marais & North Shore Winter Activities
With an average of 120 inches of snow per year, you would expect Grand Marais & North Shore Winter Activities to include just about everything you could want to do on this slippery white stuff! You’d be right, and you can enjoy it on the 400 km of groomed cross-country ski trails (the biggest such network in North America), 450 miles of snowmobile trails, and 1,000 acres of downhill skiing and snowboarding.
“Lutsen Mountains” is the largest ski area in the Midwest. It features four interconnected mountains of the Sawtooth Mountain range with 95 runs that spread across 1000 acres overlooking Lake Superior. These four peaks include Moose Mountain, Eagle Mountain, Ullr Mountain and Mystery Mountain.
The Sawtooth Mountains are located amongst the rugged terrain found along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Rising over 1000 feet from the shores of Lake Superior at angles that vary from 8 to 20 degrees, they drop off steeply on their northern slopes. They were named “sawtooth” due to their relatively uniform size, angles, and regularity of spacing as viewed from Lake Superior to the east, from which their crest line creates a profile that resembles the teeth of an enormous saw.
From the west, rising from the Temperance River, major peaks of the mountain range include Eagle Mountain at Lutsen (tallest), Carlton Peak above Temperance River State Park, Leveaux Mountain and a knob immediately across the Onion River, Moose Mountain, peaks along a ridge above Cascade River State Park, Murphy Mountain, and Sawtooth Bluff above Grand Marais.
View Grand Marais & North Shore Winter Activities Guide.