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Northern lights

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São Paulo
posts: 86
reviews: 28
Northern lights

I will stay in Chicago for one week in early December. I know the chances are low but I'd like to drive a rental car to houghton trying to watch northern lights. How are the driving conditions from Chicago to northern michigan in December? Are snow chains necessary or winter tires would be enough? How often is it possible to watch northern lights in northern michigan considering the last two years of high sun activity?

9 replies to this topic
Bay City, Michigan
Destination Expert
for Michigan
posts: 5,202
reviews: 968
1. Re: Northern lights

We have high sun activity in MI? Where, tell me, where? LOL!


Sorry drfelippe, I had to make light of that!

You can do that drive, but it is kind of far to go for an event in nature that would be hard to predict. Since I am far from knowledgeable on Northern Lights, I will defer to others who will know more..

Likewise, knowing the weather conditions is easier, but you could experience no snow/ice to being caught in a major snowstorm. I do not think rental cars have snow tires on them, but probably all-weather tires, so you'd probably be good there. It is a beautiful area, whether you see the lights or not.

Wish I could help more....

Edited: 7:19 pm, September 16, 2013
posts: 458
reviews: 78
2. Re: Northern lights

Once you get to Chicago, you could check various websites like spaceweather.com to get an idea of likely aurora activity. Then check the weather up north to see if it'll be cloudy or not. If it looks good on both counts, only then would I go.

Manistique, Michigan
Destination Expert
for Manistique, Curtis
posts: 1,442
3. Re: Northern lights

Northern Lights occur when you have sunspots. They say "the most magnificent displays occur roughly every 11 years. According to space weather forecasters, 2012 is the expected to be one of the most spectacular years for sunspots, as the sun heads toward solar maximum in 2013."

I know last year and winter we had some nice Northern Lights. It is not something you can plan a trip around because you are not really sure when it will happen. If you hear on the radio that there were sunspots and it is coming this way and you may loose cell phone service in a day or two that means there is a good chance the Northern Lights will happen.

I was wondering why you picked Houghton, Mi.

You will find that snow on the roads is not a problem. We have big plows that go down the road early in the morning to clear snow for the school buses. Unless we have a big storm as you travel up this way it should be just fine.

São Paulo
posts: 86
reviews: 28
4. Re: Northern lights

Thank you very much for informations. I picked up Houghton because is the closer place to Chicago in a direction straight northern to increase the chances to spot northern lights. Any other advise?

posts: 3,912
reviews: 170
5. Re: Northern lights

instead, you should drive straight north to munising, michigan... it will be several hours shorter than driving to houghton.... if the northern lights are a bust, you'll be only a coupla miles from pictured rocks national park... if the roads aren't snowed-in (many roads up nort are seasonal and closed to auto traffic during winter), you can drive to the scenic lookout at miner's castle..... and you can drive to miner's falls pretty much any time of the year.... on the other hand, if the lights are a bust, and there's tons of snow on the ground already (not real likely, but it does happen), see if you can rent a snowmobile for the day and take a ride.....




there are a number of lodging choices in munising and wetmore.....


also, along the way, there are a few natural features worth checking out:




a few good links for exploring up nort:




Edited: 7:30 pm, September 17, 2013
posts: 3,912
reviews: 170
6. Re: Northern lights

also, i forgot to mention, monitor these weather sites before you attempt to drive up nort, as it can be nasty during a winter storm... what would normally be an easy 6-7 hour drive up to munising, could turn into an utter nightmare.... trust me: been there, done that...many times!!!!!!!!!!!!!




for the wunderground site, type in the cities along your route to get an idea of the conditions along the way.......

São Paulo
posts: 86
reviews: 28
7. Re: Northern lights

Awesome. Perfect. Thanks a lot for the tips!!!

posts: 3,912
reviews: 170
8. Re: Northern lights

my pleasure!

altho, i made a mistake:

actually, you can drive to MUNISING falls all year, NOT miner's falls as mentioned. munising falls is just outside town, miners falls requires a drive down a seasonal road....

my bad.

Sault Ste. Marie...
posts: 555
reviews: 26
9. Re: Northern lights

I live even further north (in Canada) and seeing the Northern lights is pretty rare. In addition to the sunspot activity, you also need a super clear night. Even the thinnest of cloud cover makes it impossible. And with the big lakes so close, lake effect cloud/snow is super common. And that is in addition to system weather. I am not trying to tell you not to come visit, but I would hope you have other stuff planned (ski, snow machine, dog sled, ice fish, something).

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