Aurora Borealis at Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

Updated on January 25, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years of successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

Aurora Time-lapse from Cherry Springs.
Aurora Time-lapse from Cherry Springs. | Source

Shimmering Night Sky Lights

Displays of the aurora borealis are magnificent lights playing off particles distributed by sunspot activity.

The curtains of intangible fabrics in light weave throughout the night skies, as the Northern Lights in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Lights in the other half of the world.

Every 11 years, the sun reaches Solar Maximum, the time when sunspot activity reaches a peak. It can interfere with communications satellites and media broadcasts, but it can also produce the nighttime lights as far south as part of Ohio and Colorado. In many years, the lights can be seen at Presque Isle in northern Pennsylvania; but Solar Max presents the shimmering lights further to the south.

What makes the Cherry Springs park famous is the fact that its night sky is so dark that its 82 acres were named an official "Dark Sky" Park. Viewing conditions for seeing constellations, the Milky Way, and the Northern Lights are perfect.

Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park

The sky here is so dark that the Milky Way produces a shadow in this state park.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Milky Way at  Cherry Springs State Park, Potter County, PAPennsylvania sights.
The Milky Way at  Cherry Springs State Park, Potter County, PA
The Milky Way at Cherry Springs State Park, Potter County, PA | Source
Pennsylvania sights.
Pennsylvania sights. | Source

Pennsylvania Vacations and Weekend Getaways

The Pennsylvania countryside is gorgeous as it is, but the Aurora Borealis adds an extra layer of beauty, like trimming the Christmas tree with lights. Autumn is prime time for viewing the lights in Northern Pennsylvania, and September is likely the best month to view them here.

Combining a Northern Lights trip to Pennsylvania with a fall vacation or visits to surrounding fall foliage sites and farmer's markets is a glorious way to spend the second half of the month of September.

My first trip through the state was during my years in middle school and the sights and aromas are as fresh to my memory as any more recent trip. Just looking at a picture of Pennsylvania colors in the fall brings back the smells of leaves and lake waters.

Unexpectedly high solar activity in 2007 allowed Michiganders, Central Ohioans and Pennsylvanians to view Northern Lights much like this display in September.
Unexpectedly high solar activity in 2007 allowed Michiganders, Central Ohioans and Pennsylvanians to view Northern Lights much like this display in September. | Source

Northern Lights Displays in the Autumn

show route and directions
A markerPresque Isle PA -
Presque Isle, Millcreek, PA 16507, USA
get directions

B markerCherry Springs State Park PA -
Cherry Springs State Park, 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA 16915, USA
get directions

Cherry Springs State Park was named after its wild cherry trees.
Cherry Springs State Park was named after its wild cherry trees. | Source

International Historic Park

Cherry Springs State Park was the second park to be named as an International Dark Sky Park in America and the world. The sky here is so dark that the Milky Way produces a shadow.

This park offers an intriguing history in the development of Pennsylvania. Its earliest inhabitants were the Seneca Nation, a member of the Iroquois Confederacy, which is the oldest representative democracy in the world (much older than the USA, in fact). After the French and Indian War of the middle 1700s, natives began the move westward and European settlers built a tavern on land now in the park back in 1818. A replica of that tavern stands today as a tourist attraction.

A turnpike was built through this land in 1834 along Native American trails, followed by a hotel in the later 1800s. By 1901, the woods surrounding Cherry Springs and other nearby parks was named a state forest - the Susquehannock.

A scenic drive was established here in the 1920s, and during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built all the structures in the park, including picnic shelters, pavilion buildings, shelters that can also be used by astronomers, and others.

All these structures are still in good condition. Small domed observatories are available for rental on site and one is a Sky Shed whose entire roof opens to the skies. Amateur astronomers flock to this park with their telescopes and set them up together in a viewing area. The astronomy field at the top of a mountain in the park is available for overnight stargazing.

Peak nights for seeing the Northern Lights occur from around the Autumnal Equinox to the end of September.

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Observatories are for rent in the park's astronomy field.
Observatories are for rent in the park's astronomy field.
Observatories are for rent in the park's astronomy field. | Source
Source

All these structures are still in good condition. Small domed observatories are available for rental on site and one is a Sky Shed whose entire roof opens to the skies. Amateur astronomers flock to this park with their telescopes and set them up together in a viewing area. The astronomy field at the top of a mountain in the park is available for overnight stargazing.

Peak nights for seeing the Northern Lights occur from around the Autumnal Equinox to the end of September.

Extent of Aurora Visibility in 2013

The blue area of the oval shows how far south the Northern Lights were viewed on September 24, 2013.
The blue area of the oval shows how far south the Northern Lights were viewed on September 24, 2013. | Source

Location of the Park

Cherry Springs State Park is located along State Route 44 in Potter County, within a large state forest and among mountains that all become very dark at night. It is best to arrive during daylight hours, even if you are traveling to a nighttime astronomy show or star party. Additional information:

  • The park is approximately 12 miles to the southwest of Galeton PA, if you use Route 2002 from Galeton.
  • The GPS address is 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA 16901
  • The park is associated with Lymon Run park and the telephone number is 814-435-5010.

Cherry Springs State Park

A markerCherry Springs State Park -
Cherry Springs State Park, 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA 16915, USA
get directions

Distances to the Park

  • 150 miles southeast of Erie PA
  • 156 miles northeast of Harrisburg
  • 200 to 225 miles northeast of Lancaster County Amish attractions
  • 179 miles east of Pittsburgh
  • 150 miles west of Wilkes-Barre
  • 250 miles west of Philadelphia

show route and directions
A markerCherry Springs State Park -
Cherry Springs State Park, 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA 16915, USA
get directions

B markerGaleton PA -
Galeton, PA 16922, USA
get directions

One of the park buildings.
One of the park buildings. | Source

© 2013 Patty Inglish

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you, Kathleen. This is one reason that Pennsylvania is such a favorite state of mine!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      What a treat this hub is! Can't imagine how beautiful this phenomenon is in reality. Thanks for the work that went into producing this article. It should be published in National Geographic!

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      I know where Coudersport is, because my Mom was a Pennsylvania farm girl living in Millerton, Pa. She remembered vividly watching the Northern Lights on many occasions in the fall.

      Thanks for sharing this--it will be our next day trip, as we are just across the border into the Southern Tier of New York State ;) Pearl

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks to Maren Morgan M-T for a secret message that made me laugh as it gave me a heads up. LOL!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It's a beautiful park; Presque Isle near Erie PA is peaceful and fun as well.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Wow - I never knew the Northern Lights could be seen in PA. I am going to remember Cherry Springs State Park.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Wow! What brilliant photos and a great hub with all that information, too. Sometimes, when I was a child we would see the Aurora Australis, but now I live in the city we're lucky to see the stars because of all the bright lights.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you all for the lovely comments - I hope you can see some of the Northern Lights very soon.

      Lee Tea - I have heard of Coudersport but have not been to that park yet.

      annart - The lights in Norway must be magnificent. I have seen more of them and in greater detail in Michigan, but probably not as brilliant as in Norway.

      randomcreative, epbook, Francesca27 - I tried to get some photos back in 2007, but nothing came out at all. In Central Ohio, the sky at night was light turquoise halfway down to the horizon, but no bottom edge of the "cutain" was detailed - it was just a little wavy from left to right. In Sagninaw, Michigan that night, they saw the whole effect - bright turquois draperies in the sky!

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      What magical photos. I'd imagine seeing that is like nothing ever seen before and hope I get to experience it one day. So beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Francesca27 profile image

      Francesca27 4 years ago from Hub Page

      Good Job! Love your pictures.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      What a gorgeous location! I would love to get out that way and see the Aurora Borealis in person sometime. Thanks for the detailed information.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      I love the name 'Dark Sky Park' and it must be magnificent to see such beautiful scenery and the lights as an amazing bonus! I've seen the northern lights in Norway, one very similar to your 2007 photos, except ours was above the ship. It took my breath away and made me very emotional. As you say, in the 'good' years you can see the lights a lot farther south than others; here in Britain they've been seen as far south as mid-Wales. For me, they are the most wondrous thing I've ever seen. Great hub with loads of information.

    • Lee Tea profile image

      Lee Tea 4 years ago from Erie, PA

      Growing up in NWPA I've seen some weird orange lights in the fall sky a time or two. Living in Erie I'll of course try to check out the next light show here on Presque Isle. Your hub taught me of their 11 year cycle so now I'll know when to keep an eye out! I've never heard of Cherry Springs, Coudersport is a bit of a drive but I'm drawn to it's "dark sky" status...my girls, our telescope and I might have to take a road trip soon!

      Learned so much about something so close that I knew nothing about before - thank you Patty, another sensational piece!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I liked it.

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