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Aurora Borealis at Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Aurora Time-lapse from Cherry Springs.

Aurora Time-lapse from Cherry Springs.

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.

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.

Northern Lights Displays in the Autumn

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

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

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.

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.

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

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
One of the park buildings.

One of the park buildings.

Questions & Answers

Question: When would be a good time to see the Aurora in all its glory? When is the next Solar Max? Is the Aurora visible every year?

Answer: The Solar Maximum in this current 24th Sunspot Cycle was 2013 and the weakest period of Sunspot Activity in 100 years. This should mean a reduced effect upon Earth weather, satellite and radio communications, and even the Auroras in the 24th cycle overall.

Cycle 25 spans 2019 - 2030 with Solar Max estimated at 2024 with even FEWER sunspots than in 2013 - fewer than half as many. The sun is becoming quieter for some reason that scientists are investigating.

Specialists think that the years 2022-2027 would be best for spotting the Auroras. Those interested can listen to local weather forecasts and if there is an observatory nearby, call and ask for updates! They will be glad to receive the call.

Also, call the park office and ask the staff about the best viewing times - they may keep a chart of the best times to see this wonder in the night sky. In a "dark park" such as this that has pitch black nights, the sight will be like a miracle!

I love Auroras and was able to see one in the north of Columbus, Ohio in the late 2000s; it was glowing green. Up in Saginaw, Michigan it was much larger, and the pictures of it were beautiful by the Saginaw River.

Question: Does the Cherry Springs State Park have ADA-compliant cabins for visitors with physical challenges?

Answer: This state park offers 30 campsites to which you need to bring your tent or recreational vehicle. A few large cabins may be available for groups. However, the office advertises that people with disabilities should contact them before visiting to receive help. Call 814-435-1037.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 01, 2013:

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

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on October 01, 2013:

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!

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on September 27, 2013:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 26, 2013:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 26, 2013:

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

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on September 26, 2013:

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

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on September 25, 2013:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 25, 2013:

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!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on September 25, 2013:

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 from Hub Page on September 25, 2013:

Good Job! Love your pictures.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 25, 2013:

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.

Ann Carr from SW England on September 25, 2013:

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 from Erie, PA on September 24, 2013:

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!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 24, 2013:

I liked it.