As the world slowly awakens from a peaceful night's sleep, silence begins to crack while dawn breaks through the horizon in our beloved national parks. Golden hour gives a sense of magic already but once we experience it throughout these landscapes of the United States, that ethereal moment of color turns into a hum we do not forget. It’s a moment to let time stand still, and to put the visual in a memory box for years to come. We’ve hand-picked five national parks for you to add to that sunrise bucket list, check them out.
1. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier holds some of the best lakes to watch the sunrise. From Tipsoo Lake’s reflection on the 0.7 mile loop trail to the 5.6 mile loop of Skyline Trail which passes by Skyline Lake, the colors can’t get any better. Throughout this national park you’ll find red huckleberry and larches in the Fall foliage moments to avalanche lilies, asters, fireweed, and purple shooting stars come Spring. These color combinations against the bright morning light leave you with a visual painting to remember for years to come. Even in the winter, Rainier will host magnificent colors for sunrise, it’s time to get planning!
2. Acadia National Park
Did you know Maine is the first to see the sun every morning in the United States? The most eastern town in Maine is called Lubec, just north of Acadia and within five minutes of the Canadian border. As the sun rises East to West, you may find yourself on a mountain top in Acadia in awe of the sun shining across the ocean inland. If you haven’t sat on Cadillac Mountains peak or Penobscot Mountains scenic space surrounded by blueberry bushes, you must. Penobscot Mountain Trail is a short 2.9 mile in and out trail with breathtaking views of the bay and the rolling green hills of the park. If you find yourself there in August and closer to fall, you may find every color of the rainbow throughout the landscape. Cadillac Mountain is driveable to get to the scenic viewpoints. If you’re looking to hike the mountain, the North Ridge Trail is 2.2 miles one way and many folks suggest starting in the early morning.
3. Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch is a window of bliss and not one to miss. Canyonlands is known for its warm tones and golden hour moments. Mesa Arch is a short 0.5 mile loop hike also known for it’s picturesque sunrises. Most folks who want to beat the rush of photographers and tourists will arrive an hour before sunrise with headlamps and sweatshirts. The desert drops temperature at night so make sure to pack warm clothes if you decide to arrive so early. Mesa Arch is just one of many spots to watch the sun rise in this area along with many stops in Arches National Park like Delicate and Double Arch just up the road. These desert sunrises connect us from the cool nights to a warm blanket of peace in the morning. To watch it happen with other folks taking it in is quite the experience. If you hike to Mesa Arch, do not forget a headlamp, your hiking shoes, and a couple layers to keep warm.
4. Haleakalā National Park
Haleakalā National Park hosts tours specifically to watch the sun rise. This is one of the top activities on the island of Maui. There are many options from small group tours with experts to hiking on your own but the very best spot is actually known to be the summit visitors center. The parking lot is not very large so you want to make sure to get there early. Those early hours in the morning will be well worth it once you see the incredible colors above the clouds. Because of the sunrise hours from 3:00 -7:00 A.M you will need to reserve a time to get up to the summit by car. If you are looking to hike to the summit, it can take up to a full day through the 11.1 mile Keonehe'ehe'e Trailhead which folks say takes about 7 hours to complete.
5. Badlands National Park
You’re driving on 90 west through the rolling hills of open space in South Dakota staring at the night sky, when suddenly you notice the sun beginning to glow above the horizon. A large area of white and orange stone is shooting out of the ground. Is it mars? It looks like a small town of sedimentary rocks. This small town of stone is called the Badlands and the colors that the sun causes to bounce off of these rocks is other worldly. Whether driving East or West, planning your stop at the Badlands to wake up to the silence in the sunrise is a dealbreaker. You may even stumble upon some early morning graziers like the pronghorn, elk, or bighorn sheep!