10 Best National Parks for Sunrises and Sunsets

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

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Some people will go to great lengths to witness the beauty of sunrise and sunset. It’s not just about watching the sun appear and disappear over the horizon, it's also about the surrounding landscape and cloud formations. A handful of the most dramatic dawn and dusk destinations are inside U.S. national parks. 

Some sun-viewing spots are well known and filled with photographers each morning and evening. Others are remote and difficult to access, so you'll have to share the panoramas with only a few intrepid hikers.

Here are 10 of the best places to watch the sunrise or sunset in U.S. national parks.

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Lake Kabetogama, Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

View of sunset over Lake Kabetogama, Voyageurs National Park

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Lake Kabetogama is one of more than two dozen lakes in Voyageurs National Park in International Falls. In 2016, the lake was named the best national park location to view the sunrise or sunset. The park, popular with paddlers, has a number of vantage points from which to watch the sun set or rise over the water.

The great views at Voyageurs don’t end after dark. Because of its latitude, this is a great place to catch a glimpse of the northern lights (aurora borealis), and summer visitors may also have an opportunity to see the Perseids meteor shower.

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Various Locations, Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

sunrise over Badlands National Park with mountains in the distance

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The craggy rock formations, otherworldly landscapes, and a strong network of roads and trails make Badlands National Park one of the best places for sun seekers. The destination has a number of popular viewing spots. In addition to the beloved sunrise and sunset views, visitors and photographers can take in the magic blue hour, or twilight, to capture the unique landscapes in soft, even light.

Those who like an elevated vantage point can head to the Pinnacles Overlook, ideal for sunsets. The easy Door and Window Trails lead to popular sunrise viewing locations, as does the longer and more-challenging Castle Trail. The Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway is another sunrise or sunset option. The 39-mile road passes through the park and has numerous areas to stop and enjoy the view at dawn and dusk.

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Haleakala Summit, Haleakala National Park (Hawaii)

Sunrise over Haleakala National Park

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Haleakala is a 10,023-foot mountain on the island of Maui. Its summit — which can be reached by car — is a popular sunrise viewing location. Though the drive can take up to two hours, it's easier than many of the world’s other summit sunrise spots, which require an all-night climb. Because the Haleakala viewpoint is popular, the National Park Service allows visitors to make reservations up to 60 days in advance. Sunrise is between 5:38 a.m. and 6:58 a.m., depending on the time of year, but it’s best to arrive early to get a good spot.

Once you have seen the sun, you can remain on the upper slopes of Haleakala to explore the unique volcanic landscapes, which are quite different from the tropical ecosystems that dominate Hawaii’s lower elevations.

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Yaki Point, Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Sunrise over Yaki Point, Grand Canyon National Park

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With some of America’s most iconic panoramas, it’s no surprise that scenic overlooks along the canyon rim of Grand Canyon National Park draw crowds in the predawn hours and again at sundown. One of the most popular sunrise viewing areas is easily accessible Mather Point. Yaki Point offers similar panoramas and, because it doesn’t allow private vehicles, it is usually much less crowded than Mather.

Several prime viewing areas, including Yaki Point, are served by a park shuttle bus service. In addition to Yaki and Mather, there are more than a dozen Grand Canyon overlooks that are recommended for sunrise and sunset viewing.

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Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park (Maine)

Sunrise over Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

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Cadillac Mountain is one of more than 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. Not only is the 1,530-foot summit a great place to see the sunrise, it's the first place to see it in the United States between October and March. During the summertime, viewers on nearby Mars Hill see the sun a few moments earlier. Some visitors arrive on the Cadillac summit early to see the whole event, from the first change in light to the full sunrise.

The scenery — with the Atlantic in the background and the islands of Frenchman Bay in the foreground — draws photographers, but the predawn crowd swells with "first sunrise" viewers. Luckily, there are a huge number of hiking trails on the island, so the attraction of Acadia National Park does not diminish after sunrise.

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Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Sunrise peeking out under Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

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Mesa Arch draws photography enthusiasts each morning because of the unique view of the sunrise through the half-circle of sandstone. The dawn is undeniably impressive here with the underside of the arch turning a glowing red color as the first rays hit it. Similarly dramatic colors are cast on the unusual rock formations of the Canyonlands and the mountains in the background.

Because it requires only a short hike, the arch can get quite crowded, especially during peak season in the spring and summer. Though the crowds are thinner, the sun’s appearance is no less stunning during fall and winter. Canyonlands has a number of trails of all difficulty levels that lead to points and overlooks or that wind down among the rock formations.

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Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park (Montana)

Sunset over Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park is the destination of choice for people who enjoy stunning lake sunrise and sunsets. The park has more than 700 glacial lakes, 131 of which are named. Saint Mary Lake has an ideal setting with pines, peaks, and clear water that reflects the dawn and dusk colors perfectly.

The National Park Service recommends that visitors enjoy sunrise in the eastern portion of the park, where Saint Mary Lake is located, and head to the western section of Glacier, where the largest lake, Lake McDonald, provides excellent sunset views. The night sky, including the northern lights and the Milky Way, are often visible from the lakeshores as well.

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Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Sunrise over Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park

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Skyline Drive runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains the length of Shenandoah National Park. With nearly 70 scenic overlooks, Skyline Drive has an abundance of view options. Some look eastward over the hilly landscape known as the Piedmont region, while the west-facing sunset lookouts offer panoramas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It takes about three hours to drive the length of the 105-mile road because the speed limit is only 35 miles per hour. The drive is pleasant at any time of year, but people often go in spring and summer for the wildflowers and autumn for the fall foliage.

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Pa-hay-okee Overlook, Everglades National Park (Florida)

Sunset at Pa Hay Okee Overlook, Everglades National Park

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The Everglades is known for its wild, watery landscapes. The short loop known as the Pa-hay-okee Trail offers a different kind of setting. Like many other “trails” in the Everglades, this one consists of a boardwalk that protects hikers from the sometimes soggy ground. The Pa-hay-okee Trail passes mangroves, cypress trees, and a sawgrass prairie.

The flat ground and lack of tall plants makes this an ideal place to see the South Florida sunrise. The accessible, elevated overlook — which is halfway along the loop — provides a great view and a good angle for sunrise photography.

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Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park (California)

Sunset on Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

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Moro Rock is a granite formation in Sequoia National Park. Because of its prominence, it's a great place to see the sun rise and set over the surrounding forests, the San Joaquin Valley, and the peaks of the Great Western Divide. The trail to reach the lookout point is somewhat challenging — it includes a steep staircase carved into the side of the rock.

Shuttle service makes it relatively easy to reach the base of Moro Rock, and Sequoia has plenty of other overlooks. Many are granite dome formations like Moro, including a pair of granite domes called Beetle Rock and Sunset Rock that are easier to reach.