Nothing quite so effectively displays Mother Nature’s beauty than a sunrise or sunset, those few moments each day when the world shines golden and with incredible serenity.
Some of America’s best sunrises and sunsets can be seen in her national parks. They range from where the morning light first touches America each day to romantic sunsets over glorious waters, from the subtle signal for a million bats to begin their day to incredible sunrises over the continent’s deepest chasm.
Here are six must-see sunrises and sunsets at our national parks.
First sunrise at Acadia National Park
Day hikers can walk to one of the first spots where the sun touches America each morning via the South Ridge Trail in Maine’s Acadia National Park. The trail is a 7.2-miles round trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest summit on the Eastern seaboard. Though the hike would be done in the dark, with moonglow and flashlights, the trail is traversable. Acadia’s ancient granite peaks are among the first places in the United States where the sunrise can be seen. Be sure to bring a blanket to lay out on the cold rock and take a seat looking southeast.
Gold-lined paths at Bryce Canyon
Fairyland really does exist – it’s smack dab in south central Utah, where a maze of totem pole-like rock formations called hoodoos grace Bryce Canyon National Park. Hoodoos are unusual landforms in which a hard caprock slows the erosion of the softer mineral beneath it. The result is a variety of fantastical shapes. Take the Queens Garden Trail, which descends into the fantasyland of hoodoos. When hiking during the early morning, sunrise’s orange glow magically lights the trail’s contours.
Bat show at Carlsbad Caverns
About 1 million Mexican Freetail bats live in Carlsbad Caverns. During the day, they rest on the ceiling of Bat Cave, a passageway closed to the public. At sunset, to feed for the evening, the bats dramatically swarm out of the cave in a tornadic-like spiral, their silhouettes stretching into the distant horizon. An open-air amphitheater allows visitors to safely watch the bats’ departure in an event called The Night Flight. The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, a half-mile loop, also allows you to watch the bats disperse across the New Mexican desert.
Breathtaking light show at Grand Canyon
Among the Grand Canyon National Park’s most spectacular sights – sunrise and sunset – can be seen within walking distance of Grand Canyon Village in Arizona. While the South Rim Trail extends several miles along the canyon edge, you only have to walk to Mather Point, where views of the canyon shift like pictures in a marquee at both sunrise and sunset. Another great spot that’s a little less crowded is Ooh Ahh Point on the South Kaibab Trail, which is east of the village and south of Yaki Point. The aptly named Ooh Ahh Point is less than 200 feet below the rim.
100-mile views at Great Smoky Mountains
You can enjoy views of sunrises and sunsets covering up to a hundred miles on the Clingmans Dome Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 6625 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee and along the Appalachian Trail, as well as the third tallest east of the Mississippi. A half-mile trip leads to the summit. How incredible are the sunsets? They can be crowded, as those hoping to photograph the stunning scenery line up 45 minutes before the sun descends.
Romantic sunsets at Biscayne National Park
A full 95 percent of Florida’s Biscayne National Park sits underwater, a turquoise blue paradise laced with vividly colored coral reefs – and nothing quite says romance like a sunset over this tropical ocean. Adams Key offers a quarter-mile trail from the dock through the hardwood hammock on the island’s west side; most of the route skirts the beach, where the sunset can be enjoyed.
Needles aglow at Canyonlands National Park
Clambering over boulders and ambling across strangely angled slickrock – and watching needles aglow at sunset – await on Canyonlands National Park’s Slickrock Trail in southeastern Utah. The 2.9-mile loop trail generally follows a mesa rim. Plan to walk the trail about an hour or so before sunset; on the final mile, tall thin rock formations called needles fill the horizon, glowing crimson as the sun sets.
Rob Bignell is the author of several hiking books, including the bestselling “Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks.”
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