Golden hour dazzles at these 10 national parks (2023)

<p>Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park is one of the the first places in the country travelers can see the sun peak over the horizon. Click through for nine more iconic national parks with the best sunrises and sunsets.</p>

Acadia National Park

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park is one of the the first places in the country travelers can see the sun peak over the horizon. Click through for nine more iconic national parks with the best sunrises and sunsets.

Photograph Courtesy National Geographic

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From Acadia to Yosemite, here are spectacular spots for sunrises and sunsets in America’s public lands.

ByNational Geographic Staff

Published September 14, 2021

8 min read

Little inspires as much hope and suspense as the rising and setting of the sun. These bookended golden hours blanket the world in warm light, bring awe and inspiration, and provide breathtaking backdrops for photos. When these daily events play out in spectacular settings, such as national parks, they cast extraordinary light over picture-perfect landscapes, forests, and waterways.

The arrival of spring or fall at the equinox—every six months, once in March and again in September—splits Earth’s day almost in half, giving us about 12 hours of daylight and 12 of night (their counterparts, solstices, mark winter and summer). Next week’s autumnal equinox is one of the two times per year (the other is the spring or vernal equinox) when travelers can see the sun rise due east and set due west. Which makes it an ideal time for an early morning hike or peaceful evening stroll to greet the day or night in a wild, wonderful realm.

Acadia National Park

Early risers strive to be up in time to catch America’s first sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. Between October and March, the sun climbs above the Atlantic Ocean’s horizon, casting streaks of color—oranges, reds, pinks, depending on atmospheric conditions—upon the water. Gates are open 24 hours at the park, but due to seasonal climate conditions, the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain is closed between December 1 and April 14. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, in the southwest portion of the park, offers stunning sunrise views for those looking to escape the crowds on the mountain.

Yosemite National Park

Near the end of each clear day, the harsh sun softens to cast a gentle glow over the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, deep within this California national park. Within minutes, the exposed northwest face of Half Dome—a distinctly shaped, granite rock formation—appears as a monumental sundial, tracking the hours of the day.

(Find more epic places to see sunsets around the world.)

Canaveral National Seashore

In the 1950s, the U.S. government determined that scientists, engineers, and astronauts working in the U.S. space program on the southern end of Cape Canaveral needed privacy. As a result, in 1975, Congress preserved 58,000 acres of seashore, land, and lagoons—along with 24 miles of protected coastline—to create the longest undeveloped beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast. It’s easy to see how the Sunshine State earned its nickname as you watch sunrise over the rustic barrier island beaches—Apollo, Klondike, and Playalinda—an experience far from the sight of 20-story condos and crowded highways.

National Mall

With national icons framing each end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., dawn and dusk softly illuminate silent sentinels symbolizing American history. When the blue and orange sky breaks in the east, the gleaming white Capitol dome, topped by the Statue of Freedom, is backlit by cool rays of daybreak. At dusk, try to find a spot near the steps on the western front of the Capitol building to see the sun descend behind the Washington Monument before backlighting the Lincoln Memorial.

Joshua Tree National Park

As afternoon fades into evening, this national park in the desert of southern California, near Palm Springs, becomes an astronomer’s wonderland. Roads and ridges that run north and south draw travelers toward ever-changing vistas. A trek to the less-visited areas in the park provides ample views of fan palm oases, seasonal gardens of cholla and ocotillo, and giant branching yuccas known as Joshua trees. Framed by bands of color, darker above and brighter below, these otherworldly plants appear as inky black splotches against the sky once the sun fades.

(See these “sunset wars” pictures of national parks’ amazing skies.)

Badlands National Park

In the eastern reaches of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, a series of overlooks carved out from colorful buttes offer ideal vantage points to see morning break and nightfall. From atop the north-south ridge are commanding views at dawn and dusk, and after the sun disappears in a swirl of pink and orange clouds the night sky is soon aglow with a shimmering sheath of stars.

"First time visit to Mandalay and we were very lucky. We went to this mountain in the early morning and had no idea what would happen—sunrise—from blue sky to red and then amazing golden sunlight appeared."

"First time visit to Mandalay and we were very lucky. We went to this mountain in the early morning and had no idea what would happen—sunrise—from blue sky to red and then amazing golden sunlight appeared."

Photograph and caption by Weng Sang Wong, 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Death Valley National Park

Two areas in this western California national park offer near-perfect settings for watching the sun rise or set. Of the 2,600 square miles contained within the park, Zabriskie Point, near Furnace Creek, is considered the ultimate overlook for both sunrise and sunset. Just off California Highway 190, this viewpoint is easily accessible by vehicle; a paved trail leads to a popular observation deck while a small path leads a short distance north to present the landscape from a slightly higher elevation. From here, the soft red-violet glow of sunrise adds shadows and depth to the surreal landscape of the peaks and ridges once hidden by a prehistoric sea.

The Eureka and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes offer spectacular views, as well. At dawn or dusk, the low-angled rays of the sun rake across the dunes, illuminating the sand’s ripples, ridges, and geological features.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch seems to ignite with the flare and fire of the desert sun at sunset in Utah’s Arches National Park. Delicate Arch Trail—a 1.5-mile hike from Wolfe Ranch to the arch—takes travelers to the center of the “sandstone fin.” This iconic 46-foot arch changes color like a desert chameleon at sunset, filtering light through a color wheel of crimson, auburn, and gold.

(Here are 10 top hikes for striking views—and no crowds.)

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is a must-see at daybreak. The best time of year for this is during the 10 days before and after summer solstice in June. When the Earth’s alignment with the sun impacts the park, more than a dozen “solar calendars” left throughout the area by its prehistoric peoples, light up. Here early risers can marvel at the confluence of ancient understanding and natural phenomena when spiral and circular petroglyphs intersect with the sun’s rays.

Saguaro National Park

Any image of the Old West includes the striking silhouettes of Arizona saguaro cactus, the towering icon recognized by its barrel trunk and upraised arms. These alone are worth the visit to this Southwest national park, north of Tucson. In the eastern Rincon Mountain District, Cactus Forest Drive—a popular loop road across the flatland—provides easy access to saguaro views and epic sunset sights. Seeing this Southwest icon in silhouette is a vision not to be missed, especially as twilight falls and bands of color appear on the horizon beneath a velvety night sky.

This story was originally published in the National Geographic book The 10 Best of Everything: National Parks.It has been updated with new information since it first published digitally on Oct. 18, 2018.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the first image as Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.


What national park has the best sunsets? ›

The Best National Parks To See Awe-Inspiring Sunsets
  • Shenandoah National Park.
  • Haleakala National Park.
  • Grand Teton National Park.
  • Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Joshua Tree National Park.
  • Grand Canyon National Park.
  • Saguaro National Park.
  • Are you ready to catch an epic sunset?

Is sunrise or sunset better at White Sands National Park? ›

Go for Golden Hour/Sunset

Although White Sands National Park is impressive at any time of day, it's the couple of hours before sunset that it comes alive with color – yes, color! This is when you'll see shadows in some of the dunes, the sun casting patterns on them as it sets.

Where can I watch the sunset in Sequoia? ›

I highly recommend Sunset Rock to end your day.

The hike is only about 1 mile each way, which leads to a beautiful open rock clearing where you can watch sunset over the ridge in front of you.

Where can I watch the sunrise in Sequoia? ›

Sequoia National Park (California)

For an incredible view, the Moro Rock granite formation in Sequoia National Park is hard to beat. 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.

What state has beautiful sunsets? ›

Hawaii. One of the most beautiful places in the USA and practically every picture that anyone ever posts of their trip to Hawaii includes a sunset!

Is one day enough for White Sands National Park? ›

And with its short list of must-see sights, you don't need to spend a whole lot of time here to really get to know this place. In a half of day, you can hike one to two trails and do a little bit of sledding. For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park.

What time of day is best to visit White Sands National Park? ›

If you are visiting in the summer, or really anytime between mid-April through mid-October, it is best to visit White Sands National Park early or later in the day to avoid the highest heat and sun.

How much time do you need in White Sands? ›

If you plan on hiking you could spend quite awhile there since there are 5 different trails with the longest being about 5 miles. If you just plan to drive thru and look at the dunes, play in the sand a bit and spend some time in the visitor center then 2-3 hours should be enough time.

Is Kings Canyon worth it? ›

Even though Kings Canyon is a bit isolated from other parts of Australia, it's worth making a trip out here. You'll discover the natural beauty of Kings Canyon and the red desert.

Is it worth going to Sequoia National Park? ›

6. Is it worth going to Sequoia National Park? Yes, Sequoia National Park is absolutely worth visiting, as you're able to see some of the world's largest trees, that can't be found outside of California. It's also worth it to see the tallest mountain in California, and summiting it, if you're up for the challenge!

Can you watch the sunset at the Grand Canyon? ›

Multiple viewpoints are easily accessible from the Grand Canyon South Rim to watch the sunset. They include the famous and most crowded Mather Point, Hopis Point, Lookout Studio Porch, Rim Trails, Mohave Points, and Desert View Tower.

Is Moro Rock better at sunrise or sunset? ›

Sunset in particular is a very popular time of day to be in this hike, so be ready for crowds. Sunrise is generally very quiet and a peaceful time of day to be on the peak. If there are thunderstorms in the area, Moro Rock is not the place to be as you are exposed and near the presence of metal.

Which state has the best sunrises? ›

The best place in the world to watch both, according to the research, is the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA. With its dramatic cliffs and pristine lakes, it's no wonder the Grand Canyon has been crowned the top spot in the world for watching the sunrise and sunset.

What city in the US has the best sunsets? ›

1. Santa Monica, California. This iconic landmark is over 100 years ago, so it makes sense that it boasts some of the most awe-inspiring sunsets on the West Coast. After all, it has seen a few of them!

Where can we see the best sunset? ›

View All Trips
  • Sunset View Point Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. ...
  • Taj Mahal, Agra. ...
  • Palolem Beach, Goa. ...
  • Leh Ladakh. ...
  • Fort Cochin. ...
  • Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island, Andaman. ...
  • Ghats of Varanasi. ...
  • Varkala, Kerala.
Apr 4, 2023

Is Joshua Tree better at sunrise or sunset? ›

I have spent many a sunset at the Cholla Cactus Garden, but only recently have enjoyed a sunrise here. I honestly recommend both experiences, because whichever you choose, you win. The Cholla Cactus Garden is a very short loop trail fairly far south into the park, within the Colorado Desert portion of Joshua Tree.

Where is the best place to see a sunset at Yellowstone? ›

1. Best Wildlife View: Lamar Valley. Bathed in hues of fiery orange and vibrant pink, the sun peeks through the rugged mountain peaks, illuminating Lamar Valley below. This captivating haven, tucked away in Yellowstone National Park, is widely acclaimed as the premier locale to witness a breathtaking sunset.


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