I’ve been fortunate to travel to some amazing natural places and National Parks during my life. I flipped through some of my favorite photos this afternoon to connect to the energy of the sun while it was gray and raining outside. One of my favorites was taken at sunrise at Cape Byron Lighthouse during my trip to Australia in 2014. Reliving that sunrise connected me to the sense of awe at the beauty of watching the clouds and sky change color to signal the beginning of a new day. That memory in turn inspired me to share some of my favorite outdoor places to experience magestic sunrises and sunsets.
Here’s but a few of my North American favorites:
Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park
Zion is an incredible National Park in southwestern Utah. It’s a short drive northeast on I-15 from Las Vegas, down I-15 from Salt Lake City, or an incredible scenic (and much longer drive) along Highway 12 then 89 when approaching from the east.
Angel’s Landing is one of my favorite hikes. I’ve been to Zion three times, once solo, once on a field trip, once en route to a wedding in San Diego… all three in May (strange coincidence). Every time I’ve visited, I’ve summited Angel’s Landing. It’s not a hike for the feint of heart, but the reward from the Landing is well worth it. The walk up the mountain is strenuous, exposed at times, and offers little shade. However, the view up top is spectacular: a panoramic, bird’s eye view of the Virgin River below.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Delicate Arch is the iconic geologic formation of both Arches National Park, and the state of Utah. Seen a Utah license plate lately? Yep, Delicate Arch is that formation.
Arches National Park is only a few miles north of Moab, Utah on US 191 south of I-70. That’s right, one of my favorite parks is just outside one of my favorite towns! Moab offers accommodations for every taste and price range from federal land campgrounds to luxury resorts. There’s a plethora of dining options, too, from grocery store to coffee shop to winery chic.
The hike to Delicate Arch is a 3 mile round trip, well worth it for the experience of sunrise or sunset in the desert. Colors come alive both in the morning and evening, and you’ll see many photographers and visitors appreciating the natural magic. I have fond memories of driving into Moab in the wee hours of the morning, hiking the trail and wrapping up in a sleeping bag to wait for the first rays of light to cross the sky the day before I started my BOSS course.
The Green River Overlook near Willow Flat campground is a perfect location to watch the sun set and the light play on the canyons and geology of southern Utah. Grand View Point Overlook is another wonderful option to view the sunrise or sunset. Both overlooks offer an unobstructed view down to the river below, The Maze district off to the west and The Needles to the south. No hiking is required, simply park your vehicle and mosey out to experience sunrise. There are several options for hiking or 4×4 exploring in Island In The Sky that offer a different perspective on the view of the rivers and canyons.
Canyonlands National Park has three distinct units, each one incredible and unique. Access to Island In The Sky is from Highway 313 north of Moab. There’s a small campground at Willow Flat, or a campground and yurts at Dead Horse Point State Park. When heading into Island In The Sky, be sure to stop and explore Dead Horse Point State Park, a gem of the Utah State Parks system and member of the International Dark Sky Association.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is spectacular! There are numerous viewpoints along the North Rim and South Rim for you to pull out at and enjoy. Experiencing sunset within the Canyon is beyond description, as the different formations glow and change color in a kaleidoscope of beauty. I’ve been fortunate to camp at Hance Rapids (photo above) and Horseshoe Mesa on a backpacking trip along the Grandview Trail, and to experience sunrise at Phantom Ranch on a Rim-to-Rim hike. The beauty, solitude, and grandeur of being within the canyon at daybreak made rising and hiking in the dark totally worthwhile.
Be aware of high temperatures, long stretches without shade or water, and the significant elevation changes if you choose to hike into the Canyon from either Rim. There are many cases of dehydration and injury along the trails, and over 250 people are rescued each year! Be prepared!! Carry a first aid kit, adequate water and snacks, wear sunscreen or long-sleeved clothing and a hat, and plan to avoid traveling during the hottest parts of the day. Check out the summer and winter hiking guides to learn some more tips and information for your excursion.
I can still remember the first time I saw sunrise at Haleakala. My parents took us to Maui for vacation, and we got up really early in the morning to drive up to the summit while it was still dark. It was cold at an elevation of nearly 10,000′ but it was incredible to see the sun rise over the ocean and light up the mountain, the sky, and the clouds as the dawn broke. The beautiful, endangered endemic Haleakala silversword is a unique plant to contrast the varies colors of the volcanic landscape.
Driving down from Haleakala is spectacular: the island of Maui appears and you descend through several climate zones. and it’s possible to experience sunshine, travel through the clouds and rain, and arrive back in the sun at a beach. An altitude change of nearly two vertical miles is enough to pop ears, yet the unobstructed view of the ocean, Maui, and the other Hawaiian Islands is well worth an early rise. Note that reservations are now required for sunrise parking spots.
Kihei, Maui, Hawaii
I’ve been fortunate to visit Kihei several times with family. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and I have many fond memories of playing on Kam II beach. Sunrise is often quiet, and a wonderful time to paddleboard, swim, run, meditate or do yoga on the beach as the sun comes up behind Haleakala. Sunset offers an unobstructed view to the west from the beach and several beachside patios and restaurants. If you’re going, check into shoulder season deals from the mainland–I once found a roundtrip flight from Vancouver for $400 Canajun pesos.
What are your favorite places in nature to watch sunrise and sunset? Please share your places below!