Rise and shine
There’s something quietly dramatic about dark skies brightening into daylight, whether in whisperingly pale pastel shades from lilac to apricot or fiery swirls of orange, gold and red. We’ve selected the best spots for spectacular sunrises in each US state, from pristine beaches to mountains that glow pink and yellow as each new day begins. Always remember to check state advisories if you plan to travel.
Alabama: Gulf Shores
Alabama’s stretch of coastline is characterized by some of the most brilliantly white beaches in the US – and the days start and end in a blaze of glory. Gulf Shores has some incredible sunsets, but it’s the sunrises that really steal the show, casting a warm orange glow over the sugary sand and turning the Gulf of Mexico into liquid gold.
Alaska: Hubbard Glacier
The gigantic Hubbard Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is more than seven-miles (11km) wide, 76-miles (122km) long and reaches a height of 600 feet (183m). So it’s breathtaking at any time of day. At the break of dawn, however, a backdrop of blazing tangerine makes it even more majestic. The thunderous roar of ice chunks calving from the glacier and plunging into the frigid waters below adds to the drama.
Arizona: Monument Valley
The rust-red sandstone pinnacles of the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Park seem to absorb the sunlight and blaze even more boldly at the break of day. The structures tower at up to 1,000 feet (305m) and catch the light beautifully. With a backdrop of mesas and buttes rising from the desert floor, the valley resembles a giant sculpture garden. Note that the Navajo Nation’s parks are temporarily closed at this time.
Arkansas: Lake Chicot
Curving for 20 miles (32km), Lake Chicot is the state’s largest natural lake and the USA’s largest oxbow lake, where a horseshoe bend in a river becomes cut off from the main flow. This U-shaped lake is an offshoot of the Mississippi River and formed as a separate body of water more than 300 years ago. Its banks are lined with cypress trees and jetties, and it’s all even prettier when the first rays turn the water buttercup yellow.
California: Yosemite Valley
There’s really no ugly view in Yosemite. But one of the park’s most incredible natural spectacles is Yosemite Valley – a 7.5-mile (12km) long glacial valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains – at the break of dawn. The sunrise bathes the granite domes and forested valley floor in a soft, honeyed light and catches the rocks with a glorious glint. Advance reservations are currently required for the park.
Colorado: Maroon Bells
The twin peaks of Maroon Bells are among the most photographed in Colorado, partly because they look so dramatic reflected in the alpine lake they overlook, and partly because the sunrise here is so magical. The sun turns the sky pink and lilac, bouncing its beams off the peaks to further illuminate their beauty. Advance reservations for both personal vehicles and shuttles are currently required here.
Connecticut: Silver Sands State Park
This state park in Milford could more accurately be called Golden Sands when the first rays of sunlight bounce off the beach and turn the water of the Long Island Sound a shimmering yellow. The changing light hits the area’s long boardwalk, rolling sand dunes and salt marshes, with views stretching across the bird sanctuary of Charles Island. Note that some areas of this park are temporarily closed.
Delaware: Rehoboth Beach
Delaware’s coastline is an underrated gem, and Rehoboth Beach is particularly lovely. The stretch of sand is backed by a broad boardwalk and gazes out onto the Atlantic, so early morning views couldn’t really get much better. When the sky begins to brighten, the ocean and sand are washed in soft, dreamy hues of pink and apricot.
Florida: Smathers Beach
The Florida Keys archipelago actually has fewer sandy strands than you might think, so Smathers Beach is all the more special. It’s right at the tip of the string of islands, in Key West, and its southerly position means it is lit by incredible sunsets and sunrises. The latter are the most dramatically beautiful, though, with the sun seeming to pop out of the Atlantic Ocean to give the palm-dotted sand a soft golden glow.
Georgia: Jekyll Island
Georgia’s Golden Isles feel appropriately named at the break of day, when the glowing orange light proves that sunrises can be just as fiery as sunsets – if not even fierier. The blazing skies dramatically silhouette the trees and tangles of branches strewn on Driftwood Beach in Jekyll Island, the southernmost of the string of barrier islands. Pods of dolphins occasionally leap close to the shore, adding to the charm.
Haleakalā, also known as East Maui Volcano, takes up more than three-quarters of the island of Maui’s landmass, creating a dramatic, craggily gorgeous landscape. The sunrises over the crater are legendary – literally so. Haleakalā is Hawaiian for ‘House of the Sun’, and Polynesian legend says that the demigod Maui snatched the god of the sun, La, and kept him lassoed to a tree until he promised more light each day. Some areas of this park are still temporarily closed.
Idaho: Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls, close to Jackson Hole, is one of those rare spots that’s blessed with gorgeous spectacles at either end of the day, being a hot spot for sunrises and sunsets. There’s something especially magical about the morning light, though, when the sun glints against the 60-foot (18m) cascade as it flows over ledges and empties into Snake River.
Illinois: Belmont Harbor
One of Chicago’s biggest harbors, Belmont is part of Lincoln Park, with acres of tree-dotted green space around the shores of Lake Michigan, providing a gorgeous forefront to the city’s famous jagged skyline. It all looks even prettier as the sun turns the sky orange, pink and peach, silhouetting the yachts bobbing in the water.
Indiana: Brown County State Park
With rugged hills, sharp ridges and plunging gullies, Brown County State Park, south of Indianapolis, is always magical – but especially so at the break of day. The sun seems to bounce like a fiery tennis ball on the hills, gilding every leaf and flower. In fall, when the trees are clothed in shades of gold, maroon and auburn, the first rays of light create an intense blaze.
Iowa: Pikes Peak State Park
Located in the state’s Driftless region, characterized by vertiginous valleys and steep hills, the bluff of Pikes Peak sits 500 feet (152m) above the spot where the Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi. That means the views are always pretty spectacular. At sunrise, the great ball of fire hovers above the water and peeps between the trees, imbuing the valley with a warm glow.
Kansas: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
As its name suggests, this national preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills protects a huge area of tallgrass prairie. And with its wide-open spaces and big skies, it also offers spectacular sunrises. Miles of trails wind through the preserve, which is scattered with wildflowers and home to skittering deer and eastern cottontails too.
Kentucky: Red River Gorge
The towering sandstone arches, forested ridges and deep valleys of vast Red River Gorge are intensified by the morning light. The geological area is part of the ruggedly beautiful Daniel Boone National Forest, and sunrise is spectacular, sending a pale haze of honey light across the mist-shrouded cliffs and valleys.
Louisiana: Woldenberg Riverfront Park
Pretty much anywhere on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River is a good spot for horizon-gazing. And Woldenberg Park, next to New Orleans’ French Quarter, has 16 acres of green space hugging a curve in the river, lined with paths and dotted with plants, statues and water features. The sun glides up beyond the twin Crescent City Connection cantilever bridges that span the broad river, leading to the Algiers neighborhood on the opposite bank.
Maine: Portland Head Light
Maine doesn’t exactly skimp on lighthouses, with specimens from stripy to red brick – but even among these beauties, Portland Head Light is perhaps the most famous and most photographed. It’s also the oldest in the state, completed in 1791. Perched serenely in Cape Elizabeth at the entrance to Portland Harbor, it’s at its loveliest first thing in the morning, when the sky swirls from tangerine to red, pink and lilac.
Maryland: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
This waterfowl sanctuary, close to Cambridge, encompasses a third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands. It’s part of the Atlantic Flyway, a migration corridor for birds, and bald eagles, snow geese and blue-winged teals can often be spied soaring above the forest and marshlands – an even more stunning sight when the sky is streaked with gold.
Massachusetts: Cape Cod
Cape Cod’s flexed-arm shape means the peninsula has views in every direction, with incredible sunsets over Cape Cod Bay and arguably even better sunrises on its Atlantic coastline. The sky ignites in juicy shades of blood orange and satsuma, with spots like Nauset Beach, Nobska Point Lighthouse and Chatham Lighthouse feeling like the very edges of the world.
Michigan: Harrisville Harbor
It can be hard to make out which end’s up from serene Harrisville Harbor when the sun rises over Lake Huron. It isn’t just that the navy, peach and honey colors are jaw-dropping – the intensity of the sunrise colors that fill the sky appear almost solid, while the water glimmers like a mirror. It’s part of the state’s 200-mile (322km) Sunrise Coast, which is as gorgeously golden as it sounds.
Minnesota: Palisade Head
This huge, sheer-faced rock formation perches dramatically at the edge of Lake Superior’s north shores, and sees glorious sunrises day after day. Dawn breaks its way through the skies and sends beams skimming across the lake’s silvery surface, creating a bold contrast with the inky waters. Palisade Head is part of Tettegouche State Park, an endlessly inspiring landscape of forests, waterfalls and lakeside cliffs where peregrine falcons nest.
Mississippi: Ross Barnett Reservoir
This 33,000-acre lake, near Jackson, provides the majority of Mississippi’s drinking water – but its beauty marks it out as something special beyond its practical role. The western shore is part of the Natchez Trace Parkway – a historic forest trail that cuts through several states – and this is the stretch that gazes across the water towards the blazing morning sun, which makes the water glimmer with golden light.
Missouri: Longview Lake
This freshwater reservoir, close to Kansas City, is the scene of spectacularly fiery dawn skies. The water covers 930 acres and has a shoreline laced with beaches, forests, meadows, nature trails and fishing docks. Sunrise often streaks the sky in shades of red from cherry to scarlet, creating a striking contrast with the silvery surface of the lake. Now check out the American destinations you won’t believe are in the USA.
Montana: Lake McDonald
Carved thousands of years ago by glaciers, Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park at 10-miles (16km) long and nearly 500-feet (152m) deep. The sun begins its ascent from behind the jagged peaks that loom over the water, revealing them in a silhouette before painting the sky with rainbow streaks mirrored by the lake’s glassy surface. Check for updates as some areas of Glacier remain closed.
Nebraska: Grand Island
Platte River is the longest braided river in the US, which means it’s made up of interconnecting channels that split off before rejoining each other. Because of this the 310-mile (500km) waterway is laced with marshy islands that are havens for birdlife, particularly the section within the city of Grand Island. Thousands of sandhill cranes migrate this way in spring, and they can often be seen winging through the skies just as the sun begins to turn it from navy to apricot.
Nevada: Valley of Fire
The vivid colors of Valley of Fire State Park really do justify its name, and it’s never more staggeringly beautiful than at sunrise. The early light seeps into the rust-red rocks so they look like they really are ablaze. The Aztec sandstone is infused with rich history, too, having formed from shifting sand dunes around 150 million years ago.
New Hampshire: Rye
New Hampshire’s coastline may be short at just 18-miles (29km) long, but it packs a pretty punch. The town of Rye, home to two sandy beaches, hogs the lion’s share and boasts some of the loveliest sunrise views on the East Coast. Wetlands and marshes lace the coastline, and it’s all washed with a lovely golden-pink glow each morning.
New Jersey: Fort Lee Historic Park
Fort Lee Historic Park perches on a bluff above the Hudson River, with clear views across to Manhattan. The clifftop park, home to a reconstructed Revolutionary War encampment, is densely forested and woven through with hiking trails and scenic overlooks. Morning skies over the George Washington Bridge, which links the park to New York City, are vividly painted with streaks of gold, peach and purple.
New Mexico: White Sands National Monument
It’s hard to believe a landscape like this exists anywhere on Earth, let alone in New Mexico. At first glance, White Sands National Monument looks like a snowscape, with bright white waves rolling for miles. The dunes look even starker at dawn, when ocher and pink-streaked skies pop against the icing-sugar-colored sand.
New York: Brooklyn Bridge
Only a handful of bridges hold such iconic status as the Brooklyn Bridge, which has connected Manhattan and Brooklyn since 1883. Its sunrises may not be as famous as its structure of crisscrossing steel cables, Gothic towers and stone arches, but they are a local legend. The first rays cast a soft, shimmering apricot glow over the city’s skyline.
North Carolina: The Blue Ridge Mountains
The towering peaks and fog-shrouded valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains make for magical early morning views. Overlooks dotted along the Blue Ridge Parkway – including Walnut Cove and Rough Ridge – gaze over forested slopes, meadows and gray-blue mountains silhouetted by the early light.
North Dakota: Buck Hill
The Buck Hill area of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the highest points in the preserve’s southern unit, overlooking swathes of North Dakota’s badlands and prairie. This prized perch gives it 360-degree views, with sunrise bathing everything in gold and peach light. Bison and horses roam the land and can often be seen grazing at first dawn.
Ohio: Marblehead Lighthouse
Sunrises at Marblehead Lighthouse are serene and stunning, with misty morning skies streaked with tangerine, cornflower blue and lilac. The white, red-capped lighthouse, which overlooks Lake Erie, has been in operation since 1821, guiding sailors along the rocky (and sometimes treacherous) shores of Marblehead Peninsula. The lighthouse tower and museums here are currently closed.
Oklahoma: Broken Bow Lake
Broken Bow Lake, a reservoir on Mountain Fork River, is surrounded by 180 miles (290km) of shoreline, but it’s the western side that has a front-row seat for the sunrise. The first light shines over forest-clad mountains and illuminates the lake, whose gin-clear water is due to the bed being covered in rocks. The surface is dotted with small, tree-covered islands too.
Oregon: Crater Lake
Crater Lake has a way of making a dramatic entrance, whether that’s appearing when the winter fog falls away or brightening under the morning sun. The USA’s deepest lake, at 1,943 feet (592m), is famed for its inky, navy hue, which looks especially intense under a sky that’s blazing into life with streaks of fiery yellow and orange. The caldera lake formed around 7,700 years ago when a volcano collapsed and is fed by snow and rainfall.
Pennsylvania: Locust Lake State Park
This state park sprawls on the slopes of Locust Mountain, with the 52-acre, tree-surrounded Locust Lake the shimmering gem at its heart. The high vantage point of the park means it enjoys gorgeous morning light. The sun peeps over the forested skyline before bursting beams of juicy light into the sky, infusing the water with a warm orange glow.
Rhode Island: Narragansett
The sky blazes in spicy shades of saffron and paprika as morning comes on the shores of Narragansett. The little town not far from Providence has gorgeous sweeps of powder-soft sand and the area is famous for its incredible sunsets and sunrises, with the latter especially lovely over Point Judith Lighthouse in the far south. Cloudy skies amp up the drama, billowing with fiery color.
South Carolina: Myrtle Beach
This city and beach resort is part of South Carolina’s Grand Strand, a 60-mile (97km) stretch of sandy beaches on the Atlantic coast. Piers jut into the ocean and a Ferris wheel marks out the retro Family Kingdom amusement park, all wonderfully silhouetted by the first glow of light. Sunrises tend to be of the pretty-pink kind, turning the sky the color of candy floss. Love this? Now check out America’s most charming seaside towns.
South Dakota: Badlands National Park
The jagged rock formations of South Dakota’s Badlands are always a mesmerizing sight, but there’s something magical about the way they look bathed in morning light. The skies are ablaze with fiery swirls of color that bounce off the granite pinnacles and buttes, revealing shades from whispery gray to intense red, via purple, yellow, orange and tan. Big Badlands Overlook and Norbeck Pass gaze over the whole show. Note that the park’s South Unit is currently closed.
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains
The forested mountains of this national park resemble an abstract painting at sunrise, when the soft yellow light silhouettes the peaks and ridges so they form misty layers of black and gray. Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet (2,025m), overlooks the valley with views stretching more than 100 miles (161km) on clear days.
Texas: South Padre Island
This tiny barrier island stretches into the Gulf of Mexico at the southern tip of Texas and is known for its beguiling sunrises and sunsets. The east side has clear views of the sun peeping its fiery head over the horizon each morning, bursting blood-orange color into the sky and sending warm light shimmering over the water and powdery white sand.
Utah: Arches National Park
Arches National Park, north of Moab, has more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, which seem to catch the light just-so as it begins its daily ascent. Yellow beams glint off the rock and seem to be absorbed by it, giving the formations an otherworldly orange-red glow and bathing the landscape of pinnacles and mesas in warm light. Some sections of the park remain closed so keep an eye on the website for details.
Vermont: Mount Mansfield
Vermont’s highest mountain overlooks the small town of Stowe, and the morning views from its slopes or summit are reliably gorgeous at any time of year. In fall, the light catches red and gold leaves for an intense burst of color, while snow-covered winter slopes glisten at sunrise and create a glorious contrast to the golden yellow skies.
Virginia: Virginia Beach
The oceanfront boardwalk of Virginia Beach, located in the southeast of the state where Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic, has clear, wide-open views of the sunrise. Anglers gather on the long fishing pier, whose wooden stilts become dramatically silhouetted against the soft orange light. Dolphins often leap close to the beach, whose sand looks golden under the rising sun.
Washington: Picture Lake
This tiny lake in Washington is one of the most photographed in the USA, and it really is as pretty as a picture. It gets its name thanks to the perfect reflection of Mount Shuksan in the glassy waters. The image is intensified by the soft morning light, which infuses the peaks with a lilac-pink glow and projects a kaleidoscope of pastel colors through the sky.
West Virginia: Bear Rocks
This West Virginia landmark, on the windswept Dolly Sods Wilderness plateau, has incredible views over the Allegheny Front. The sun rises over mile upon mile of undulating mountains, boulders, hemlock forest and flowering shrubs in a warm golden glow. On clear days, the view stretches across the 477-acre preserve and reaches as far as the Shenandoah Mountains.
The city of Manitowoc sprawls from the coast of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Manitowoc River, and it’s the watery surrounds that make sunrise here so special. The skies ignite in shades of gold, ocher and blood orange, reflected in the shimmering water below. The view over the harbor, with Manitowoc North Breakwater Lighthouse silhouetted against the flaming skies, is hypnotic.
Wyoming: Oxbow Bend
Among the vast landscapes of Grand Teton National Park, with its perfect peaks, wildflower meadows and mountain lakes, Oxbow Bend somehow manages to stand out. The overlook is famed for views of Mount Moran, which reflects beautifully in Snake River below, and the picture is all the prettier at dawn. The sunrise bathes everything in warm pink light, with the occasional pelican or great blue heron swooping over the water.
Now read on to discover the essential road-trip tips you need to know this summer
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