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Hiking to See the Sunset and Sunrise

One of my favorite things to do in the Adirondacks is to hike a mountain to watch the sun go up or come down. I love watching and photographing this anywhere, but being on top of the world makes it just that much more special. I’m big into photography, and hiking for sunset and sunrise provides the most terrific photographic opportunities. Also, some of my favorite personal experiences have been while I was watching the colors change from the summit of a mountain.

One of my favorite sunrises. Taken from Goodnow Mountain Fire Tower.
One of my favorite sunrises. Taken from Goodnow Mountain Fire Tower.


When preparing to hike a mountain for sunset or sunrise, you definitely want to do your research. Even in the middle of summer, I’ve been cold and shivering inside of a fire tower while waiting out the early morning hours because I underestimated the weather. I now bring winter gloves, or at least mittens, and a winter hat, no matter the season. Even on the hottest day, it’s quite brisk while it’s still dark.  

It’s also a good idea to hike a mountain that you're familiar with. Having hiked the mountain before, you’ll have a general idea of how long it will take you to reach the summit. I always try to aim to reach the summit about a half an hour before the actual time the sun is supposed to go up or down because of the beautiful color show this presents. It’s also a good idea to stay at least a half an hour after the sun goes down or comes up for the same reason.  Furthermore, the woods are a lot different when you can’t see your hand in front of your face, so already knowing where there is a stream you have to cross before you have to cross it is a big advantage. This leads me to my next point, which is to (of course) bring a flashlight. A headlamp works best so you can have your hands free, but anything will work. I usually bring an extra flashlight and batteries just in case. The last thing you want is to be hiking in the dark just to have your flashlight die and you have no backup!  

Lastly, it’s a common rule of thumb to hike with at least one other person in any season, but this is especially true for sunset and sunrise hikes. On top of simply having someone to share the wonderful (and sometimes spiritual) experience with, having another person to hike with can ease fears of the dark and is simply the smart and safe thing to do.  

Sunrise from Goodnow Mountain in late November. The deep red color of the sky made the freezing temperatures worth it.
Sunrise from Goodnow Mountain in late November. The deep red color of the sky made the freezing temperatures worth it.

Why I Love It

I used to hate hiking in the dark. Once when I was coming out of the Santanoni Range, it was getting pretty dark fairly fast. Although it was the longest day of the year, the Santanoni Range is a pretty long trip to tackle in one day. My group and I packed flashlights to be prepared but there was also a small fear of the dark and the unknown lurking in the back of our minds. When golden hour set in and we were still a good two miles from the car, we upped our pace and tried to get out of the woods as quickly as possible. On our way out, we passed an older couple that had no worries at all. They said that they loved to hike in the dark and that it was a peaceful time to be in the woods. I didn’t understand.

That quickly changed. After hiking to see the sunrise for the first time, I fell in love with hiking in the dark. The woods transform at night and take on a life of their own. For starters, there are no bugs and no reason to take a bath in mosquito repellent before you head out. I didn’t think it would be possible, but the woods are even more still and quiet in the night. With only the beam of light from your flashlight to guide you, you’re not intimidated by the steeper sections or big rocks you may have to scramble up. Hiking at night makes you slow down and really take one step at a time.  

Even more, you hear things you may not during the day. Once when I hiked Goodnow Mountain to see the sunrise, I heard a loon’s call echo off of Rich Lake and through the woods. Sounds travel farther in the dark and it is something I will never forget in my life. It’s moments like these that made me fall in love with night hiking. On top of wonderful experiences like this, you get to see the brilliant colors from the top of a mountain, which only adds to the wonderful view you’d already have during the day. 

Sunset from Goodnow Mountain.
Sunset from Goodnow Mountain.

A Good Place to Start

Due to my love for the High Peaks, after hiking smaller mountains, I was anxious to witness the sunrise from the summit of a mountain over 4,000 feet. A couple of friends and I made plans to hike Whiteface Mountain to witness the sunrise. Cascade was also in the running, but we picked Whiteface due to the road leading to the summit - we “cheated.”

We arrived at the beginning of the summit road well before sunrise. With flashlights, warm clothes, water and camera gear we set out for the summit. The walk up the road was a lot shorter than we expected, leaving us with time to kill. We took shelter from the wind for a few hours in the tunnel at the top while occasionally poking our heads out to star-gaze. We headed for the summit a few minutes before the sun was supposed to rise. 


A sea of fog at first light, from the summit of Whiteface.
A sea of fog at first light, from the summit of Whiteface.

Being at the top of Whiteface in the pre-dawn hours was the closest I’ve ever been to the stars - I could almost touch the big dipper. It was an amazing experience. A beam of red started to spread across the horizon, meaning the sun was about to come up. I took out my camera and started clicking away. The valleys were shrouded in fog and as the sun came up it cast a warm, golden glow over the mountain tops and the lakes of clouds below me. It was a very spiritual moment that I will never forget. Whiteface is a great first High Peak to hike for sunset or sunrise because you can simply walk up the road, rather than hiking up the trail. Check out this blog for a bit more history on the Veterans Memorial Highway.

Before You Head Out 

If you like photography as much as I do, be sure to peel your eye away from the viewfinder every once in a while. As much as I love recording beautiful moments to share with others at a later time, it’s always good to live in the moment and to make sure that you don't only live through the pictures you take. 

Hiking a mountain for sunset or sunrise is an experience that I highly recommend to anyone. Doing so might put you out of your comfort zone, but the sights you will see and the things you will hear will make you forget that you may be nervous about heading into the dark. The solitude and peacefulness of the woods at night will pull you in and, believe me, you will want to hike more mountains after doing your first one. The beauty of the Adirondacks is magnified when the landscape is blanketed in red or gold light. Stick to mountains that you know when you're starting out, and don’t forget, experiences like this will be best when shared with others. 

Looking out over the High Peaks during sunrise from Whiteface.
Looking out over the High Peaks during sunrise from Whiteface.

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