10 Perfect Places to Watch the Sunrise in North Carolina

Rise and shine, there’s much to do in North Carolina. Start your adventure early at one of these 10 spots, each perfect for taking in a beautiful sunrise. 

Set your alarm to wake up early. You won’t miss the sleep. We promise.

1 Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Pick your spot on the beach and watch the sunrise over Cape Hatteras National Seashore

1 Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Outer BanksSee on mapSee on map

This is our state’s easternmost point and the first to see the sunrise. Use any of the beach accesses to walk or wade with some of the more than 400 bird species. Once the sun is up, learn more about seashore ecology at Hatteras Island Ocean Center. Its interactive exhibits are interesting for visitors of any age.

2 Corolla

2 Corolla

Currituck Outer BanksSee on mapSee on map

Here, wild horses will watch the sunrise with you. Historians believe they arrived with Spanish explorers 400 years ago. Today, the protected herds roam near where paved N.C. Highway 12 ends in Corolla and travel continues by foot or off-road vehicle on the beach. Horses can be anywhere – from surf to backyards – so keep your eyes open and maintain a distance of at least 50 feet. They are unpredictable when approached.

3 Brunswick Islands

Enjoy the view of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean from the beaches of the Brunswick Islands

3 Brunswick Islands

Southern CoastSee on mapSee on map

These are North Carolina's five southernmost barrier islands. Oak Island has family-friendly activities, the state’s youngest lighthouse, 60 public beach access sites and beautiful sunrises. Before summer sunrises, watch for nesting sea turtles. Winter brings another special sight. When the sun is low in the southern sky, the islands’ east-west orientation means they’re among the only places on Earth to see sunrises and sunsets from the same beach.

4 Jordan Lake

4 Jordan Lake

MoncureSee on mapSee on map

West of Raleigh and south of Durham, you’ll find 13,900-acre Everett B. Jordan Reservoir. A popular boating, swimming and fishing site, it offers some of the best sunrise views near the Triangle. Head to the north side of the N.C. Highway 751 bridge or west side of the U.S. Highway 64 bridge, where there’s parking at a boat launch.

5 Morrow Mountain State Park

photo: Stanly County CVB

5 Morrow Mountain State Park

AlbemarleSee on mapSee on map

Head to the top of the park’s namesake mountain, where you’ll find parking and an easy 0.8-mile trail. Unobstructed views to the east look over Lake Tillery. Winter sunrises are later, about 7:30 a.m., so be at the park when it opens at 7 a.m., or stay at one of more than 100 campsites to be on time for earlier summer sunrises. Then you can spend the day touring a restored 19th-century doctor’s home, swimming in the pool or fishing from shore or boat.

6 Charlotte Douglas International Airport

6 Charlotte Douglas International Airport

CharlotteSee on mapSee on map

You might get lucky to see the sunrise at Charlotte Douglas International Airport from a window seat on your flight, but you can definitely see it at the airport’s overlook, which features benches, a shaded picnic area and the longest unobstructed view in the city. It’s on the airport’s western side but doesn’t open until 8 a.m., so park along the access road and stroll the sidewalk, which follows the perimeter fence and offers the same view of the Charlotte skyline and plenty of planes. The airport has more than 700 departures and landings each day.

7 Lake Norman

7 Lake Norman

20 miles north of Uptown CharlotteSee on mapSee on map

At 32,500 acres, Lake Norman is the largest body of water entirely in North Carolina. Its sunrises are as impressive, and they’re best seen from a boat. Sail your vessel from one of the many launches to either Davidson or Reedy creeks, which flow east to west. If you don’t have a boat, rent one, or drive to Beatties Ford launch in Denver, where the lake is wide and the best view is from the dock.

8 Linn Cove Viaduct

8 Linn Cove Viaduct

LinvilleSee on mapSee on map

It’s hard to find a bad Blue Ridge Parkway view, especially at the Linn Cove Viaduct, which wraps around the eastern face of Grandfather Mountain. View it and the sunrise from the Visitor Center at Milepost 304.4, or one of the trails that go under it. A short drive north is Blowing Rock, a small village with shopping, dining and plenty of cabins to rent, whether for a romantic getaway or family reunion. Most have their own sunrise view.

9 Max Patch Bald

A short drive from Asheville, Max Patch Bald offers 360-degree mountain views

9 Max Patch Bald

Near Hot SpringsSee on mapSee on map

A livestock pasture in the 1800s, Max Patch Bald is covered with wildflowers in warmer months and offers 360-degree views that few hikers take advantage of. You’ll see the sun rise by Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the East, and Great Smoky Mountains to the south. The easy 1.6-mile roundtrip hike uses the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs.

10 Waterrock Knob

10 Waterrock Knob

Near Maggie ValleySee on mapSee on map

Attention sleepyheads: The sun rises later the farther west you travel. Enjoy an extra 30 minutes of shuteye by heading to Waterrock Knob instead of Hatteras. You’ll find it at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 451.2. Use the parking lot at the Visitor Center, which opens later and has a few ecology exhibits and a gift shop. You can see the sunrise there, or take the 1.2-mile moderate hike to the 6,292-foot peak, where you’ll also see the Great Smoky Mountains and Maggie Valley.

North Carolina State Parks offer a variety nature activities, but this also includes potential hazards. Take care, be safe and enjoy.

Updated November 1, 2018
About the Author
Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer whose work also has appeared in Business North Carolina, Carolina Sportsman and Thousand Islands Life. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, especially its diverse fishing holes, local race tracks and world-renowned barbecue joints.

Top of Page