The heat is steadily rising now that summer is on the way, and outdoor trail adventures become less bearable as the temperatures soar. But if you start your adventure early in the morning, you can avoid the heat and receive another added perk: a beautiful Virginia sunrise. Here are our favorite spots to start the day with an invigorating hike throughout the Commonwealth.
Photo Credit: Sam Dean, @sdeanphotos
Known as the most photographed site along the Appalachian Trail, McAffee Knob’s jutting ledge gives you a breathtaking view. The mountain platform overlooking the Catawba Valley, Roanoke Valley, Tinkers Cliffs, and North Mountain. While it is a fairly strenuous hike, there are many rewarding viewpoints on the way up for hikers looking to take in a sunrise.
Photo Credit: Skylar Arias Adventures, @skylar_arias_adventures
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park, reaching 4,050 feet. You can reach the trail from parking areas at mileposts 45.6 and 46.7, and from the summit you can catch a peek of Old Rag, which has beautiful views but is a much longer and more difficult trail. The trail lengths are 1.7 for a steep round trip or 2.9 for a more moderate circuit.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Spanning from Virginia’s Eastern Shore up into Maryland for a total of 37 miles, Assateague Island National Seashore marks the farthest east point of Virginia. Swan Cove Trail takes you out onto the beach area, where you may even see a few wild ponies along with your sunrise.
Stony Man Trail
Photo Credit: Joel Mulbah & Alyssa Gilbert, @joelmulbah & @sofearlyss
Stony Man is about a 1.6 mile circuit from milepost 41.7 on Skyline Drive. Hike this moderate trail to reach the summit and get a fantastic view of Shenandoah National Park.
Photo Credit Thomas Cluderay, @tcluderay
To get to Spy Rock, you’ll walk a little more than a mile to reach the Appalachian Trail from Montebello Fish Hatchery, and then go left at the fork to reach the viewpoint. This is a fairly strenuous climb and involves a little scrambling, but the summit gives you a 360 degree vantage of the sunrise from the rock outcrop.
Peaks of Otter
Photo credit: Nicholas Moore, @nicholasmoorephoto
Peaks of Otter is actually made up of three total peaks: Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill. Each peak exposes its own incredible landscape, but most agree that Sharp Top, while not the highest, has the most unencumbered panoramic view. The trail winds for only about 1.5 miles before you reach this sunrise summit, but with an elevation change of 1,340 total feet, it is definitely a more strenuous hike.
Take Skyline Drive at Compton Gap to reach Compton Peak. The trailhead starts across the road from the parking area at milepost 10.3. This is an easy roundtrip hike of about 2.4 miles with very little elevation change.
Molly’s Knob at Hungry Mother State Park
Photo credit: Chad Williams, @echadwilliams
Molly’s Knob Trail is 1.6 miles but the path is narrow, steep, and difficult. The summit of Molly’s Knob reaches 3,270 feet and is the highest peak in Hungry Mother State Park.
For a short hike to reach an impeccable sunrise spot, head to Humpback Rocks. You can reach the entrance to Mountain Farm Trail, the path that leads to Humpback Rocks, from milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This trail extends only a quarter mile through the mountains, making it another great option for beginners.
Photo Credit: Michael Speed, @photosbyspeed
This is a steep trail of about a mile, but you’ll get a gorgeous view of the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Highlands and Floyd County from the Buffalo Mountain summit.
Breaks Interstate Park
Photo Credit: Sam Dean, @sdeanphotos
Along the border of Virginia and Kentucky, Breaks Interstate Park has 25 miles of trails, but take the Overlook Trail, less than a mile to the vantage point, for the best sunrise view.
Westmoreland State Park
Photo credit: Mike Zorger
This waterfront State Park has seven total trails that cover almost six miles. The new Beach Trail alongside the Potomac River spans less than half a mile and allows hikers to observe the sun rise over the water.
False Cape State Park
Photo Credit: Trevor Frost, @tbfrost
False Cape State Park runs along the Atlantic Ocean on a peninsula south of Virginia Beach. There are 7.5 miles of trails available for hiking and biking, and three trails will take you to an oceanfront sunrise. Hike Barbour Hill Trail for 1.4 miles to reach your sunrise spot. If you are looking for a shorter pathway to your sunrise over the sands, use Wash Woods Trail (0.66 miles) or False Cape Landing Trail (0.7 miles).
While you may have to get up early to make it happen, the view from these outdoor destinations is well worth the lack of sleep. Catch one of nature’s most romantic sights with an early morning hikes along these scenic Virginia trails.
Great job Tricia! I’m going to get up early a bunch of times. What a great theme,what a great beautiful state! Thank you
Sarah Lynn Johnson
What groups are hiking to these places in Va from the Charlotte, NC area? So ready to experience them!!
All these hikes are awesome and Buffalo Mountain is a good one but is is much better at sunset!
I agree with Chris, Strickler Knob should be included on this list. We watched a spectacular sunrise over the Shenandoah Valley. Check out our photos here:
We camped at the ridge and watched the sunset and the sunrise at the 360 degree overlook. This is a must do hike.
I’m an upstate NY guy, but Peaks of Otter might be worth making an unplanned trip.
It most definitely is!
Strickler Knob should be included on this list. Bonus points for a campsite setup on the ridge.
Overlooking Luray. Best sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life.
I hiked up Lewis Mountain before dawn once, long ago. Got a spectacular shot of the sunrise, and have sold framed prints of it many times over the years.
Love hiking in VA anytime of day!
You never see The Marshalls mentioned. 3.5 ish miles and three amazing views. 17mile marker on skyline drive.