spring sunset from waterrock knob

Experience Golden Hour in Jackson County, N.C. With These Top Sunrise & Sunset Spots

The moment occurs shortly after the sun rises or just before it sets, reminding us that nature sets the pace. “Golden hour” is amplified in the N.C. Mountains, as we’re reminded of the immense beauty surrounding us and how much we cherish each day spent here.

With wide views of mountain peaks, glistening lakes and open valleys, Jackson County, N.C. has plenty of locations to make the most of golden hour. Choose your destination, then check your phone’s weather app to confirm clear viewing conditions and what time the sun will rise or set. Then, grab a snack, a drink, and maybe an extra layer if you’re headed to a higher elevation.

Golden Hour Tip: As you enjoy the colorful show, use your left hand to gauge how much daylight is left as the sun sets behind a mountain. Just outstretch your hand in front of your body and count each fingertip between the sun and the peak. Every fingertip equals about 15 minutes of remaining daylight. 

Beloved Blue Ridge Parkway

Some of the best golden hour views are found along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) overlooks, easily accessible from Jackson County. Pack a folding chair or blanket and settle in for the show!

Full Panoramic Experience: Cowee Mountain Overlook

Offering a 180-degree, panoramic sunset spot, Cowee Mountain Overlook is one of the most iconic places to end the day. Located at mile marker 430.7 on the BRP, Cowee offers the perfect way to watch the sunset over Jackson County – no hiking required!

Golden Hour Tip: Keep your camera handy to capture the ever-changing golden hues as the sun changes and sinks behind the peaks.

Best of Both: Waterrock Knob

At mile marker 451.2 on the BRP, Waterrock Knob is known for two things: 1) its stunning, long-range views of the mountains below, and 2) for being an ideal spot to witness golden hour. At Waterrock, you’ll find a sizeable parking lot along with convenient amenities, such as picnic tables, benches and restrooms. If you’re looking to take in a sunrise and a morning workout, take on Waterrock Knob Trail. Ascending 412 feet in a 1.2-mile round trip, this hike is worth the hype! Dotted with overlooks of the outstretched mountains, the trail comes with a tremendous payoff in the view from the top. Depending on weather conditions, you may even find yourself above the clouds. (Waterrock is also a great place to enjoy a starry night in the mountains. Pack a blanket and look for meteor showers and the Milky Way.)

Golden Hour Tip: Sunset is popular at Waterrock, especially during the fall leaf season and on the weekends, so plan to arrive early.  

Get Awestruck at Thunderstuck 

Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook is the place to go for a beautiful, southwest-facing view of the sunset. Or, venture here for sunrise, when the sun will be over your shoulder, nicely lighting the scene. Perched at 4,780 feet above sea level at milepost 454.4 of the BRP, Thunderstruck sits between Soco and Balsam Gap, facing Cherokee.

Golden Hour Tips: Thunderstruck is a great alternative to popular Waterrock Knob. Although the overlook is relatively small, the views are big, making it perfect for a romantic adventure. 

For the Adventurous in Spirit

Oldest Mountain, Timeless Views: Whiteside Mountain

If the idea of simply driving to your glimpse of golden hour doesn’t stir your soul, and adventure is more your style, then consider a pre-dawn hike up Whiteside Mountain! Located in Cashiers off U.S. Hwy. 64, Whiteside is one of the most ancient mountains in the world, estimated by some geologists to be 490 million years old. More timeless than the mountain itself are the sunrise views that await the early birds chipper enough to hike the two-mile loop trail before daybreak. Not only will you bask in the morning rays at 4,930 feet above sea level, but you’ll also likely have the trail to yourself.

Golden Hour Tips: There is a $3 parking fee, so carry some cash to place in the kiosk at the beginning of the trail. Don’t forget essentials, such as a flashlight/headlamp, water bottle and snack. Watch your footing, as the trail is rocky. And always pack out what you bring in, to leave our trails clean and green for others. 

Sleep Under the Stars: Pinnacle Park

Ascending 2,200 feet in a little more than 3.5 miles, Pinnacle Park‘s golden hours are reserved for those who prefer sleeping under the stars. The hike is difficult, but well worth the effort as you’ll be able to witness a golden goodbye of a day well spent from the summit, along with the magnificent welcoming of a new day, all in one trip!

Those who pack it in will need to make sure to do so thoughtfully. The overnight temperature drop will be considerable, even during the warm months. The designated campsites are close to the summit, so you can easily trek out to the Pinnacle in less than 20 minutes before the day breaks.

Golden Hour Tips: Plan your hike to the top at least three hours before sunset. The 3.5-mile descent is dangerous to navigate in the dark, even with a flashlight. Don’t forget to grab a free camping permit from the parking lot kiosk on your way up.  

Unique and Unforgettable 

The Sun and Sweet Sylva 

Overlooking quaint downtown Sylva, the Jackson County Public Library/Courthouse sits in a perfect spot to take in the Balsam Mountains that cradle the town and watch the sun set behind them. Drive to the top and park in its adjacent lot or climb the 107 steps and prepare for a colorful sky unlike anything you’ve seen.

Golden Hour Tip: Although the sun goes down for the night, the town doesn’t observe the same bedtime. Sylva is home to a lively nightlifedining and brewery scene. So, stick around after the sun goes down. 

Rhodes Big View 

This overlook on the side of U.S. Hwy. 64 near Cashiers draws crowds twice a year to experience one of the most unique phenomenons in the country: The Shadow of the Bear. This naturally-occurring event takes place for just 30 minutes on sunny evenings for a few weeks during the fall and winter, when the sun sets behind the sheer rock cliffs of Whiteside Mountain and creates a shadow in the shape of a bear. But even when the bear is not making an appearance, Rhodes Big View still offers amazing sunsets – and a smaller number of onlookers.

Golden Hour Tips: Arrive early, park safely and watch for highway traffic. 

Lake Glenville

Can you imagine the golden hour views at one of the highest lakes in the country east of the Rockies? That’s what Lake Glenville offers. Watching the sun rise or set from its shores is inspirational, but there’s another option: viewing from the water. Climb aboard a chartered cruise with your captain or rent your own pontoon boat. Perched at an elevation of 3,492 feet, with 26 miles of shoreline, Lake Glenville offers plenty to explore by water before the sun sets.

Golden Hour Tip: Be sure to see Lake Glenville’s hidden waterfalls – only accessible by boat – before sunset. 

Golden Rest

The best way to prepare for an early sunrise or relax after sunset is with a good night’s rest. Jackson County offers excellent lodging at great rates, from cozy cabins to vacation rentals, hotels and more. Plan your golden hour getaway by using our Trip Planner or request our FREE Visitor Guide!

Featured photos courtesy of @jeffreylukesutton and JCTDA

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