Be the First to See the Sun Rise (And Enjoy It)

Parking spaces are nearly maxed out. Hordes of people, some with blankets and steaming thermoses of coffee, are all walking with intention in the same direction. Photographers are jockeying for position. And it's not even dawn.

Here, atop Acadia National Park's Cadillac Mountain, nearly every morning is the same. Crowds of people from all over the world pull themselves out of bed to congregate at its summit. Why? This is the first place in the continental U.S. to experience sunrise. 

At 1,532 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest peak along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard.

Long after glaciers covered Maine's coast, Mount Desert Island (where you can find Cadillac Mountain) was home to the Abenaki people, or "People of the Dawn." Food was abundant. Fishing and hunting were mainstays. Enchanting granite cliffs and angry seas were at work, sculpting the land into the protected areas visitors can all enjoy today.

But even if you don't consider yourself among the modern-day "People of the Dawn," if there's one mountain worth scaling while visiting Acadia National Park, make it Cadillac. 

Its summit can be reached by car, bike or foot. However, most visitors drive to the summit before the sun rises in order to photograph or simply bask in the first rays of sunlight as they rise up over the Atlantic. Pro tip: Make sure to set your alarm with plenty of time to spare when planning a sunrise visit to Cadillac Mountain. Parking spaces fill up quickly, especially during summer and peak foliage (around Columbus Day weekend). This isn't a morning where you want to hit snooze.

5 Tips to Catching Sunrise Atop Cadillac Mountain

  1. Wake up early. Even if you're not a morning person, try and really commit to this one. Depending on where you're staying (a campground or a hotel in Bar Harbor), make sure to pencil in more than enough time to drive to the summit and find parking before sun rise. Parking spots fill up quickly.
  2. Pack your car/ camera equipment the night before. This goes without saying, especially if you're not a morning person. Make your morning a whole lot easier by planning the night before so you don't need to worry about forgetting anything on the big day.
  3. Bring breakfast. Maybe you don't like eating first thing in the morning. Fine. But you'll probably want a hot beverage or a small snack on hand while you're waiting for the sun (and your body) to wake up.
  4. Dress warm. Even in the summer, it can be pretty chilly on top of a mountain at 4:30 a.m. Wear a sweatshirt, bring a windbreaker and maybe keep a hat or gloves in your car, just in case.
  5. Drive straight to the summit. Unless you're cutting it close, make a beeline for the summit. There are two parking lots: a main one and one for overflow parking. These fill up very quickly and then you'll see cars parking in the pull-out sections leading up to the top. Don't waste any time sightseeing or pulling over; head straight to the top and claim your spot.
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