Spectacular Sunrises in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and How to View Them

By guest blogger Sydney Dunlap

If you have yet to experience a sunrise in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it is something that you should put on your to-do list –and put it close to the top.

Keep in mind that being in the park for a sunrise may not always be about what you see in the sky –it can also be about witnessing the park come alive. It can be an ideal time to find solitude in what are otherwise highly visited areas.

When choosing a location to view a sunrise, it’s best to pick one on the west side of the valley where the sun reaches the park first. Below you will find four places to head to bright (or rather, still dark) and early, with some ideas of what to expect, what to bring, and how to get there.

1. Valley Bridle Trail, near Spice Acres

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Just south of Spice Acres, on the west side of Riverview Road there is a pull-off on the top of a hill (across from an old barn). Get there about 20-25 minutes before sunrise and walk across the road, head behind the barn, and you will find the Valley Bridle Trail. Take a left to walk along the ridge.

Tip: The walk to the trail is likely to have wet grass, so come prepared, with waterproof shoes!

Looking East, you can see the stripes of fog and the stripes of pale pink and orange behind only a few layers of silhouetted trees. Each turn in the trail peels back a new layer.

After you meander back and forth on the ridge, you will be able to decide what your best vantage point is; take a seat, using a large tree as a backrest, and enjoy the show.

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Did You Know? There’s a reason behind why the sky appears shades of red during sunrise as opposed to various shades of blue. Yellow, orange, and red have longer wavelengths than green, blue, and violet. With the sun still being low on the horizon during sunrise, it has more atmosphere to travel, so those shorter wavelengths aren’t being “scattered” to us yet. Simply put, scattering is the process in which particles in the earth’s atmosphere redirect light.

2. Beaver Marsh

There is a particular magic to this location during those small moments early in the morning that can’t be mimicked at any other hour. Beaver Marsh has a boardwalk overlook off the Towpath, most closely accessed from the Ira Trailhead parking lot. From the parking lot you will turn left onto the Towpath and after a short 5-10 minute walk, you’ll be at the viewing area.

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Here, you’ll have a wide-open view of the sky, remember to look up and around as the clouds above your head turn a delicious pink.

If you’re walking quietly on the wooden boardwalk, you may even be lucky enough to get to say good morning to a turtle, swimming around the marsh!

Tip: When heading outside to enjoy the sunrise, remember to apply bug spray! Trying to sit and experience the early morning calm can quickly become a lot less so if you’re constantly swatting bugs away.

3. Stanford House

There are two ways to experience an early morning at the Stanford House. The first, just like the others on this list, is to arrive prior to sunrise, park your car, and walk in. 

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Did You Know? It’s actually more desirable to have some clouds in the sky while watching a sunrise, rather than a completely clear sky. Since clouds reflect the first light of the sun like a theater screen, some cloud cover enhances and amplifies the view.

It is likely that how the barn looks in the early morning light is just how the Stanford family saw it, as they woke up to begin all their daily duties of cultivating crops and running a farmstead.

If you hike into the Stanford Trail before the sun comes up and hike back out after, notice how the same trail becomes two different ones.

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Tip: One way to enrich your sunrise experience in the park is by camping out overnight. Run by the Conservancy, the campground at The Stanford House is the only location within Cuyahoga Valley National Park to pitch a tent for the night. If there happens to be sites available, you can reserve on a walk-in basis, but your best bet is to reserve your spot online in advance.

Emerging from your tent, you’re likely to find yourself in a cloud of valley fog. Sitting in your camp chair, or maybe on a log, you can begin to heat your oatmeal while the sun heats up the valley.

4. Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, Mile 21

This one might sound oddly specific, but this is a spot where you can see what’s happening in both directions off of the Towpath. Parking at the Boston Store & Visitor Center, mile 21 of the Towpath is less than a quarter of a mile north.

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Passing by Lock 32, spend some time thinking about what it would be like to go through a lock at dawn.

Since this isn’t a high vantage point, it can take nearly thirty minutes after sunrise, for the sun to peak up over the tree tops. Wait for it; it will be worth it.

If you have time to stick around afterwards, bring your bike and go for an early morning ride. Just don’t forget to bring your helmet, water, and a snack!

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One of the most incredible aspects of a sunrise is its accessibility. Whether you are old or young, wealthy or poor, there is surely a joy you will find in a sunrise. Regardless of your race or religion, the sun warms all of us the same.

What’s also remarkable about a sunrise isn’t only what you’re seeing, but also what you may be feeling. Blind, deaf, or disabled, the sunrise has something to offer you.

Now that you may be thinking about sunrise in a different way, take the challenge to go watch the sunrise at least once this week. Bring some coffee, your dog, or a friend –sunrises are for everyone, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park is for everyone.