The 10 Best Spots To Catch Sunrise or Sunset in Zion National Park
There is something about a desert sunset that just hits different. It is always such a thrill to watch the light dance and the colors bounce off the red canyon walls. In Zion National Park the sun rises and lights up the sandstone cliffs in vibrant orange and when the sun sets the pinks and oranges come out and light up the desert sky. It's a magical show that you get to watch twice a day.......if you're lucky!
Being a photographer in Zion, sunrises and sunsets are my life. The beautiful glow that happens in the early morning and later in the evening make for beautiful photos and so I have spent a fair amount of time figuring out the best places in Zion to capture that sunrise/sunset magic.
It does take a little work to find the perfect spot to watch the show because many times the massive cliffs are blocking the view......rude! ;-) The trick to Zion is making sure you get higher than the sandstone cliffs or head to a spot that is a bit more open.
ARE DESERT SUNSETS REALLY MORE BEAUTIFUL?
It is actually true that sunsets of more beautiful in the desert. Because Zion is dry and there is generally less people and air pollution the sunsets and sunrises are more colorful because you can see them better. There is some solid science behind it but since it all goes totally over my head, I will send you to this article to explain it better.
There are plenty of spots to enjoy a breathtaking sunrise or sunset in Zion. I have put together a list of my favorite places to watch the sunrise or sunset in Zion National Park to help you figure out where to go and how to time it so that you will be there to watch the magic unfold.
Timber Creek Overlook
Towers Of the Virgin
Canyon Junction Bridge
Court Of the Patriarchs
There are some spots that are super easy to get to and there are some spots that require a little more work but they are all stunning and you can't go wrong with any of them.
***Sunset at Timber Creek Overlook
1 - TIMBER CREEK OVERLOOK
Located in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion, Timber Creek Overlook is the last stop on the 5 mile scenic drive.
1.1 miles round trip
Timber Creek Overlook is a well marked trail and shorter distance to get to some epic views. The trail has stunning views along the entire trail but the end it where you get the 360 degree views with a vast view of rich red mountains and miles upon miles of wild desert. If you hike around times when it has rained or snowed the trail can be very muddy
The overlook at sunset will light up the walls of the soaring cliffs to the east. Watching them turn a vivid orange is spectacular. At the overlook the contrasting red mountains with the greenery below create beautiful & vivid colors early in the morning and just after the sun sets in the West. My favorite time to hike this trail is at sunset!
***Sunrise at Canyon Overlook
2 - CANYON OVERLOOK
Just east of the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel, above Zion Canyon
1.25 miles round trip
The is a fun and short hike that packs a major punch at the end with the most epic views. The hike can get very busy and parking can be very hard to find so plan accordingly.
I have hiked Canyon Overlook many many times for sunrise and sunset in Zion. It is one of our most popular photography locations. Sunrise at Canyon Overlook means watching the sun light up the sandstone cliffs. The view faces to the west so you don't actually watch the sunrise. You will see the tips slowly get brighter and more vibrant.
During the summer months the sun will go down before your eyes and you will have a chance of getting the sunset colors about 20-30 minutes after it dips below the cliffs. During the winter months the sun goes behind the cliffs a good 1-2 hours before sunset.
***Sunset at the top of Watchman Trail
3 - WATCHMAN TRAIL
This trail starts at the Zion Visitor Center next to the west entrance station.
3 miles round trip
The hike start at the visitor center and heads towards the south campground. Walk along the east side of the Virgin River and then climb your way to the top. This hike has some steady and steep elevation gain and can get pretty muddy if it has rained or snowed recently. At the top don't miss the loop trail you can follow to get views of Springdale, Watchman Mountain, and up the canyon.
This hike is in the entrance to Zion Canyon so the views are a little closed in. For sunrise the sun is blocked by towering cliffs but you will see the mountains to the west slowly light up.
There are views of Springdale, The Watchman Mountain, and up the canyon so if the clouds decide to light up this is a fun place to watch it. I like the light on this trail a little more for sunset because it isn't quite as blocked.
***Sunset at Observation Point
4 - Observation Point
You could once hike this trail from the canyon floor but a massive rock slide closed it 4 years ago. To get to Observation Point these days you will take East Mesa trail from the north/east side of Zion.
6.5 miles round trip
You'll be hiking in the dark one way regardless if you want to watch sunrise or sunset. The trail has some elevation gain. The temperatures are a bit cooler because of the elevation, so be sure to dress appropriately.
Observation Point is one of the grandest views in Zion National Park. Angels Landing is dwarfed by the magnitude of Zion Canyon from this vantage point. The Virgin River is 2500 feet directly below you and Zion Canyon extends to the horizon. Sunset and sunrise are both great here. You will be looking down the canyon to the south.
***Sunset in the meadow along Kolob Terrace Road
5 - KOLOB TERRACE MEADOW
14 miles drive up the Kolob Terrace Road starting in Virgin.
You can watch the sunset from your car or take a little trail deeper into the meadow.
To get a little closer to the view of the Zion Canyon in the distance you will walk a little trail about .25 miles round trip. The trail is a little rocky in spots and in the winter months the trail might be completely covered by snow.
The view of the meadow faces south so the sun comes up and goes down to the sides of you. Because the views are so wide this is a great spot the watch the clouds move through the sky.
Sunset glows on the sandstone cliffs In the distance and totally lights them up. It is stunning to watch.
***Sunset at Angels Landing
6 - Angels Landing
This trail starts at The Grotto, shuttle stop #5. Cross the road, go over the bridge, go to the right and you are on your way. If you go to the left you will be on the Kayenta Trail. In the winter when shuttles are not going, there is a parking lot. Parking in the winter during the day will be hard to find.
4.8 miles round trip
Because Angel's Landing is such an awesome hike it has become very popular and very crowded. When it get's too busy on the chains it makes hiking unsafe.....and not fun. So the park implemented a permit system starting April 1st 2022. The permits are issued quarterly or the day before.
The start of the trail will take you along the Virgin River. As you veer away from the river, you will begin the switchbacks and intense elevation gain. Before you reach the first top section called Scout’s Lookout, you will get the joy (haha) of climbing 21 steep switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. From here you will start on the real fun stuff.....the chains and steep drop-offs. As long as you hold on to the chains, go slow and are careful with your footing, there is nothing to be scared of.
There are excellent views along the entire hike, and the views get better and better as you climb. The hike to the top is about 1500 vertical feet. Sunrise or sunset, it doesn't matter, it will be spectacular either way.
During the months that the shuttle is running it will be hard to watch sunrise or sunset from the top of Angels Landing because of the schedule. Rent an e-bike and ride the canyon so you can go our earlier or stay out later. You will skip the crowds and heat as well.
***Sunset among the cliffs in East Zion
7 - East Zion
The east section of Zion is just past the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel
It just depends where you pull over. You might have to climb a little or a lot
Pull over on one of the many pull outs along the highway 9 in East Zion. Scramble the slick rock up, up, up so you will have a good vantage point to watch sunrise or sunset.
The most stunning views will most likely be of the layered mountains facing to the west but you could get lucky and find a great spot to watch sunrise from the east. Sunrise or sunset from any of the higher up vantage points will be stunning.
***Sunset on a cloudy day
8 - TOWER OF THE VIRGINS
The Zion Human History Museum inside the park
No hiking involved
There is a covered viewing deck with benches just behind the Zion Human History Museum with a stunning view of Tower of the Virgins. There is plenty of parking. This is the perfect spot if you want something comfortable and easy.
The view faces to the west so you don't actually watch the sunrise. The sun will slowly light up the cliffs and turn them a vibrant orange. For sunset cross your fingers and hope that you get a light show with some clouds. That is always my favorite.
***Sunset on the bridge
9 - CANYON JUNCTION BRIDGE
The Canyon Junction Bridge is right at the junction of Highway 9 and the road the goes into the canyon.
This is a drive up spot unless you take the Pa'Rus Trail starting at the Visitor Center or Human History Museum.
You can walk or ride your bike along the Pa'Rus Trail to get to Canyon Junction Bridge or you can drive and park up just after the bridge. Parking is limited so plan accordingly.
The Canyon Junction Bridge is one of the most iconic locations in Zion National Park, offering an amazing view of the Virgin River and The Watchman. This spot is particularly good at sunset when The Watchman glows red and the curving Virgin River reflects the sky. There are 2 other bridges below the Canyon Junction Bridge that are also great for watching sunrise or sunset. You can also walk to the river just below the bridge to get away from the crowds on the bridge and get another great perspective.
***Sunrise on the river at Court Of the Patriarchs
10 - COURT OF THE PATRIARCHS
The Court of the Patriarchs is the first stop in Zion Canyon
No hiking involved
The Court of the Patriarchs is the first stop in Zion Canyon with a short, paved trail leading to an overlook. This is a nice view but is very limited in composition opportunities. You can also cross the road and go down to the edge of the Virgin River for a beautiful composition of the river and sharp peaks. Further back along the paved road is a bridge crossing the Virgin River. A short trail leads to the left and down to the river just before the bridge. The 3 Patriarchs rise above the bridge and create a classic Zion composition.
This entire area is incredible and usually uncrowded. Continue across the bridge and follow the trail for more surprises as the cliff walls rise directly above you. This is one of my favorite areas in Zion to shoot, so go and see why:).
BONUS IDEA - SUNSET JEEP TOUR WITH EAST ZION ADVENTURES
Take a rugged and bumpy adventure ride in a tricked-out open-air Jeep to catch stunning views of the sun setting behind the Zion cliffs with East Zion Adventures.
I did the 1.5 hour tour a couple summers ago with my girlfriend. The ride was rugged, bumpy, and so much fun. The jeeps were open air and more than capable of taking on the steeped hills and crazy dirt roads. At the top of the knoll, we had time to relax, take in the views and enjoy the show as the sun descended behind the towering cliffs of Zion National Park. It was the perfect evening!
I hope this list inspires you to watch a sunrise or sunset during you time in Zion National Park. It is a magical experience to watch the cliffs light up and it never happens the exact some way. Be prepared to be surprised and delighted.