Sunrise at Yosemite: Top 5 Locations + Photography Tips (2022)

Blog cover for sunrise in Yosemite National Park.  Text overlaying an image of sunrise at Tunnel View.

Sunrise at Yosemite is a magical time. The crowds are small, but the views are grand. What’s more, parking is still stress-free and beginning your day with a Yosemite sunrise means maximizing your time in the park.

This guide will provide you with the best locations to watch the sunrise as well as photography tips and general information for your visit.

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Yosemite Sunrise Overview

Photographing the warm light of sunrise on a cold winter day in Yosemite.
Photographing the warm light of sunrise on a cold winter day in Yosemite.

The best places to photograph sunrise at Yosemite year-round are the iconic Tunnel View and the lesser-known Valley View viewpoints. Some consider Glacier Point the best overall, but it is only accessible seasonally due to road closures.

The exact location where the sun rises varies throughout the year which can have a major impact on your photos. This is particularly important as the Yosemite Valley is the only region open all year, but is also surrounded by large granite cliffs obstructing the view of sunrise.

Continue reading for specific information relevant to each location, composition inspiration, and photography tips.

Discover 65+ Perfect Gifts for National Park Lovers

Best Locations for Sunrise at Yosemite National Park

The following five viewpoints are the best places for watching sunrise at Yosemite. They offer beautiful foregrounds and typically unobstructed views, though there is some seasonality to all of them.

1. Tunnel View

Tunnel View is the best place to see the sunrise in Yosemite National Park.
Tunnel View is the best place to see the sunrise in Yosemite National Park.

Tunnel View is the most popular and iconic place to photograph sunrise in Yosemite National Park. It offers a sweeping vista of the Yosemite Valley and many of its famous natural features. These include Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridal Veil Falls, among others.

During most of the year, the sun will rise directly in front of the foreground, making for magnificent light. Taking a bad photo is nearly impossible from here.

Be aware that the parking area occasionally fills up early, or at least becomes congested. Try to get there at least 15 minutes before sunrise if you are just hoping to watch or photograph with a phone. If you want to set up a tripod, you should arrive at least 45 minutes prior to sunrise as photographers will line up early to hold their spot.

2. Valley View

Low clouds catch fire during a sunrise photoshoot at Valley View in Yosemite NP.
Low clouds catch fire during a sunrise shoot at Valley View.

A much less-popular but arguably equal location for sunrise is from the “Valley View” parking area. From here, you can get amazing photos of the sun rising over the Yosemite Valley with the Merced River filling up the foreground.

There are a few key things to note if you decide to photograph sunrise at Valley View. The first is that there is no official park sign, so you will have to rely on Google Maps to deliver you to the right area. The other is that parking is extremely limited! It is not as popular as Tunnel View but there is also far less space, so consider arriving at least 30-45 minutes early.

Finally, keep in mind that the valley loop is a one-way road. Unfortunately, Valley View is the last stop on this loop which is about a 4.5 mile (10 minute) drive from the start of the loop.

As with all locations in this list, there is some seasonality to whether or not the sun will rise directly in line with the frame or be stuck behind granite cliffs for the first hour or two. Spring and summer months tend to be best for this viewpoint.

3. Glacier Point

Sunrise at Glacier Point as Half Dome & Nevada Falls bathe in the morning glow.
Sunrise at Glacier Point as Half Dome & Nevada Falls bathe in the morning glow.

Glacier Point is often considered the best vista for sunrise in all of Yosemite. Due to the high elevation, views are far less obstructed than those in the valley. Additionally, this side-on view of Half Dome and the valley below is spectacular.

The downside to planning your sunrise shoot at Glacier Point is that the road is only open seasonally, and can be closed unexpectedly any time of year due to snow. Additionally, it takes about 45 minutes to drive up the road and more time still to get to it. This means a VERY early alarm regardless of where you are staying.

For those who make the effort, the reward is well worth the lost sleep.

4. Vista Point (on Big Oak Flat Rd)

Vista Point on Oak Flat Rd is a beautiful but lesser-known place for sunrise in Yosemite.
Vista Point on Oak Flat Rd is a beautiful but lesser-known place for sunrise in Yosemite.

This is one of the most unique places to photograph sunrise in Yosemite that most people do not know about. While it does not hold the grandeur of the first three, it is impressive in its own way.

Vista Point is located on Big Oak Flat Rd, a continuation of Highway 120 from the west. Most visitors will arrive via Highway 140 and stay near El Portal, making this one a bit of an effort. Big Oak Flat Road is a steep incline filled with hairpin turns, but the views throughout are special.

To find the correct viewpoint, be sure to search for “Big Oak Flat Rd Vista Point” in Google Maps. Be warned that there is also a Vista Point on Highway 140 which will be the default in you do not type in the search specifically as stated. You will arrive at a small roadside pull off just before a tunnel with expansive easterly views.

5. Panorama trail

Standing high above it all on the Panorama Trail in Yosemite.
Standing high above it all on the Panorama Trail in Yosemite at sunrise.

The Panorama Trail is also located at the top of Glacier Point Road, meaning it can only be visited seasonally and also requires a long drive.

While the actual Glacier Point view is phenomenal, the Panorama Trail allows visitors to experience unique angles and vistas for the sunrise. Due to the high elevation, sweeping views are available in all directions.

Photography Tips & Equipment

An overnight snow storm begins to break as the light of sunrise floods in at Tunnel View.
An overnight snowstorm begins to break as the light of sunrise floods in at Tunnel View.

If you are just planning on photographing sunrise with your phone, the one recommendation I have is to ensure that “HDR” mode is enabled. This stands for “high-dynamic range” and is very useful when the scene you are shooting has extreme lighting conditions as occurs with sunrises.

While you can certainly capture some great photos with smartphones, we are passionate about photography and use a bit more gear than that. Below are the key pieces of photography gear to consider and why they are useful.

  • General Advice: Yosemite National Park gets very crowded, but sunrise is only typically busy at Tunnel View. Still, it is better to get there a little early than a little late as parking is limited in most of the other locations and not finding a spot may mean you miss the shot!
  • Batteries: Be sure you have fully charged your camera battery! It is an all-to-common tragedy for someone to arrive bright and early only to realize their battery is empty. Also, be sure to bring a spare in the winter as it is not unheard of for batteries to fail in cold weather.

    Similarly, if you’re using your phone bring a power pack for the day as your phone will die quickly constantly searching for signal in Yosemite.
  • Memory Cards: Much like batteries, check your memory card the night before to ensure you have plenty of space and bring a spare in case your primary card fails.
  • Camera: We use the Sony a7riii and have been in love with it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, for beginners you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start getting to grips with manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
A couple taking a moment to enjoy the sunrise at Yosemite National Park
  • Lens: The Sony lens we use most frequently is the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS as the zoom lens allows for the most diversity. This lens was used for every sunrise photo featured in this guide.
  • Tripod: A tripod is essential if you are shooting in low light and want to keep your images noise-free. When traveling, we use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. As all of the locations in this guide do not require any hiking, we used and recommend the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod. It is very tall, which is useful for crowded places like Tunnel View, and extremely sturdy.
  • Filters: A Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter is very useful for adding contrast in the sky and for cutting glare, which helps to bring out the colors. An ND Filter can also be pleasing if you have any mist or water motion that you wish to soften by using a longer shutter speed. The best CPL and ND filters we have found are the quartz line from Polar Pro which we use constantly.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths: We always keep a stash of microfiber cloths in our bag to help clean the lens between shots. You will inevitably find dust or precipitation on your lens at some point!

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite Valley and Half Dome are bathed in moonlight under the stars at Glacier Point.
The Yosemite Valley and Half Dome are bathed in moonlight under the stars at Glacier Point.

There are many campgrounds spread around Yosemite National Park, but only one in the valley. Most are primitive options with no services.

Reservations are required for all campsites and tend to sell out months in advance. Be aware that overnight parking is not permitted anywhere in the park without a permit. You can find out more about camping in Yosemite on the NPS website.

The most comfortable place to stay nearby is at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. It is the only hotel in the Yosemite village.

The best option for most will be to stay overnight in the town of El Portal. This is the nearest town to the park boundaries and is only a 20 minute drive from the Yosemite Valley. There are plenty of accommodation options as well as places to sleep in your vehicle if you are self-contained.

Click here to check for current availability and prices of accommodation near Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Sunrise FAQs

A fiery Yosemite sunrise on a moody morning from Tunnel View.
A fiery Yosemite sunrise on a moody morning from Tunnel View.

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions by visitors hoping to experience sunrise at Yosemite.

Where can I see sunrise in Yosemite National Park?

The best places to see sunrise in Yosemite are Tunnel View, Valley View, Glacier Point, Washburn Point, and Vista Point. Read on for specific information and photos.

What time can you enter Yosemite NP?

You can enter Yosemite National Park any time, any day, though certain sections such as Hetch Hetchy have seasonal hours.

Do I need a permit to enter Yosemite NP?

Unless you already have an annual pass, you will need to pay entry for Yosemite National Park. The fee is $35 per vehicle. However, there will typically be no one at the gate before sunrise to collect fees.

Do I need a reservation to enter Yosemite NP?

In the past, Yosemite has occasionally required permits during particularly busy times and during the Covid-19 pandemic. As of January 2022, however, no reservations are required to enter Yosemite National Park.

The photographers  of We Dream of Travel bask in the light of a Yosemite sunrise at Glacier Point.
The photographers of We Dream of Travel bask in the light of a Yosemite sunrise at Glacier Point.

What time is sunrise in Yosemite?

The sunrise in Yosemite ranges from 5:22am at the earliest (June) to 7:20am at the latest (December).

What time does the entrance gate open to Yosemite National Park?

You can drive through the entrance gate to Yosemite 24/7, but it is typically manned beginning at 7am. From this point on, you need to provide payment or an entrance pass.

Can I sleep in my vehicle in Yosemite?

Sleeping in your vehicle is considered “freedom camping” and is not permitted within National Parks. It is only permitted in designated campsites. Some sections, such as Tunnel View, are patrolled more heavily due to frequent abuse.

Other Yosemite Guides & Nearby Destinations

Sophie Clapton surrounded by sunbeams during sunrise at Glacier Point.
Taking a moment to enjoy the beginning of a new day.

The following guides may also prove useful in planning your time in and around Yosemite.

Other Yosemite Guides

Mammoth Lakes and Nearby Destinations Guides

Northern California Guides

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8 thoughts on “Sunrise at Yosemite: Top 5 Locations + Photography Tips (2022)”

  1. All of your photos are absolutely stunning, and I simply can’t get over your “fiery Yosemite sunrise on a moody morning from Tunnel View” shot – just WOW! Yosemite has long been on my national parks bucket list, and I personally love visiting all of the national parks at both sunrise and sunset if I can; those are some of the most beautiful times to see the scenery. Thanks for sharing these spots for whenever I’m finally able to visit. Xx Sara

  2. OMG, all of these are simply stunning! Were there many other people who get up for sunrise, or did you end up seeing lots of other people? I always think of Yosemite as being really busy, but I guess sunrise is your best chance of it being quiet!?

    p.s. did you see mush wildlife? I often find early morning is the best for that too!

    • Thank you Josy. Yes there were still people around during sunrise, but certainly a lot less. It’s one of our favorite times to be out because of how much quieter it is. We’ve seen a coyote early morning at Yosemite, and other smaller critters but that’s it. I’m still hoping to see a bear there! You’re right though, early morning is a great time to spot wildlife.


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