πŸŒ… Sunrise at Yosemite: Top 5 Locations + Photography Tips (2024)

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, the light is spectacular, and 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.

As a professional landscape photographer, I have made dozens of trips to Yosemite National Park. Despite not being a morning person, sunrise is still my favorite time to be in the park.

In this guide, I will feature what I consider to be the best locations to watch the sunrise in Yosemite. In addition, I will provide you with helpful photography tips and useful information for any first visit.

πŸŒ… Yosemite Sunrise Overview

Glacier Point sunrise at Yosemite

πŸ† The iconic Tunnel View lookout is the best place to photograph sunrise at Yosemite year-round.

πŸ₯ˆ Glacier Point is arguably the best place for sunrise in Yosemite overall, but only when you can get to it! Seasonal road closures severely limit opportunities to photograph from Glacier Point.

πŸ₯‰ During the right time of year, the lesser-known Valley View viewpoint becomes the best sunrise spot in Yosemite.

πŸŒ… The exact location where the sun rises varies throughout the year. This is particularly relevant as Yosemite Valley is the only region open all year, but it is also surrounded by large granite cliffs that obstruct the view of sunrise from most locations.

πŸ“Έ Best Locations for Sunrise at Yosemite National Park

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.

Its accessibility combined with epic views makes Tunnel View 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.

Despite photographing here more times than I can count, this view first thing in the morning never fails to impress me.

Be aware that the parking area often fills up very early, and will typically be congested.

If you want to set up a tripod, I recommend arriving at least 45 minutes prior to sunrise as photographers will line up early to hold their spot.

Try to get there at least 15 minutes before sunrise if you are just hoping to watch or photograph with a phone.


2. 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 perhaps my favorite sunrise vista in all of Yosemite.

Due to the high elevation, sunrise views are far less obstructed than those in the Yosemite Valley. Additionally, the side-on view of Half Dome and the valley below is spectacular from Glacier Point.

The downside to planning your sunrise shoot at Glacier Point is that the road is only open seasonally and can be closed unexpectedly at any time of year due to snow.

Additionally, it takes about 45 minutes to drive up the road and more time still to walk to the viewpoint. This means a VERY early alarm regardless of where you are staying.


3. 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 equally photogenic 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 when photographing sunrise at Valley View.

  1. There is no official sign, so you will have to rely on Google Maps to deliver you to the right parking area.
  2. Parking is extremely limited! It is not as popular as Tunnel View, but there is also far less space. Try to arrive at least 30-45 minutes early.
  3. The Valley Loop road is one-way only. 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. There is no shortcutting this.

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 Valley View sunrises.


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 top 3 Yosemite sunrise locations, 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 spot a bit of an effort. However, those entering from Hwy 120 to the north (coming from Groveland) will pass by this location naturally on their way into the park.

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 result if you do not type in the search specifically as stated.

If you are coming from Hwy 120, you will arrive at a small roadside pull-off just before a tunnel with expansive easterly views. This is the right place.


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 located at the top of Glacier Point Road, meaning it can only be visited seasonally and 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.

🎟 Yosemite Reservations in 2024

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.

In 2024, reservations are required during the following weekends:

  • February 10–11
  • February 17–19
  • February 24–25

This is due to the Yosemite Firefall natural event that occurs during this time. Even if you do not intend to visit Horsetail Falls, reservations will still be required during these dates,

Note that even with a reservation, you still need to pay the park entrance fee.

At present, these are the only dates that require reservations in 2024. I recommend checking on the Yosemite NPS website for the most up-to-date information.

πŸ”Ž LEARN MORE:
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO YOSEMITE FIREFALLS

❄️ Yosemite Seasonal Closures

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.

Be aware that the time of year you are planning a visit will impact your options for exploration.

Both the Tioga Pass and Glacier Point roads will be closed during winter, limiting you to just the Yosemite Valley.

Depending on the weather, closures typically begin in November through late May or early June.

Check the NPS website for current road closures.

🎞 Yosemite Photography Tips & Equipment

A couple taking a moment to enjoy the sunrise at Yosemite National Park

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 I recommend:

  • 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 a 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.
  • 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 when shooting in low light, such as sunrise, and want to keep your images noise-free.

πŸ• 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 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.

πŸŒ„ 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?

Reservations are often required in February due to the Yosemite Firefall nature event that occurs each year. However, reservations are not required for entry outside of this month.

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 6am. 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 heavily patrolled due to frequent abuse.

πŸ“š More Yosemite Guides & Nearby Destinations

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

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

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Yosemite Sunrise Spots

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

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this guide on the best spots for watching sunrise in Yosemite useful as you plan your visit to America’s best National Park.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

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Or perhaps this is the best guide you’ve found on the topic and had all of your questions answered?

Regardless of your thoughts, we want to hear them! Help us to help future readers like yourself by providing your feedback in the comments below.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

Was there any information that you found confusing, inaccurate, outdated, or missing?

Or perhaps this is the best guide you’ve found on the topic and had all of your questions answered?

Regardless of your thoughts, we want to hear them! Help us to help future readers like yourself by providing your feedback in the comments below.

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

8 thoughts on “πŸŒ… Sunrise at Yosemite: Top 5 Locations + Photography Tips (2024)”

  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

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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