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 sunrise in Yosemite, as well as some helpful photography tips and general information for your visit.
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🌅 Yosemite Sunrise Overview
The best places to photograph sunrise at Yosemite year-round are the iconic Tunnel View and the lesser-known Valley View viewpoints.
Many consider Glacier Point the best place for sunrise in Yosemite 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.
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⚠️ *IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR Visiting Yosemite in 2023*
Yosemite Reservations for 2023
Reservations were required in February due to the Yosemite Firefall nature event that occurs each year. However, reservations will not be required for entry into Yosemite National Park. until February 2024.
Note that you still need to pay the entrance fee or show your America the Beautiful Annual Pass at the gate.
Glacier Point Road Closure 2023
Construction began on Glacier Point Road in 2022 and some of this will continue into 2023. Due to this, thirty-minute delays are possible from spring through fall of 2023.
From approximately mid-December through March, the first five miles of this road are open to the Badger Pass Ski Area. It is not possible to drive to Glacier Point when Glacier Point Road is closed.
Check the NPS website for current road closures.
When the road is closed, the only access to Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and other Glacier Point Road destinations is via a long, strenuous hike.
Glacier Point: To reach Glacier Point you would need to hike the Four Mile Trail which is a 9-mile round trip with a 3,200ft elevation gain.
Sentinel Dome: From Glacier Point it is possible to hike a further 3-mile round trip with a 1,000ft elevation gain to reach Sentinel Dome.
Taft Point: Getting to Taft Point requires a further 2-mile round trip hike from Sentinel Dome and another 1,000ft of elevation gain.
If you were to hike to all three, it would be a total of around 14 miles with around 5,000ft elevation gain. For this reason, we do not recommend Glacier Point this year.
📸 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 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
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
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)
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
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
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.
- 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!
🏞 Yosemite Photography Tours & Lessons
While we recommend driving to get to Yosemite early enough to photograph sunrise, we appreciate that this isn’t an option for everyone. If you prefer to have a guide or would like to take a photography lesson in Yosemite, below are some options worth considering.
For capturing sunrise in Yosemite, you will likely want to book a private tour or a backpacking trip to ensure you are within the park early enough.
While not all of these tours have an emphasis on photography in Yosemite, by having a guide, particularly on a private tour, you are going to have someone to take you to some of the best and most beautiful locations. Therefore, you will be in a prime position to capture some incredible photos.
Each of the tours is of different lengths and has different inclusions, such as transport, accommodation, and food. Therefore, please read the details of each one carefully to choose the one that is right for you.
- Experience Yosemite: Beginner or Advanced Photography Lesson: 5/5 ⭐
- Private Guided Hiking Tour in Yosemite: 4.5/5 ⭐
- 2-Day Yosemite National Park Tour from San Francisco: 4.5/5 ⭐
- 4 Day Sierra Nevada Tour of Yosemite and Tahoe from San Francisco: 5/5 ⭐
- 5 Day Yosemite Backpacking – Yosemite Icons: 5/5 ⭐
- 6 Day Yosemite Backpacking – The Hidden Yosemite: 5/5 ⭐
🏕 Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
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.
Click here to check for current availability and prices of accommodation near Yosemite National Park.
🌄 Yosemite Sunrise FAQs
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.
Note that you still need to pay the entrance fee or show your America the Beautiful Annual Pass at the gate.
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.
Unlike the past few years, entrance reservations are NOT required for summer 2023.
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.
📚 More Yosemite Guides & Nearby Destinations
The following guides may also prove useful in planning your time in and around Yosemite.
Other Yosemite Guides
- The Ultimate Guide to Yosemite Firefall for First Time Visitors
- Yosemite Valley Photography Guide
- One Day in Yosemite: Day Trip Guide
- The Perfect Yosemite Itinerary for 1, 2, or 3 Day Visits
Mammoth Lakes and Nearby Destinations Guides
- Discover 10 Free & Natural Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes
- June Lakes Loop Scenic Drive
- Travertine Hot Springs Guide
- Buckeye Hot Springs Guide
Northern California Guides
- The Ultimate Northern California Road Trip
- Incredible Destinations in Shasta-Trinity National Forest
- Burney Falls Ultimate Guide
8 thoughts on “🌅 Sunrise at Yosemite: Top 5 Locations + Photography Tips (2023)”
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
Thank you so much Sara! I hope you make it to Yosemite – it’s one of our favorite parks!
Absolutely prime and gorgeous photography, and you make to seem the taking of these photos easy 🙂
Haha thank you! Anything is easy if you practice enough right?! 😉
Really appreciate the Q&A section! Thanks for such an informative post!
You’re very welcome! I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂
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.