Sunrise and Sunset in the Grand Canyon
“It is almost impossible to watch a sunset and not dream.” —Bernard Williams
Whether you’re a dreamer, a photographer, or just a romantic at heart, I’m sure you’ll agree: there’s nothing quite like a sunset—except maybe a sunrise. The warm colors, the dramatic shadows, the sharp relief—watching the sun rise or set over the Grand Canyon South Rim simply can’t be beat. Here are our favorite places and tips for catching those ephemeral golden rays.
Sunrise and Sunset at the Grand Canyon, By the Season
First up, you gotta’ know when to arrive for the main event!
You can use this quick chart to estimate the times of sunrise and sunset throughout your trip.
Please keep in mind that this is based on the 2022 calendar and will change slightly from year to year. For additional dates, check out the Grand Canyon NPS site.
What Time to Set Out for Sunrise at the Grand Canyon South Rim
I get it. Pulling yourself out from under the covers to face the cold, cruel dark of night is... well, terrible, and you don’t want to do that any earlier than necessary. Here are some driving estimates from nearby towns to Mather Point, one of the first points of interest in the park.
Williams - 1:10 Cameron - 1:05 Flagstaff - 1:40
Page - 2:20 Kanab - 3:40
You can use them to estimate when you need to wake up to see the sunrise, or how long you'll be driving in the dark after sunset. If you’re going further into the park, just add another 15 minutes or so; 30 if you need to catch a shuttle.
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon
Tomikos55, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
When to Arrive
It’s best to arrive about 30 minutes before the sunrise. You’ll arrive in the twilight, have a few moments to get settled, and can wait for the sun to peek out from beyond the canyon. Take advantage of the pre-daybreak light by setting up a long-exposure photograph!
Best Locations to Watch the Sunrise in the Grand Canyon
Mather Point (restroom available)
Yes, it’s probably the most photographed location for sunrises in all of the South Rim. But that’s because the people know—it’s pretty darn spectacular! Mather Point is easy to access, doesn’t require a shuttle, and offers one of the best eastern views in all of the Grand Canyon. It’s honestly not too bad at sunset either. Sure, you won’t be able to center the sun settling into the horizon, but for some stunning last-minute colors, it’s definitely worth a stop on your way out.
Yavapai Point (restroom available)
Yavapai Point, located just past the Yavapai Geoloy Museum and less than a mile west of Mather Point, is a great place to watch the sunrise. It’s also significantly less crowded than the maybe-too-popular Mather Point. The view west opens to a wide, cracked expanse, broken up by the Colorado River. The east looks out to the walls of the canyon itself. This is also a great place for sunsets, but be aware that because it is so accessible, it can get a little crowded.
Yaki Point (restroom available)
Michael Harbour, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Near the famous South Kaibab Trail lies Yaki Point. This viewpoint lets you snap a photo of canyon walls in the midground with the North Rim far in the distance. To get there, you’ll either need to walk or take the Kaibab Shuttle. See our sunset walk in the FAQs below for our plan on how to hike instead of ride. I’ve listed it here for sunrise, but it’s also popular for sunsets. Just be sure to get there a bit early! Not only is it popular, but the sun quickly hides behind a plateau in the canyon foreground in the afternoon.
This high point (literally and figuratively) offers some of the best sunrise views on Desert View Drive. The ribboning buttes and ravines at this rim’s southernmost point make for some truly spectacular early morning photography. Don’t be afraid to either play with or take a few steps away from the pine trees in your foreground!
Duck on A Rock
Feeling a bit... artistic? The unique shape of Duck on a Rock’s, well, rock, makes for interesting, multi-dimensional photographs. Plus, the imagery is so iconic, anyone who looks at it will immediately know where it was taken. Honestly, this spot is often overlooked for more popular spots like Mather Point, but is definitely a Shaka Guide favorite.
Sunset in the Grand Canyon
Murray Foubister, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
When to Arrive
Arriving an hour or more before sunset is best. There are two reasons for this. The first is that sunset is much more crowded than sunrise (not everyone is disciplined enough to wake up early!) The second is to take advantage of the golden hour—the last hour before sunset and the first after sunrise. This is when you’ll get some of the very best photographs, with lots of strong shadows and warm, glowy light.
Best Locations to Watch the Sunset in the Grand Canyon
Hopi Point (restroom available)
This panoramic viewpoint stretches further north into the canyon than any other along the South Rim. It offers wide, sweeping views of the canyon, with the Colorado River winding its way into view from the northwest. Needless to say, this fantastic viewpoint is also one of the South Rim’s most popular. Be sure to secure your spot early!
Pima Point overlooks several points of rapids along the Colorado River and is definitely a sort of hidden gem in the park. While not as popular as Hopi for sunsets, it may actually be even more beautiful. Not only can you see the river, you can often hear it as well. There are railings here, which may give you a little courage if you’re afraid of heights or have kids in tow.
Navajo Point/ Desert View (restroom available)
At Desert View, the watchtower glows in the brilliant orange of a canyon sunset. Try snapping a few pictures in the golden hour before taking the short walk to Navajo Point. At Navajo, the Colorado River below glows like a flaming dragon. The view north to the Colorado River is one of the best in the park–but again, expect to share this golden opportunity with others.
If you’re looking for a more quiet, private place to enjoy the sunset, it’s hard to beat Lipan Point. The canyon framing is lovely, and down at the base of the canyon you can just make out the Colorado River and the tilted supergroup formation.
RELATED: Grand Canyon South Rim Itinerary
Javier Rodríguez, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
1. Which is better, sunrise or sunset?
…Both? They’re equally fantastic. If you want to avoid people in your photos, though, definitely aim for sunrise. Early mornings also tend to have clearer skies and better visibility.
2. Do any of these locations require shuttles?
Yes! Reaching Yaki Point will require boarding the (orange route) Kaibab Shuttle. (Alternatively, you can hike along the South Rim Trail. See the sunset walk below for more information.)
A shuttle will also be required for Hermit Road (red route) stops during the winter months.
3. Are the shuttles available early in the morning and late at night?
They sure are! Shuttles generally open for boarding about an hour before sunrise and run until an hour after sunset. This schedule is subject to change, so be sure to follow this NPS link for the most up-to-date shuttle information. Don’t take a chance and miss the last shuttle out!
4. What do I bring? Anything special?
A coat! And ear muffs! And gloves! ...but really. It’s super cold up there on the rim. Early morning lows in August are usually in the fifties (10–15 Celsius), while winter mornings are almost always below freezing. Like, way below. And don’t think you’re safe at sunset! Once that sun sinks down, it gets cold fast.
5. I’m an amateur photographer. Any tips or tricks?
This photo was taken by Wolfgang Moroder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
You may want to bring a filter for long exposures (and a tripod) or a wide-angle lens. Other than that, don’t forget your cleaning kit. It’s dusty at the canyon!
6. I’d like to see multiple areas at sunrise. What’s the best way to do that?
Take a hike along the South Rim Trail! My suggestion? Start at the Yavapai Geology Museum and continue to Mather Point. It’s only about a half-mile one way. From there, you can always continue to Pipe Creek Vista and on to Yaki Point for a total of about 3 miles. Then, when you’re done, catch the Kaibab (orange) shuttle out.
7. Okay, but what about sunset? Do you have a suggested walk for that?
Yup, Shaka Guide has a plan for that, too! Try exploring the West Rim Trail, which runs parallel to Hermit Road. I suggest starting at Hopi Point and walking to Pima Point—just over a half-mile one-way. Then, if you’re up for it, continue on to Pima Point, another 3.5-miles away.
8. I just want some peace. Where is a quiet place in the park to watch the sun rise or set?
I would suggest Shoshone Point. It’s a mile-long hike to reach it, and to be honest, most people are going to pick the viewpoints that require less effort to reach. This spot is particularly nice because the hike is just long enough to keep the crowds away.
9. I’m going below the rim. Any recommendations down there?
Yes! Plateau Point on the Bright Angel Trail (6 miles in) is a great place to watch the sunrise, as is Ooh Aah Point (1 mile in) on the South Kaibab Trailhead. Check our hiking guide for more trail information.
No matter which you choose - sunrise or sunset at the Grand Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime sight to behold. Check out our Grand Canyon South Rim Tour to visit some of these spots with turn-by-turn navigation, stories and music along the way!
Like this article? Share it on Pinterest!