When you are in Yosemite National Park, one of the U.S.’s most popular National Parks, whether for a short or a long time, watching beautiful sunrise in Yosemite by losing a little bit of extra sleep is should be on your bucket list for sure.
Because watching a sunrise in Yosemite National Park is one of the magical things to do when you are here.
This magnificent national park in California is packed with loads of geological wonders scattered amidst the mystic, vast expanse.
It comprises thousands of rock formations, waterfalls, streams, rivers, and mountains dotted with forests, offering plenty of beautiful scenery sunsets that you can enjoy against various horizons.
In this post, I will share the best places to watch the Yosemite sunrise, valuable tips, and how to make the most of your experience, including taking stunning pictures.
HOW TO GET TO YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK?
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Mountains range in the eastern part of California. The nearest city to Yosemite is Sacramento, about 3 hours away.
By flight – Depending on your departure destination, you can fly into the closest airports, although you will need a rental car to get to Yosemite from any of these.
You can fly into San Jose, Oakland and San Franciso airports, and from any of these, it takes about 4 hours to arrive at Yosemite.
By road – Many people include a trip to Yosemite National Park as a weekend getaway or a part of many possible road trips in this part of California. Yosemite National Park can be entered through Highways 120, 140, or 41.
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Alternatively, you can plan a day trip to Yosemite, which is the best option to cover the top attractions, including witnessing a Yosemite sunset.
WHERE TO STAY IN AND NEAR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK?
With about five entrances and a distance of over 2.5 hours between a few of them, you can imagine the massive size of Yosemite National Park, which has loads of places to stay.
You can choose between lodges, campgrounds, and glamping sites if you plan to stay in the park.
If you are visiting Yosemite for the first time and plan to include watching a sunset or a sunrise, I would recommend staying in the Yosemite valley as it is centrally located, giving access to many of the spots for sunsets in Yosemite.
PLACES TO STAY IN THE YOSEMITE VALLEY
Since the Yosemite Valley is the most popular area, you have plenty of options to choose to stay.
My favourite pick is The Ahwahnee, a stunning luxury hotel with fine dining, gorgeous views and many amenities for a relaxing stay.
Another comfortable place to stay in the valley is Yosemite Valley Lodge in Yosemite village.
Places to stay outside the Yosemite Valley
El Portal 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 in this town, which you can check here.
Click here to check for current availability and prices of places to stay near Yosemite National Park.
Rush Creek Lodge is a beautiful, luxury lodge outside the Big Oak Flat entrance, which is about 1 hour from Yosemite Valley
Tenaya Lodge – If you want an amazing stay and do not mind spending a few extra bucks, I would highly recommend Tenaya Lodge located in Fish Camp, south of Wawona.
It takes about 1 hour 20 minutes from here to reach Yosemite Valley, but this is one of my favourite stops for all the place offers, which is totally worth the money. Check prices to book here.
Campgrounds and Glamping options
There are many campgrounds spread around Yosemite National Park, and if you want to stay in the park, there is only one option.
You can choose depending on your preferred location, amenities, availability, and budget. But most are basic without amenities.
Note that as expected, the popular ones get booked quicker, like more than 6 months to a year before, so you will have to reserve your spot if camping is on your Yosemite itinerary.
Also, be aware that overnight parking is not permitted anywhere in the park without a permit. You can find out more about camping in Yosemite here.
Here is a list of some of the campgrounds that you can check out:
Yosemite Pines Cabins and Campground that comes with tent and RV sites and cabins in Groveland. It takes about 1.5 hours to arrive at the Yosemite Valley.
Housekeeping Camp Glamping – A suitable campground that comes with electricity, and comfortable canvas tents.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located off Tioga Pass Roa. It is open only when the Tioga Pass road is open during the summer and late spring months.
Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines Campgrounds – A huge group of campgrounds scattered around, that comes with tents, suitable for RVs as well.
TOP SPOTS TO WATCH EPIC SUNRISE IN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK IN CALIFORNIA
No matter where you are and no matter what time of day, Yosemite offers you tons of stunning places with fantastic views of the valleys. But, if you’re looking for the best place to watch the sunrise in Yosemite, I’ve got you covered.
Let’s check out the best spots for Yosemite sunrise right away.
Location: Before the Wawona Tunnel, Yosemite Valley
Best Season: All year
The most popular spot for witnessing a magical sunrise in Yosemite is Tunnel View, hands-down.
Tunnel View is an iconic place to photograph sunrise in Yosemite National Park as it offers dramatic views of the Yosemite Valley and its many stunning attractions, including the Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls – one of the many incredible waterfalls in Yosemite, and almost the entire valley on the horizon.
Since the sun will rise directly in front of the foreground for the most part of the year, the light conditions are fantastic and perfect for splendid pictures.
You will witness the surreal shades of Yosemite Valley as the sun rises in the sky casting its rays against those granite peaks as you watch a beaming El Capitan and Half Dome.
HOW TO REACH TUNNEL VIEW?
You will come across Tunnel View if you arrive in the valley from the South entrance to the park. If you are coming from any other entrances, you’ll have to drive through to Wawona Road in the valley.
The viewpoint is only steps away from the parking lot, just before the Wawona Tunnel.
A quick tip – Since Tunnel View is so popular, parking can be difficult as expected, despite the large parking lot.
If you are into doing thorough photography or creating videos, I would highly recommend you reach there at least a few hours before setting your equipment in the best spot that other photographers occupy.
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Location: Glacier Point Road, Yosemite Valley
Type: Drive /Hiking trail
Best Season: Late Spring, Summer
Another spot considered the best for watching a stunning sunrise in Yosemite is Glacier Point. The top reason is its high elevation, due to which you can enjoy incredible, unobstructed views of the splendid panoramas, including some fantastic geological wonders.
It would be best to get on the Glacier Point road that takes you high above Yosemite Valley, leading to Glacier Point.
You can overlook Yosemite Valley, a side-on view of Half Dome and the High Sierras. On a clear day, you can spot Vernal and Nevada Falls too.
HOW TO REACH GLACIER POINT?
You can either drive or hike to Glacier Point for enjoying the stunning sunset in Yosemite Park from this spot.
You have to take Glacier Point Road, which is open from May to early November. It is a 1-hour drive along a windy road from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point parking. Also, you will need to go early to get the best spot for capturing Yosemite sunrise from Glacier Point.
I recommend taking the driving route if you want to capture many fantastic landscapes on the way as the drive is beautiful.
If you are visiting Yosemite in winter, you cannot reach this road to Glacier Point as it is closed during winter and early spring due to snowfall.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME?
The best time to visit Glacier Point to watch a stunning sunrise in Yosemite National Park is from late spring to early Fall and the months when the road is open for the drive.
You can also head on a hike along the well-laid Four Mile Trail that takes you from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point.
Note that this is a challenging and long hike that is about 9.6 miles round trip and an altitude gain of over 3,200 feet. So I would suggest hiking to Glacier point only if you are a seasoned hiker.
A quick tip – Since this is a very popular spot for viewing a sunrise in Yosemite, the medium-sized parking lot fills quickly, and you cannot park on the side of the road as you can be fined.
Location: Yosemite Valley
Best Season: All year
Sentinel Bridge, located in the centre of Yosemite Valley, is one of the easily accessible spots for witnessing beautiful sunrise in Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite.
You can also see the view of Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge built across the Merced River and its reflection.
You can witness surreal views of Half Dome and its reflection in the calm Merced River as the sky gets painted by shades of pink, red, and purple during sunrise.
In the Fall, the foliage of the dense jungles adds to the dramatic colours creating picture-perfect postcard sunrise in Yosemite, which I love admiring.
HOW TO REACH?
Drive to the Sentinel Bridge, or better, park your car at one of the spots and take a short walk amidst the meadows to arrive here.
You can park right beside Sentinel Bridge in the small designated parking area if you drive, but since it is a famous spot, the parking lot gets full quite early.
In that case, park at the visitor parking along Northside Drive by the Yosemite Village Visitor Center.
Location: Yosemite Valley
Best Season: All year
Located along the beautiful Merced River is another fantastic spot to watch an epic sunrise in Yosemite, the Valley View.
It is one of the underrated Yosemite sunrise spots, which is a surprise given the gorgeous views you can enjoy.
It is one of the places where you can witness the Half Dome and El Capitan in the same frame. You can get excellent photos of the sun rising over the Yosemite Valley with the Merced River upfront.
Try to capture the reflection of sunrise on the surface of the Merced River for more dramatic effects of the vibrant colours.
HOW TO REACH?
Although it is a year-round spot, you can get the best shots when the sunrises within the frame and stays in the background during the early morning hours giving to the many hues in the sky.
If you are aiming for a colourful sunrise in Yosemite here, I’d suggest you plan a trip here during the late spring or summer months.
Look for Valley View on Google Maps and follow the route as there are no notable signboards.
Since this spot has become popular, getting a parking place in the lot has become challenging as the size is smaller.
So make sure you are here at least an hour before to get the best of your time. You will have to go back from here as the Valley View is the last on the loop on this road, a 10-minutes drive.
Location: Yosemite Valley Type: Drive
After a couple of amazing Yosemite mountain-top sunsets, head to the beautiful Merced River, located in the Yosemite Valley to watch a gorgeous sunrise over it.
Unlike the other ones on this list, you can easily witness Yosemite sunrise without hiking or driving along a windy road.
The Merced River flows through the High Sierras, down through Yosemite Valley, and out of the park for nearly 150 miles, flowing beautifully through the entire Valley.
As the sun casts the Alpine glow on the walls, you can see before the colour turns bright orange and red.
If you time it right and you get lucky, you can catch the reflections of El Capitan and the Three Brother in the Merced River.
HOW TO REACH?
Drive to Cathedral Beach in the Yosemite Valley, an easy drive.
LESS-CROWDED SPOTS TO WATCH THE SUNRISE IN YOSEMITE
SWINGING BRIDGE (NEAR YOSEMITE FALLS)
Location: Yosemite Valley
Type: Drive and a walk
Best Season: Spring to early Summer
Among the top attractions of the national park is Yosemite Falls, the magnificent Fall that is the highest in the park visible from almost anywhere.
You can witness a stunning sunrise spectacle in Yosemite involving these vast waterfalls at the Swinging Bridge across the Merced River.
The sun gently comes through the Valley during sunrise and lights up the mist.
You will see bright orange, golden, and yellow hues around the cliffs from where Yosemite falls plunges during the sunset, creating magical sights to enjoy and capture on your lenses.
HOW TO REACH?
You’ll come across Swinging Bridge as you drive into Yosemite Valley along Southside Drive, entering the loop between Yosemite Chapel and the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area.
Follow the sign on the left for the parking lot and a wooden bridge nearby. If you walk along the bridge looking to your right, you’ll see one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, Yosemite Falls.
Since the parking lot here is small, it will be tough to find a spot unless you plan to arrive here at least a few hours before.
Location: Yosemite Valley Type: Drive
Vista Point, located on Big Oak Flat Road, is one of the offbeat spots to watch a stunning sunrise in Yosemite National Park.
Although the views may not be as enriching and dramatic as the others on this list, it is worth stopping by as you can still witness the various hues of the sun at dawn from Vista Point.
It is a steep winding road, and the journey is as significant to reach the point with many panoramic views of the valley.
HOW TO REACH?
Look for Big Oak Flat Road Vista Point on Google Maps, a continuation of Highway 120 from the west, different from the Vista Point on Highway 140.
Unless you specifically mention Big Oak Flat Road, Google Maps will show this one, so make sure not to get lost.
You can park at the roadside before a tunnel once you reach it.
Location: Glacier Point Road, Yosemite Valley Type: Drive
Also located at the top of Glacier Point Road is the Panorama Trail, which is located at a higher elevation offering stunning views of the sunrise in Yosemite National Park.
Although it is a long drive along the windy road, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the distinct angles of Yosemite Valley everywhere.
EL CAPITAN MEADOW
Among the popular meadows in the Yosemite Valley is El Capitan Meadow, which passes by the landmark El Capitan, a 3000-foot granite monolith land formation and one of the iconic landmarks in the park, also including the Cathedral.
You can witness the beautiful hues of dawn around sunrise in Yosemite on this lush meadow, which is also an ideal place for a picnic and short walks around.
HOW TO REACH?
Drive to El Captian bridge and you can park anywhere at the Northside of the river. From here, you can spot the meadow right across.
TIPS FOR WATCHING SUNRISE IN YOSEMITE
Check the weather – Before planning your trip and once you arrive, keep tracking for any weather changes to watch the Yosemite sunset. Haze, fog, and winds mean that it is not worth waiting for the evening.
Look up sunrise times before you go – To time for the best photos and shots, make sure to look up the sunrise timings at the specific location you plan to be. Although these spots are in the same park, the sunrise times at each are different, so look up before going to any of them.
Intermittent or no cell service – Many parts of the national park have limited or no cell service, so plan your trip accordingly.
Download all maps – Before you enter the park, download all the details you need, including all the attractions, maps to all the spots, parking lots and other things on to your phone as there is limited cell service. You can download Google maps for Yosemite, the surrounding areas, and AllTrails.
Check Yosemite’s website – The required permits, entry timings, the opening and closing of many hiking trails, roads, and activities keep often changing due to events like the wildfires. So keep checking the official website to see that there are no last-minute changes and surprises.
Arrive Early – Although I have stressed this one for each sunset spot in Yosemite, I need to state again that being late means you will look for parking and make way through the crowds, which will take away many minutes of the sunrise moments
Plan to book well in advance, even in off-seasons – Whether you are going to go camping or stay in lodges, hotels or apartments, you need to book in advance while planning your Yosemite trip.
Lodge reservations are released a year before, and within a few weeks, they tend to get filled for the peak months. You need to check the timings and book at least more than six months before.
The same goes for campgrounds, for which the reservations are released six months before. You need to book your accommodation for a summer trip at the start of the year, and you can make all reservations via Recreation.Gov.
Parking at Yosemite sunrise spots – Although securing a space in the parking lot may not be that of a bigger problem when compared to sunset times, if you are visiting in peak season, you could find it difficult to find parking, especially in popular Yosemite sunrise viewpoints. I would recommend you to reach quite early during the high seasons
Yosemite National Park entrance fee – If you frequently visit USA national parks, you can use America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass to get into Yosemite which costs US80 per year.
The one-time entry fee otherwise is $35 for entry with a car and $20 per person on foot or bike for 7 days.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SUNRISE IN YOSEMITE
Can you enter Yosemite at night?
Since Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours a day, yes, you can enter Yosemite at night. However, note that not all entry gates are open.
If you are driving into the park between 6 am–4 pm, you will need to buy tickets and a parking fee.
How many days do you need in Yosemite?
Ideally, you will want at least 5 to 6 days to experience the most popular places inside Yosemite National Park, although the more time you have the better.
When is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park?
Summer months are the most popular since you have loads of activities that you can enjoy in Yosemite. But Spring and Fall are also fantastic months for the foliage and fewer tourists.
PIN SUNRISE IN YOSEMITE FOR LATER READING
TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Jet Radar, Kiwi, or 12go.Asia (for Asia planning). Book and fly mid-week, taking red-eyes flights or those in the early mornings for better deals and lower prices. Avoid check-in bags on a budget airline.
Booking Trains: The best websites for booking trains anywhere in Europe are Rail Europe and TrainLine. Both are easy to manage online and track your journeys.
Booking Cars: For the best prices and easy handling of renting a car for road trips and day trips, I’d recommend Discover Cars or Rental Cars, available throughout the world.
Accommodations: I typically use HotelsCombined or Booking.com to book hotels. There are special getaway deals with amazing discounts(over 50%!) for this year on Booking.com, and you can find them here.
I use Hostelworld and Agoda to book hostels as the deposit is low, easy change/cancellation is available and reviews are excellent on both. Depending on the destination, I love staying in VRBOs/homestays.
Travel Insurance: No matter whether it is a short trip or longer trips abroad, I strongly recommend buying travel insurance for international trips. I recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance.
Tours: Being a solo traveler, one of the best ways to optimize my time, budget, and super importantly, meet amazing people from all over the world is by joining tours, especially food tours, walking tours, day trips, culture, and history tours.
You will get a local’s perspective, the best opportunities to experience places and people closely. I book using GetYourGuide, Klook, Viator, and Voyagin.
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