How do you take something as beautiful as the Grand Canyon and make it even more stunning? See it during sunrise or sunset. Here are some tips on how to see both at their best:
The South Rim is packed with great views. The best for sunrise (and the most accessible from Grand Canyon Village) are Mather and Yaki Points. For sunset, it’s Hopi Point, but be prepared for crowds and full shuttle buses during summer. Other Great east-west panoramas can be had at Mojave, Navajo, and Desert View.
When to Arrive
First, make sure to pick up a copy of The Guide newspaper. Published by the National Park, it’s available for free at all park visitor facilities and includes the most accurate sunrise and sunset times. Remember, too, that Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time (MST), so set your watches accordingly.
For sunrise, arrive 30 minutes before the sun is due to clear the horizon and plan to stay an hour after. Also, dress warmly, even during summer, as dawns are chilly at the Canyon. For sunset, be at your viewpoint 90 minutes before the sun dips below the horizon and stay 10 minutes after
Which is Better?
It’s a coin toss. Here are a few key points that might help you decide:
- Pay attention to the weather. If the night before has been calm and clear, you can expect a sunrise of great clarity before breezes stir up dust into the skies.
- Go in the morning to beat the crowds. Colder weather and making the effort to rise early nearly guarantees fewer people at sunrise viewpoints.
- Thunderstorms add extra drama. The summer monsoon season runs from July to September in the late afternoon, bringing with it big thunderheads and lightning.
- Dust and smoke peak in the evening. Combined, they can intensify a sunset.
- Stargazing is best right after sunset. The night skies above the Grand Canyon are some of the darkest in the U.S.
Getting to the Viewpoints
The free shuttle bus system is the best way to get to all the South Rim’s viewpoints. Buses run one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. Route maps are included in The Guide.
Use the shuttle stop outside Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village as your starting point. Take the Red Line, which goes west, for points along Hermit Road (includes Maricopa, Hopi, and Pima Points). To go east, start with the Blue Line, which will take you as far as Mather Point and the Grand Canyon Information Center. Transfer to the Green Line to reach Yaki Point.
Getting to many of these viewpoints can be a challenge if you or people in your group have mobility issues. The distance from the parking lot to the viewing area can be a bit of stretch. Further, surfaces are rocky and there are stairs. For windshield views or easy access points, consider Hopi and Yaki Points. There are also many un-named turnouts that provide immediate access, such as Pipe Creek Vista, just east of the South Kaibab Trailhead. Also consider getting an accessibility pass from any of the Park’s visitor centers that will let you use Hermit Road and Yaki Point Road year round.
Feeling energetic? Here’s two ways to make your sunrise/sunset viewings extra special:
- Walk the Rim Trail. This is a paved, level path that goes from Maricopa Point to Pipe Creek Vista. It can be accessed from many points along the road, and is perfect for strolls of various lengths.
- Ooh Aah Point. This is a strenuous day 2.4-mile day hike on the South Kaibab Trail that takes you below the rim. The point offers an intimate, tranquil view of the inner canyon. To get there, start with the Blue Line, transfer to the Green Line, and get off at the South Kaibab Trail stop.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is famous for its sunrise and sunset views (play video clip). The most easily accessed sunrise viewpoints are Mather and Yaki Points. For sunset, Hopi Point. Keep an eye on prevailing weather conditions. Clear nights signify spectacular sunrises; during summer, thunderstorms add extra intensity to sunsets. Pick up a free copy of The Guide for accurate sunset/sunrise times. Now get ready to experience the canyon at its most poignant.