The Sierra Nevada has hundreds of great spots to watch a beautiful sunrise. Like much of the exploring visitors do, perspective on a location is everything. Do you like first light while deep in a canyon, or do you prefer vista views of the horizon?

This list includes 23 locations our readers and staff highly recommend for sunrise lovers in the Sierra. Of course, some will require a night out in the mountains, but who are we to complain!

A woman embranced beautiful sunrise at Emerald Lake, California
A woman embranced beautiful sunrise at Emerald Lake, California

Truckee donner summit – Donner Summit at sunrise is what classic mountain life is all about. Reflections on donner lake below, blasting sunshine cresting over the MT Rose Wilderness and warming your face.

Lake of the Woods desolation wilderness -Lake of the Woods in Desolation has a beautiful rocky shoreline, providing a unique foreground for sunrise photography. The large trees surrounding the lake play with the light as it crests over Rubicon ridge.

Lake Gilmore: Lake Gilmore is one of the clearest lakes in desolation, and the reflections of Dicks peak on one side or the revealing of Tallac peak from the other side make a great place to wake up in the wilderness, especially when the water is calm and reflective.

Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park – There are several areas in Yosemite to sit on a ridge and watch an epic sunrise. But is there any better shot than the sun rising below Half dome and bringing the Cathedral range to light?

Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes – Like the perfect catcher’s glove of light, Convict canyon captures the light and reflects pure beauty when the lake is calm.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe –  A Iconic location with fewer crowds arguably makes for a better morning view. Sunrise over Lake Tahoe is stunning; from Emerald Bay it is a postcard.

Mount Whitney, Lone Pine 

Mono Lake, Lee Vining- We like the vista view from 395 above the lake, but the morning light on Mono Lake is pure Sierra magic.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park – Moro Rock is also a great spot to watch the sunrise! Few people will summit the rock by 6 am, so you’re nearly guaranteed a private show!

Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park – First Light and Last light at Grants Grove are special. These giants have a way of dancing with the captivating light.

Death Valley’s Dantes View – Located at an elevation of 5,475 feet, Dante’s View offers a stunning panoramic view of Death Valley, with the sun rising over the distant mountains.

Echo Lakes – Desolation wilderness – A couple of ways to enjoy sunrise at Echo Lake. You can view the sunrise above Lake Tahoe by enjoying the Vista just above the lodge. Personally, I love hiking the trail at dawn as it warms Desolation wilderness Ahead. However, the best sit-and-enjoy location is just past Upper Echo Lake looking back at the lake from a little elevation.

Alabama Hills, Lone Pine –While this place is stunning no matter what time of day you visit, the best time for photos of Movie Road is at sunrise

Tioga Lake, Yosemite National Park – Not only are you about to enter Yosemite, but getting here before sunrise is unique. The reflection of Grizzly mountain and Mt Danna on the lake are stunning.

Virginia Lakes, Bridgeport – The color of the canyon walls as the sun twists and turns in the canyon are dazzling. Climbing above Blue lake and watch the color of the water change before your eyes on a clear day.

Valentine Lake – Mammoth Ca – With the fresh mountain air, old-growth pines, and stunning lake views, this hike that takes you into the John Muir Wilderness simply cannot be missed. 

Lake Sabrina – John Muir Wilderness – Climbing the hillside on the south side of Sabrina Lake, the trail leads to a series of high alpine meadows and lakes in Sabrina Basin surrounded by glacier-flanked 13,000 ft. granite peaks. Reflections at sunrise are inspiring.

Nelson Lake – Yosemite National Park – Off the grid a bit, but too dazzling not to be on this list. The son spots ChoCho rock early, and the grassy meadow sings with life.

Young Lakes – Yosemite National Park  Each lake of the three has its own sunrise. But the corner piece of all three views is Ragged peak burning bright as a son lights the torch and continues down the granite slopes, all while giving early risers the best reflection photo shots in Yosemite.

Death Valley National Park – Across from Bad Water basin or Mesquite dunes 

The Mist trail Yosemite National Park – This is a dark place early in the morning, but the one thing we always enjoy about the mist trail in the morning is fewer people and watching the light dance through the mist off the wet rocks.

May Lake – Yosemite National Park – May lake holds a secret for sunrise lovers. The reflection of Mt Hoffman on the lake is beautiful and magazine worthy, but the ridge to the east is the perfect seat for a Sierra sunrise. Watch the sunlight in the Catherdral range and the White mountain range to the east, then pound the dark into submission in the valleys below.

Kings Canyon Panoramic Point – Kings Canyon Panoramic Point is an excellent spot for sunrise and a great place to catch a trail early in the morning.

Mono Lake Sunrise by Diana Universe

Thank you for reading our Sierra Rec magazine March 2023 Spring edition. If you liked this content please share it with friends and consider Joining our community and supporting our writers. We offer a great annual donation subscription program for $18 a year with 40% Donated back to local trail programs.



Publisher of Sierra Rec Magazine. An avid hiker and explorer of mountain lifestyle and adventure. I love to discover new trails, hike along rivers and hang a hammock along the shores of a mountain lake. I often great people on the trail and have found some of my favorite places from the advice of people I meet in the Wilderness. I love the sierra and just like sharing what I know.

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