by Matt, April 2022
Perhaps you’ve seen one of those famous sunrises at Bryce Canyon or Canyonlands National Parks.
Now you’re visiting Capitol Reef National Park and you’re wondering if it has some must-visit spots for a sunrise or sunset?
Capitol Reef is known for its sunsets because its red rock canyon wall faces west towards the setting sun. The most popular place to watch a sunset is Sunset Point, though there are others to consider. The best place to watch a sunrise is within the town of Fruita, close to the park entrance.
Keep on reading for more places to see a sunrise or sunset!
Where to watch a sunset
Since watching sunsets are more popular in Capitol Reef, let’s talk about these first.
This is the obvious go-to here, but it might be too obvious.
Sunset Point is located just off of Highway 24, but it requires navigating a short dirt road, then walking 1/3 mile to get there.
Here you’ll see the sun hit the Waterpocket Fold in the main section of the park. The sun will be at your back as you look at the walls illuminated by the sun’s rays.
Due to the viewpoint and its name, this is the most popular place to see a sunset in the park. For that reason, the parking lot does fill up early.
Plan on getting there an hour before sunset to increase your chances of getting a parking spot.
Goosenecks overlook is located right by Sunset Point and is accessed by the same parking lot.
Here you’ll be looking directly at the setting sun, but you can’t see the sun hit the rock walls as you do at Sunset Point.
So if you like to see the sun actually drop below the horizon, this is the spot for you.
If you like to see the walls glow, opt for Sunset Point.
If you can’t or don’t want to drive the dirt road to the parking lot for Sunset Point/Goosenecks, Panorama Point is a nice alternative option.
In fact, Panorama provides views of the setting sun as well as the rock walls — so you kind of get the best of both here.
Of course, this is the reason why it’s called Panorama.
Sunset Point provides closer views of the Waterpocket Fold, but I thought Panorama was fantastic and it was a shorter drive with no hike!
Another spot to watch the sunset is Chimney Rock, which actually overlooks the three spots I mentioned already.
Chimney Rock requires a hike to get there. You’ll need to walk up some steep switchbacks, then out to the lookout point.
The entire Chimney Rock hike is about a 3-mile loop, but you don’t need to do the full hike. The overlook (where Chimney Rock is located) is about .5 miles from the trailhead.
I did this hike, but I did it at sunrise and not sunset.
However, I can see why this would be a popular spot — the views from here are already super great, and would only be enhanced by a sunset.
Just keep in mind that it means you’ll be walking back down the switchbacks in the dark.
Fruita/Capitol Reef Scenic Drive
On the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, you’ll drive parallel to the rock wall that runs north and south through the park.
So this makes for good sunset views because the sun illuminates the walls.
These are the same walls you’re looking at from the viewpoints mentioned above, but now we’re right by them.
We saw this first hand on our most recent trip after we finished a later hike in the park, and it was gorgeous.
Since the town of Fruita is located on the scenic drive, it can be a good place to watch the sunset as well.
If you’re camping in the park, even better! You can watch it right from your campground.
Where to see a sunrise in Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef isn’t known for its sunrises because the canyon wall — which makes for such nice sunsets — blocks the rising sun and casts a shade over Fruita and the valley below.
However, we experienced a few nice sunrises. Here are some spots to consider.
Even though Fruita is hidden behind the walls, it’s still nice to see a sunrise.
For one thing, one of the canyon walls faces south, so it gets illuminated in the morning.
Another reason is that it’s just nice seeing horses, barns, homes, and orchards during a sunrise. It really feels peaceful and nostalgic.
This is one reason why it’s so nice to camp in Fruita — it provides a great chance to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
Of the three sunrise hikes we tried, this was my favorite. The reason why is that the sun illuminates the short but sweet Cohab canyon, which appeared to me to glow.
Cohab Canyon is about a 2.5-mile hike that starts in Fruita and climbs quickly before entering Cohab Canyon.
Once through Cohab Canyon, it leads to some overlooks of Fruita. These are great overlooks, but in the morning, you’re watching the shade peel back over the town. It doesn’t illuminate the town, though it does illuminate the south-facing wall (already mentioned above under the Fruita section).
The better sunrise part of the hike is Cohab Canyon itself. Because the walls are red and white, it lights up.
Also, when you start walking to the overlooks, you’ll get up on top of the plateau and you can see the sun actually coming over the horizon.
The Temples of the Sun and Moon
I did not see these famous formations at sunrise, but they face east, so they face the rising sun.
These are located in Cathedral Valley. Getting to them requires driving on a rough dirt road for 15 miles. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach them from the Capitol Reef visitor center.
A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, but I did see a few other people drive their cars out there.
Also, you should always check on the conditions of the road with a ranger at the visitor center before driving out there. Even a slight rain can make the road impassable.
If you’re hoping to see them at sunrise, you’ll need to check with the ranger the day before. If it rains the night before you go, you should avoid driving on the road.
While in the visitor center, consider buying the Cathedral Loop Road Guide for a few dollars. It provides a guide for driving the entire loop, which can take 6-8 hours.
But you don’t have to do the full loop. If you wish, you can just drive to the Temples of the Sun and Moon and return to Highway 24.
Anything Else I Should Know?
Planning a trip to a national park can be overwhelming and time-consuming! If you haven’t heard by now, we offer a must-have Capitol Reef National Park Itinerary and Audio Guide, as well as other locations. Let us take the planning out of your hands.
Our travel guides will provide you with a daily (yet flexible) itinerary to help you see the park. We will get you to all the most important places, at the right time to avoid the crowds, and we tell you exactly how to do it. You can’t go wrong!
- Our Capitol Reef Itinerary and Audio Guide is like having a personal tour guide in your car!
- Check out our Capitol Reef page for all our articles and videos about Capitol Reef
- Sunset and sunrise times for Capitol Reef
- Capitol Reef 4 Incredibly Scenic Drives
- 9 Mistakes to avoid when visiting Capitol Reef National Park