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    Where to watch a sunset or sunrise in Capitol Reef National Park

    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! 

    5 Things We Love About Capitol Reef National Park

    Where to watch a sunset

    Since watching sunsets are more popular in Capitol Reef, let’s talk about these first. 

    Sunset Point 

    image of people watching a sunset
    The clouds blocked the sun for us, ruining our sunset here

    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

    image of sun setting over canyon

    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. 

    Panorama Point 

    image of people standing at panorama point
    Panorama Point offers great panoramic views of the west-facing red cliff walls

    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! 

    Chimney Rock 

    image of overlook
    From Chimney Rock, you can see the parking lot for Panorama Point and the road leading to Sunset Point/Goosenecks

    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. 

    image of road going through red rock country
    In the evening, the sun shines on these walls and illuminates them

    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 

    image of road with canyon walls being lit up by sunlight

    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.  

    Fruita

    image of town of fruita utah
    Morning sun hitting the canyon walls surrounding Fruita

    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.

    Cohab Canyon 

    image of canyon walls at sunrise
    Cohab Canyon lit up by the morning sun

    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.

    image of cohab canyon
    Looking back at Cohab Canyon after having walked through it

    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.

    image of sunrise
    image of woman hiking through desert
    The plateau above also provides views of the white rock formations in the distance

    The Temples of the Sun and Moon

    image of sun rising on red rock formations
    Sunrise on the Temples of the Sun and Moon (from Canva.com)

    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.

    Resources

    ABOUT US

    We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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