Carpe Diem! Nothing showcases this Latin adage more than enjoying the moment the sun comes up or sets. It’s nature’s ultimate canvas, painting the sky with atomic tangerines, fiery reds, and flaxen yellows. To make sure you don’t miss out, here’s some of the best spots to catch a sunrise or sunsets in California High Sierra.
Mono Lake – South Tufa
Mono Lake is a location with no shortage of inspiration when it comes to getting the “shot”, especially in the morning. The Tufa Towers provide an otherworldly backdrop with them either being backlit against a darker sky if shot from the east, or silhouetted against a rosy sunrise if shot from the west.
Directions: Turn east onto Highway 120 from Hwy 395 and go about 5 miles to Navy Beach. You’ll find a Federal (USFS) area with a small parking fee, so be sure to bring a few bucks. Foot paths lead down to the shore which features infinite possibilities of Tufa Tower photos.
For more amazing photo opportunities, check out Mono County’s top 10 Instagram worthy spots.
Yosemite – Cloud’s Rest
When it comes to landscape photography, there’s very few places in the world that provide as many dramatic shots as Yosemite National Park. These wonders range from the classic Tunnel View which we highlighted in our most Instagram worthy spots to El Capitan. But for those looking for something different and more unique, look no further than Cloud’s Rest. The catch? The only way to get there is by hiking… over seven miles one-way on an unnervingly narrow trail. If you do make it, you’ll be rewarded with an unobstructed 360-degree view of the park at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. It seems like the views go as far west as Hawaii and east to Colorado… or at least it’ll feel like that.
Clouds Rest a bit too challenging? If you still want to take the road less traveled or enjoy a sunset with a more relaxed atmosphere, consider a journey to Fresno Dome. Just outside the southern Yosemite gateway town of Oakhurst, this lightly traveled 1.5-mile one-way hike gives you unprecedented 360-degree views of the area. To the east in the far distance, you’ll see towering peaks in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. To the north, Yosemite will be front and center. And to the west on a clear day, the Coastal Range. With such an obstructed view, it’s no wonder that Fresno Dome is one of the best places to take in stargazing in the region as well.
For the best views of a sunrise in Lake Tahoe, it’s a good idea to be on the western shore. From this vantage point, you’ll see the brilliance of the sun coming up over the majestic High Sierra. There really isn’t a bad view either. For beach-lovers, plant yourself right on the shores of Kings Beach. From here, the sun’s rays will reflect off the crystal-clear waters of Big Blue making for a spectacular showcase. It’s also one of the best spots to take in a winter sunset too on the North shore. For a higher viewpoint of a sunrise, consider doing the easy hike up to Eagle Rock.
One of the best sunsets in California is seen from Lake Tahoe’s eastern shore and is a place called Cave Rock. A classic quick trek with a high reward, you can literally see this rock structure from nearly every point on the lake. This long dormant volcano lookout juts out into the lake providing a rare 180-degree view of Lake Tahoe’s waters. Beautiful any time of day, it really shines for sunsets. And to access this view, it only requires a short 15-minute hike.
Rainbow Bridge (Donner Memorial Bridge)
You’ve seen the Rainbow Bridge in countless car commercials. So dramatic. So unique. An engineering feat especially for its time. When the state of California was building a new road over Donner Pass to support automobiles in the roaring twenties, one of the topographical features they had to contend with was a creek. They had to build a bridge that curved AND had a grade. The first of its kind! With Donner Lake in the background and the early 1900’s architecture in the forefront, this might be one of the coolest bridges to get a shot of during the “golden hour.” Just a hop, skip, and jump from historic downtown Truckee, it’s well worth the drive.
Let’s be honest… Mammoth Lakes is a photographer’s Eden. The large, jagged peaks provide a perfect backdrop along with the cobalt blue sky. A vast array of plants, vegetation, and colorful rocks dot the landscape giving you a host of attention seeking points to reference. And when it comes to THE spot for a sunset shot, it’s Minaret Vista. By late summer/early fall, the sun dips perfectly behind the legendary Minarets. And once darkness arrives, the lack of light pollution provides the perfect canvas for night shots as well. For an even bigger adventure, visit the vista in the winter. Snow buries the access road, so the only way to visit is by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to the lookout.
Note: It can cold and windy even on the warmest days so be sure to bring a jacket and hat.
From historic marvels to natural and otherworldly landscapes, the High Sierra is home to a vast playground for photographers and visitors of all sorts. Be sure to hashtag #CAHighSierra on Instagram to show us what you think are the best spots to get a sunrise/sunset photo in the High Sierra.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at https://localfreshies.com
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