Imagine the magic of watching the sky come alive over an endless expanse of canyon desert and that is what it is like to watch sunrise and sunset in Colorado National Monument. The sun casts a golden glow over Monument Canyon, dressing the spires and cliff walls in deep reds and pinks.
But, with over a dozen viewpoints along Rim Rock Drive, the main road in Colorado National Monument, which viewpoints are the best for watching sunrise and sunset?
That’s what this guide aims to answer! This guide to sunrise and sunset in Colorado National Monument covers the best lookout spots, information on how to enjoy it, and some photography tips as well. Enjoy!
Colorado National Monument Entrance Information
The first thing you need to know is that there is a fee of $25 per vehicle to enter Colorado National Monument. If you’re on a motorcycle, it’s $20, and if you are walking or biking, it’s $15. Alternatively, you can enter without a fee if you have an annual National Parks Pass!
Best Sunrise Locations in Colorado National Monument
- Grand View: Grand View is where we chose to watch the sunrise in Colorado National Monument. We loved having the best views in the park over Monument Canyon, Independence Monument, and Grand Valley. There is no hike required to get this viewpoint, and we had it mostly to ourselves!
- Highland View: The Highland View overlook is the highest viewpoint on Rim Rock Drive over Monument Canyon. This is a great place to see the sunrise over the Book Cliffs and Roan Cliffs in the distance. This is also a good place to get a sense of the layering of various rock layers and formations over billions of years, whose colors are even more striking in the golden light.
- Ute Canyon: This is one of the most dramatic and spectacular views in all of Colorado National Monument, so naturally Ute Canyon is an epic place to watch the sunrise.
Best Sunset Locations in Colorado National Monument
- Book Cliffs View: Many visitors, us included, consider the Book Cliffs View to be one of the most awe-inspiring along Rim Rock Road. This is also a popular location for weddings within Colorado National Monument. Sunset wedding at Book Cliffs, anyone?
- Window Rock: The short 0.25 mile one-way trail to Window Rock features more than just a few of a small rock arch. It also gives you views over the canyon right from the rim, which becomes awash in golden rays at sunset.
- Saddlehorn Campground: The Saddlehorn Campground features an epic vista of the canyon, so it’s a perfect place to watch the sunset before tucking into camp for the night!
- Devils Kitchen: Watching the sun light up the towers of Devils Kitchen in No Thoroughfare Canyon was amazing. The rocks glowed as if on fire.
Other Sunrise and Sunset Locations Near Grand Junction
In addition to Colorado National Monument, there are several other places to watch an amazing sunrise or sunset near Grand Junction. Some that we recommend are:
- Mount Garfield: If you can brave the steep hike, sunrise or sunset on top of Mount Garfield overlooking rugged badlands and the town of Grand Junction in the distance is a great option for avid hikers!
- McInnis Canyon: Grand Junction locals consider the Devils Canyon trail system in McInnis Canyon National Conservation area one of the best places to catch sunrise or sunset. While in McInnis Canyon, don’t miss hiking to Rattlesnake Arches!
Colorado National Monument Sunrise and Sunset Viewing Tips
- Make sure you know what time the sun is rising and setting in Grand Junction during your visit. This website can tell you the daily times. Timing is everything when it comes to viewing the sunrise or set!
- In summer, bring a sweater, and in winter, bring a coat! It is chilly in the desert whenever the sun isn’t up, which means whether you are going to Colorado National Monument for sunrise or sunset, you’re going to encounter temperatures much colder than at midday.
- If you want to see the sun itself, face east during sunrise and west during sunset. If you want to see the glow of the sun illuminating the surroundings, face west during sunrise and east during sunset.
- Bring a blanket or foldable chair to sit on during sunrise or sunset.
- Watch out for wildlife on the road in the early mornings and at dusk, when they tend to be most active! Bighorn sheep in particular frequently walk along Rim Rock Drive.
Tips for Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets in Colorado National Monument
While this list is by no means comprehensive, here are some tips when it comes to taking photos of sunrise and sunset in Colorado National Monument.
- If you are using a manual camera, set your aperture between f/8 to f/16 (a mid to small aperture) to help keep your subject in focus.
- To capture sunbursts, align the sun against an edge, like the canyon rim or a spire, and choose a higher number aperture. This creates the starburst effect with sun rays.
- Although it’s tempting to use a higher ISO to compensate for the low light conditions at sunrise and sunset, it’s better to keep your ISO as close to 100 if you can. This will minimize noise in your shots.
- Use Lightroom to edit your photos afterward. You can use our presets (Adventurer Presets) to edit your shots with one click. Click here to buy our presets!
- Use a tripod to keep your camera still. This is important to reduce blur in sunset and sunrise settings where you may be using a slower shutter speed.
- You will want to use a wide lens to photograph the expansive Colorado National Monument. If you are photographing with your smartphone, use the “0.5” setting on your camera.
What should I bring to Sunrise and Sunset in Colorado National Monument?
For sunrise and sunset in Colorado National Monument, here are the basics essentials you should have in your vehicle or on your body:
- National Parks Pass (optional): If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a 12-month period, we highly recommend buying a National Parks Pass like America the Great Pass. We get one every year because it covers entry fees for more than 2,000 locations under the US National Park Service.
- Water bottle: Whether you are hiking or not during your trip to Colorado National Monument, it’s so important to stay hydrated. This REI water bottle comes in so many fun patterns and is a great size for carrying with you on a scenic drive. We also like to bring at least one large gallon jug of water for big road trip days.
- Sun Protection: This is so important even if the sun is only just rising or setting! Sun Bum is our favorite sunscreen brand.
- Sunglasses: I love these wooden frame sunglasses, so they are my go-to.
- Layers: Even in the summer, it gets chilly in the mornings and nights in Colorado National Monument. SmartWool is our favorite layering brand. I wear this pullover all the time and their wool t-shirts are great base layers. There are also SmartWool t-shirts for men!
- Camera: I always bring my Sony a7iii on our adventures. You’ll definitely want to take pictures of the amazing sunrises and sunsets in Colorado National Monument!
- Snacks: Clif Energy Bars are our favorite travel snack, for a good mix of carbs, fats, and protein to power us through early mornings or late nights!
Where should I stay near Colorado National Monument?
Here are some recommended hotel options in Grand Junction and Fruita:
There are a lot of options for where to stay near Colorado National Monument. Saddlehorn Campground is your best option within the park, and the towns of Palisade, Grand Junction, and Fruita are all good options just outside the park.
Saddlehorn Campground within Colorado National Monument is definitely the most convenient location to stay when visiting CNM. The campground is located near the Saddlehorn Visitors Center. You can check Saddlehorn Campground reservations and availability online. The campground itself is a fantastic place to catch the sunset in Colorado National Monument.
Hotels in Fruita, Palisade, and Grand Junction
Fruita, Palisade, and Grand Junction are all excellent bases for a sunrise or sunset trip to Colorado National Monument. Fruita and Grand Junction hug either end of CNM, and Palisade is just outside Grand Junction and a great choice for those who want to see Colorado’s wine country as well.
Grand Junction Hotels
- Hotel Maverick
- Courtyard by Marriott Grand Junction
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Grand Junction Downtown/Historic Main St.
- Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott Grand Junction Downtown
- Days Inn by Wyndham Grand Junction
Palisade/Wine Country Hotels
Final Thoughts on Sunrise and Sunset in Colorado National Monument
Watching the sunrise or sunset is one of the best things to do in Colorado National Monument. While exploring the Monument, don’t miss the many stunning overlooks and hikes on Rim Rock Drive. Some of our favorite hikes are Devils Kitchen, Otto’s Trail, and Coke Ovens. If you want a real adventure, don’t miss remote and forbidding Rattlesnake Arches, one of our favorite hikes in Colorado!