There is nothing better than beginning your day than enjoying the stunning Tucson sunrise soaking the typical desert panoramas of Arizona with brilliant yellow, blue, pink and golden hues. 

Given its excellent location and the tremendous clear skies, it is no wonder that Tucson is one of the best cities for stargazing in Arizona and the United States. 

The neighbourhoods around Tucson are surrounded by stunning Sonoran desert landscapes dotted with saguaro and many other types of cacti, bathing and glowing with the warm tones of dawn, forming enchanting silhouettes. And if you are here in spring, you will be rewarded with colourful wildflowers dotting the terrains everywhere.

From quick or adventurous hikes to watch Tucson sunrise to an easy-to-access drive-through spot, below is the list of the best sunrise spots in Tucson, which is a must-visit activity.

In this detailed guide, check out the best places to watch the sunrise in Tucson that needs to go on your itinerary.

WHERE TO WATCH THE BEST TUCSON SUNRISE

TUMAMOC HILL

  • Distance from Tucson – 4 miles
  • Driving duration – 10 minutes
  • Average Hiking Distance – 1.5 miles one way
  • Hiking duration – 2 to 3 hours
  • Difficulty level – Moderate
  • Parking – Available

Tumamoc Hill, a nature preserve owned by the University of Arizona, is a popular hiking spot and one of the best places to watch epic Tucson sunrise and a beautiful sunset in Tucson.

It is open to visitors from 4 AM to 10 PM, making it a convenient hike for adventure seekers.

Tucson sunset spots

The three-mile loop on a well-paved road up and down the hill involves switchback and gets steep on the ascent, where you will climb 700 feet.

SENTINEL PEAK(A MOUNTAIN)

  • Distance from Tucson – 5 miles
  • Driving duration – 13 minutes
  • Hiking duration – 30 minutes
  • Parking – Available

One of the cool spots to watch a fantastic Tucson sunrise is Sentinel Peak. Also famous as “A” Mountain due to the iconic painted letter A on the hillside in 1910 by a group of students of the University of Arizona on the east face of Sentinel Peak, it is one of the most convenient places to watch the sunset in Tucson as well.

You can drive to Sentinel Peak, and if you are in the mood for a workout, you can walk to the summit, a quick hike that will get your heart rate up.

Tucson sunrise spots

To reach Sentinel Peak, take Congress Street West from downtown Tucson and turn left up Sentinel Peak Road. Keep going until you arrive at the large parking lot.

If you want to get to the top from the parking lot, you can choose one of the loop trails that curve around the east face and up to the summit. From the top, enjoy the beautiful colours of the setting sun against the city skyline.

KENNEDY LAKE

  • Distance from Tucson – 8 miles
  • Driving duration – 15 minutes

One of the most conveniently located places to watch a beautiful sunrise in Tucson is Kenndy Lake Park, located only 15 minutes from downtown near La Cholla.

It is a popular picnic spot among locals thanks to the vast green grass spaces with many picnic tables and benches spread around the park. 

The parking lot is also huge, and the top facilities and amenities include a baseball field with a fence, a tennis court, a pool, and a playground.

For the best Tucson sunrise views, head to the lake on the premises home to ducks, where you can take a leisurely morning walk, accompanying runners and joggers. Fishing is possible in the lake, and you can also access a few trails that will lead you to the foothills of the Tucson Mountains from here.

CATALINA STATE PARK

  • Distance from Tucson – 13 miles
  • Driving duration – 23 minutes
  • Average Hiking Distance – 1.3 miles one way
  • Hiking duration – 3 to 4 hours
  • Difficulty level – Easy
  • Parking – Available

If you are up for a short and beautiful hike to watch the gorgeous Tuscon sunrise, head straight to Catalina State Park, where you will be treated to a Tucson sunset comprising magnificent grey-tinged granite peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains and thousands of Saguaro cacti forming splendid silhouettes.

You can choose any of the easy-moderate trails. Still, the most famous sunset hike in Tucson in Catalina State Park is the Canyon Loop Trail. 

This 2.3-mile loop hike takes you through beautiful landscapes and incredibly vibrant desert blooms if you are here in spring before opening up to stunning Tucson sunrise views with the granite peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the foreground.

There are many spots to pause, sit, and take pictures on the way.

You can also camp here at the foothills and admire the stunning displays transforming the Sonoran Desert.

GATES PASS

  • Distance from Tucson – 9 miles
  • Driving duration – 20 minutes
  • Parking – Available

One of the top spots for an epic Tucson sunrise and sunset is Gate Pass, a favourite among the locals and tourists. Located in Tucson Mountain Park, you will be treated to fantastic views of the sunset in Tucson over the clifftop offering gorgeous panoramas of the desert mountains landscapes filled with Prickly pear, Saguaro, and Chollas spanning miles and miles.

Thanks to its immense popularity, expect crowds here almost all the time, and you need to be here early if you need a fantastic spot to enjoy the surreal Tucson sunrise views.

It is a beautiful drive to reach this mountain pass just west of Tucson. 

You can access Gate Pass from Tucson by driving on Speedway and up a long hill, which becomes Gates Pass Road, where the road becomes narrow. 

You will pass through this winding road with many drop-offs, offering stunning desert views as you gain an elevation of over 3,000 feet. 

There are several pullouts to stop and admire the views, but the best is at the central Gates Pass. You have a parking area at the Gate Pass.

You can choose from the many viewing platforms close to the parking lot or take one of the many trails to find your perfect Tucson sunset or sunrise views in Tucson, where the incandescent glow of the sun magically transforms the arid panoramas with touches of red, yellow, orange and gold.

TUCSON MOUNTAIN PARK

  • Distance from Tucson – 16 miles
  • Driving duration – 21 minutes
  • Average Hiking Distance – 1 to 5 miles one way(depending on the trail)
  • Hiking duration – 2 to 4 hours
  • Difficulty level – Easy to Moderate
  • Parking – Available

Another place close to Saguaro National Park to enjoy the fantastic Tucson sunrise is Tucson Mountain Park, also close to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. 

The drive to the park is beautiful, as the classic Arizona landscapes are packed with many Saguaro cacti, prickly pear, and barrel cactus along the way.

You can stop at one of the many pullouts to enjoy splendid views along this windy road that climbs up the mountain. 

Enjoy the stunning sunrise in Tucson from one of the many viewpoints along the way, or head to Tucson Mountain Park, which offers plenty of opportunities for mountain biking, running, and hiking across its beautiful vast expanse of wilderness.

Entry to the park is free, and you can collect maps. You have a few loop trails to choose from if you want to hike to watch fantastic sunrise and sunset views.

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK EAST

  • Distance from Tucson – 24 miles
  • Driving duration – 30 minutes
  • Parking – Available

Home to the tallest and the most extensive collection of Saguaro Cacti in the world, Saguaro National Park East is one of the best spots to watch epic Tucson sunrise and sunset in Tucson. 

The national park closes around 5:30 PM, and there is an entry fee that can be paid at the visitor centre.

If you cannot make it for the afternoon hike, another alternative is to watch the beautiful Tucson sunset by driving the Cactus Forest. 

best Tucson sunrise spots

This drive is also one of the best routes if you prefer driving over hiking to watch the beautiful early morning colours of dawn around sunrise.

It is a spectacular 8-mile loop that takes you through some fascinating landscapes in the national park along with stunning Tucson sunrise views encompassing Rincon Mountain backcountry and lush, diverse plants and wildlife.

There are many trailheads and pullouts to stop, relax and admire the views.

Mica View, a pullout complete with an easy desert trail and picnic area, is one of the best stops on the route for a sunrise or sunset spectacle across a vast expanse of desert packed with giant saguaros, many towering over 50 feet in this cactus forest, Catalinas and the Tucson Mountains on the horizon.

As the Tucson sunrise progresses, watch the mountains glow from deep rose to bright pink and purple.

RILLITO RIVER PARK

  • Distance from Tucson – 6 miles
  • Driving duration – 15 minutes
  • Parking – Available

One of the popular hangout places among locals, Rillito Rover Park, may not be your first choice when thinking of Tucson sunrise, but it is one of the best places to enjoy laid-back sunrise views in Tucson along with enjoying a lot of other activities the park has to offer

Rillito River path attracts cyclists, runners or locals on their evening walks. Enjoy the quiet views of the trees and the green spaces by taking a stroll. 

best sunrise in Tucson

If you are here after the snowmelt, you can see the waterfront with higher water levels along with spotting beautiful desert blooms adorning the paved path.

Enjoy the views of Tucson sunrise over Mount Lemmon and other mountains of the Santa Catalina mountain range as it turns different hues of pink, red, orange, and purple, making it one of the underrated places to watch a Tucson sunset.

MAP OF THE BEST PLACES TO WATCH EPIC TUCSON SUNRISE

USEFUL TIPS TO WATCH SUNRISE IN TUCSON

  • Check the timings – Look for Tucson sunrise time before planning your sunrise hike, as the time slightly varies depending on the season you visit Tucson.
  • Calculate time for hiking – Depending on your fitness levels and your speed. You may take more time than the average estimates provided. It is best to have an idea of how long you may need, allowing you to time your sunset hike in Tucson correctly.
  • Carry essentials – Great hiking shoes with a good grip, headlamps, jackets, water, and snacks are a must, irrespective of the hike.
  • Watch out for snakes and lizards – Although the Rattlesnake season runs from May through October, you may run into snakes at any time of year. Gila Monster Lizards and scorpions can also be seen, but if you stick to the trails and never put your feet where you can’t see them, you should be okay. If you come across one, move slowly backwards and alert the staff.
  • Stay hydrated – Although temperatures can be low if you’re heading out before sunrise, once the sun is up, it quickly gets hot no matter which time of the year. Drink sufficient water to stay hydrated.
  • Protecting from the sun – Going back, you will likely be exposed to the heat, as most of the trails have minimal or no shaded areas. Carry sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.

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