How to Enjoy a Zabriskie Point Sunrise in Death Valley (without the crowds)

Zabriskie Point Sunrise

Last updated on December 2nd, 2021 at 05:36 am

Any blog you read about the best things to do in Death Valley National Park will tell you to go to Zabriskie Point for sunrise, with good reason! As the sun rises over the Amargosa Mountain range it turns the Badlands and Zabriskie Point a beautiful amber hue. After looking at the photos of this on the blogs, I added it to my own Death Valley itinerary. 

On a Saturday morning in mid-March, I arrived at Zabriskie point a full two hours before sunrise. There were already about 5 cars in the parking lot beneath a cloudless and dark starry sky. I followed the short, paved trail from the parking lot to the lookout point, finding a spot to setup my photography equipment, and waited. 

As time ticked by, I noticed more and more people showing up. At one point, a photographer hopped over the stone walls of the lookout point to se up their photography gear on the “mound”. 

Thereby inserting themselves into everyone’s image back at the lookout point. 

That’s when things got hostile, uncomfortable, and really just not fun anymore.

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Zabriskie Point Sunrise crowds
Zabriskie Point Sunrise Crowd

The Crowd at Zabriskie Point

People at the lookout point started to yell at the people who crossed over. Others decided to join those who’d jumped over. Some simply gave up and left

I was in the third group. As I looked toward the parking lot, I saw a completely full parking area, cars overflowing onto Highway 190, and a stream of people walking up.

I decided to give up on getting “the shot”. It simply wasn’t worth all of the negative energy of the crowd.

Instead, I decided to start the Golden Canyon hike, for which there is a trailhead at the Zabriskie point parking lot

That’s when I discovered how to see Zabriskie point at sunrise without the crowds: start the Golden Canyon hike.

Badlands on Golden Canyon Trail
Badlands just after sunrise at Zabriskie Point

How to See the Zabriskie Point Sunrise from the Golden Canyon Hike

The Golden Canyon Trail is a 6 mile out and back trail that has a trailhead just to the right of Zabriskie Point. While you can do the entire hike, if all you want is to see a peaceful Zabriskie Point sunrise, you’ll only need to hike about .05 miles in.

While the trail is narrow in some parts, there are also places where there is plenty of space on top of the Badlands to set up your camera or simply lay out a blanket, drink some tea, and watch the sun turn the Badlands that amber hue. 

In peace!

Sounds good, right?

But exactly how do you accomplish this for your visit?

Let’s dive into the details.

Why is Zabriskie Point so Popular?

Why is visiting Zabriskie Point, specifically at sunrise, one of the best things to do in Death Valley? Well – it is actually quite beautiful!

Zabriskie point is the shark fin shaped formation in the mountains. It’s an incredibly popular photography location in Death Valley at sunrise because the point glows amber while shadows play across the Badlands. For non photographers, it is quite a beautiful place to simply enjoy a desert sunrise.

It’s also very popular due to its location.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Where is Zabriskie Point Located?

Zabriskie Point is located on Highway 190, about a 15-minute drive from Furnace Creek Visitor Center which is the center of Death Valley and where the majority of places to stay in Death Valley are located. 

There is a paved parking lot, a short and paved pathway up to the outlook point, and vault toilets available.

Crowds flock here due to the combination of:

  • central location in the park
  • easy access
  • stunning beauty

What Time to Arrive for Zabriskie Point Sunrise?

Ok, so you’re going to go and see what all the hype is about for yourself. But what time should you get there?

Check the weather app on your phone for the time the sun will rise. However, be mindful that the sun is rising over a mountain range. This means that while the sky will start getting lighter, the sun itself won’t show exactly when your app says it does. 

Once I knew the estimated time of sunrise, I planned to get there two hours early. Is that necessary? No.

I’d say one full hour before sunrise is ideal to secure a parking spot in the lot and either find your place on the mound or begin your hike.

The Golden Canyon Hike from Zabriskie Point

I’ve written a separate blog post with all of the details on how to hike the Golden Canyon trail. If you’re planning to hike the entire trail, please go read that for in-depth information. For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll be talking only about the first half-mile of the hike that will take you closer to the actual Zabriskie Point.

From the parking lot, look to the right of the overlook, you’ll see a trail leading into the canyon. Follow that!

This is a very well-marked trail, so pay attention to the signs.

Golden Canyon Hike Death Valley
Golden Canyon Hike with Trail Markers

Follow the trail for about ½ a mile until you come to a location that allows you to walk on top of the badlands with Zabriskie Point in the distance. There is no marker or anything here, but check out the photo below. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it, I promise. It’s fairly obvious.

Once the sun has risen, simply follow the trail back to the Zabriskie Point overlook for a total of a 1-mile hike.

Alternatively, you can continue the Golden Canyon hike!

Zabriskie Point viewed from the Golden Canyon Trail
Flat Location on the Golden Canyon Trail for Sunrise at Zabriskie Point

What to Bring with You for Sunrise at Zabriskie Point?

There are a few key items to bring with you for this hike, most of them are on my day hike packing list, but I want to emphasize them here.

  • Map: Before even entering Death Valley ensure that you’ve downloaded Google Maps offline of the park as well as AllTrails. While the hike is well marked, having a map with you is essential in case you get a bit turned around. It is amazing how easily that can happen in this landscape.
  • Headlamp: It will still be dark out as you begin this hike. The use of a headlamp or flashlight will ensure that you stay on the trail and help you see any critters who may be on your path.
  • Water: Always bring more than enough water than you think you’ll need when hiking in the desert. I did the entire Golden Canyon Hike with 2L of water and it was completely empty before I got back to my car.
  • Tea or coffee: I noticed one couple brought a JetBoil to enjoy their morning coffee and tea from the lookout point. Pretty genius idea as it was quite cold before the sun rose!
  • Snacks: Some good options are a bagel and peanut butter, your favorite dried fruit (mine is Mango), a Lara bar, etc. Now you’ve got breakfast, a coffee, and a sunrise in PEACE!

If you don’t mind the crowds and plan to stay at the Zabriskie Point Lookout, I also recommend bringing a camping chair and a blanket. There are no benches, so this will be a comfortable way to enjoy a Death Valley sunrise.

What to Wear to Visit Zabriskie Point at Sunrise?

The drastic change in temperature of the desert still amazes me. Before the sun is up, the desert can be quite cold. It was hovering around the low 50os to high 40os when I arrived at 4:00am. But when that sun hits the sky, it heats up fast!

That’s why, layers are the name of the game!

For reference, I wore thick joggers over shorts, a long sleeve shirt under another long sleeve shirt and a puffy coat. I also had a beanie, gloves, and thick socks on. I was still COLD!

As the sun rises, you’ll want to swap out the beanie for a wide brimmed hat and likely take off a few articles of clothing.

Sunglasses and sunscreen are also essential.

The sun beats down hard on the landscape here making it shine bright white – almost like snow. The reflection can incredibly bright and if you’re looking at it long enough, can damage your eyes. I’m 99% sure I burned my eyes on the Golden Canyon Hike, because I’d left my own hat and sunglasses in the car. Don’t make my mistake.

Double check that you have all of your layers that you’ll need before leaving the parking lot.

I also highly suggest wearing sturdy hiking shoes with quality hiking socks (my favorite are Darn Tough).

what to wear for sunrise at Zabriskie Point
Just after sunrise at Zabriskie Point
What to wear for a Zabriskie Point sunrise
After completing the Golden Canyon Hike

Alternative Death Valley Sunrise Locations

If you’re reading this and thinking, Katie, this is way too much work to watch the sunrise in Death Valley. Trust me, I get that. 

Here are some alternative locations for a Death Valley sunrise:

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Badwater Basin (this also has the potential to be very crowded, but once you’re out in the flats, you can space out easier than Zabriskie)
  • Dante’s View
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley.
Mesquite Sand Dunes at Sunrise in Death Valley

Zabriskie Point at sunrise is truly beautiful, that’s the reason it’s mentioned in every blog post. However, one thing I’m learning though is that if every blog post mentions something, it’s likely to be crowded. 

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I visited Zabriskie Point on a Saturday during peak season that it was so busy. I wonder if I’d gone on a Friday morning or during the middle of the week if it would have been less crowded.

I don’t have the answer to that.

I’m simply glad I found an alternative way to see the sunrise at Zabriskie Point and am able to share it with you. I wondered about sharing it because I don’t want the hike to get overcrowded.

However, the Golden Canyon Trail is already a very popular hike in Death Valley and most people won’t put in the extra effort. But if you report back and tell me that you tried this and it’s hella crowded, then I will re-evaluate sharing this!

I do hope that if you visit Zabriskie Point during your time in Death Valley that you enjoy it, no matter how you decide to see it!

Need more tips for your visit to Death Valley? Check out these posts:

How to Spend One Day in Death Valley National Park

Where to Stay in Death Valley National Park

Visiting Artist’s Drive & Artist’s Palette in Death Valley

How to Hike the Golden Canyon Trail in Death Valley

Looking for more National Parks in California? Check these out!

One Day in Joshua Tree National Park

The Best Hikes in Pinnacles National Park

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Zabriskie Point Sunrise Death Valley National Park
Zabriskie Point Sunrise Death Valley
Zabriskie Point Sunrise Death Valley

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