If there is one thing that you simply must photograph in Phoenix it is the sunsets.  Having said that, as you can well imagine, there are a lot of great spots in and around Phoenix where you can capture some spectacular sunsets.  So I have had to narrow my list down to keep things manageable.  These may not be the top five spots to photograph a sunset in Phoenix, but I contend that they are among the top.  Also, if you want a sunset shot that is a little more than the standard that you see on all the postcards, a few of these spots, when combined with some imagination and creative thinking, could get you that unique shot.  So check out when the sun is due to set, grab your camera (and tripod) and head out to any of these spots to capture your next great sunset photograph.

South Mountain Preserve

Sunset-From-South-Mountain-Preserve-Park-PhoenixSouth Mountain encompasses a very large area.  It has hiking trails, picnic areas, and numerous other facilities available.  But if you want the perfect sunset spot you need to get yourself to the summit.  This is a very well known vista, so head up early to stake out a good spot, especially if you are going on a weekend.  Exit I-10 on Baseline Rd and head west to Central Ave.  Turn South on Central and take it to the entrance of the park.  Once in the park, follow Telegraph Pass Rd up to the summit.  Park the car and set up your camera in area that overlooks downtown Phoenix.  You will have a perfect vantage point to view the entire valley out to the west and the setting sun.  If you have a wide angle lens try getting the city with the sunset in the background.

The summit is the quintessential Phoenix sunset.  But if you want something a little different that might be a little harder to get and require a little more creativity drive past the road to the summit parking lot and take Buena Vista Rd to S. TV Rd.  You will understand why it is called TV road soon enough.  Take the road until it dead ends at a parking lot.  This vantage point does not have a clear view of the western setting sun.  But it does offer several opportunities for a “non-traditional” sunset photograph.  Try capturing the mountain top filled with TV and cell phone antennas with the glow of the setting sun behind them.

Camelback Mountain

Sunset-from-Camelback-Mountain-PhoenixIf you have been to Phoenix you are probably familiar with Camelback Mountain.  It is the one in the middle of it all and if you squint a bit and use your imagination it does look like a camel.  You can approach the camel from the rear or from the head and find great sunset photography spots.  Unlike South Mountain which you can drive to, a car will only get you so far with Camelback.  Be prepared to hike a bit for these shots, especially if coming up from the rear.  (Note that hiking in Arizona requires some forethought and preparation – DO NOT FORGET THE WATER).

For the rear (or eastern) route you will find parking off Invergordon Rd between Camelback Rd and McDonald Rd (near the Phoenician Resort).  If coming up the front, park near McDonald and Tatum.  Keep in mind parking can be limited depending on when you go.  Depending on your hiking skills and speed it can take an hour or more to reach a vantage point where you can capture a great shot.  So plan your timing accordingly and make sure you can make it up before the sun sets.  Also keep in mind you then have to hike back down.  So don’t wait too long after sunset to start heading back down as this could be a difficult feat in the dark.  But this one is worth the extra effort.

Piestewa Peak

As long as you are in hiking mode, consider Piestewa Peak (formerly known as Squaw Peak) for another location to catch the setting sun on film (or digital sensor).  The peak rises above Phoenix at about 2,600 feet.  So as you can imagine, you are going to get some great views.  Depending on how much of a challenge you are up for (and how in shape you are) you have two trail options to get up to the views.  The Summit Trail is just over a mile and falls into the “challenging” category.  But you are going to get views along the whole route and once you make it to the summit you will very glad you did.  City views galore!  Option two is the Circumference Trail.  It is a much longer hike, about 3.75 miles, but the ascent up the peak is much more gradual.  Plus you still get the views along the way and at your destination.  Piestewa is the place you want to go if after getting your sunset shots you want to try your hand at some city lights photography.  The only drawback is you are going to have to haul your tripod up (and back down) the mountain.  But I think you will find it well worth the extra effort.

To get to Piestewa Peak head up the 51 freeway and exit at Glendale Rd.  Take Glendale (it will change names and become Lincoln) east until you hit Squaw Peak Drive.  Parking and trail heads will be at the end of this road after passing through some residential areas.

Steele Indian School Park

Up until this location I have taken you above the city for three mountain top sunset photography opportunities.  Steel Indian School Park offers an option you may not have thought of before.  Located off Indian School Rd between Central Ave and 7th St. the park is a vast urban oasis (don’t get it confused with Indian School Park in Scottsdale).  Offering grassy hills, a lake, diverse landscapes and historic buildings you may need to spend some time before the sun sets to scout out the location and settings you want to capture with the sunset.  Consider getting the nearby skyscrapers in your viewfinder and playing with the sun reflecting in the glass facades.  The lake area can also be ideal when it comes to the setting sun.  Reflections on the water can make for some beautiful photographs.  No strenuous hiking required with Steele Indian School Park, but you might have to strain the brain a bit to get your creativity flowing.  The opportunities abound here if you take some time to scope things out.

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Sunset-at-Phoenix-Desert-BOtanical-GardenIf you have read any of my blog in the past you will know that I have an affinity for the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.  It is great for early morning photography, desert vegetation photography, and wildlife photography so it stands to reason you are going to be all set for some great sunset photography as well.  This is the only location on the list that has a fee associated with it, but still well worth spending a little cash for a great desert sunset photograph.  To get there exit the 202 freeway at the 52nd St/ Van Buren exit and head east.  Signage will direct you to the garden entrance off Galvin Parkway.

Get to the garden early to both enjoy the beautifully designed acres of desert landscaping and to scout for an ideal vantage point for your sunset photograph.  The cool thing is that there are so many possibilities and you can create some gorgeous art by taking some time and finding the perfect vista to point your camera to.  Be sure to consider using the vegetation and structures as foreground or background for your photograph.  The red rocks of nearby Papago Park (a potential 6th spot?) are another element you will definitely want to play with in your shots.

There you have it – five top spots in the Phoenix area for sunset photography and no more excuses for not getting out there and taking your best sunset photograph.  Good luck!

17 Responses to “Top 5 Spots to Photograph a Sunset in Phoenix, AZ”

  1. henry@phoenix arizona

    on March 29 2010

    Your choice of places and the photographs you have posted are just awesome,,,but I think there are many more good places in phoenix to be photographed

  2. Mike

    on March 30 2010

    I agree Henry, there are a ton of great places to photograph in Phoenix. Any in particular that you would recommend?

  3. Deborah Strouse

    on September 22 2010

    I recently moved here from the east coast, so to me the sunsets here in Az. are awesome. The cloud formations that are formed during the day,and the amoumt of humidity in the air determine the colors of our sunsets. Right out in my backyard or my front yard, I catch the most beautiful sunsets and storm cloud formations. Arizona is so beautiful at that time of day you can be anywhere and get a great photo.

  4. Mike

    on September 22 2010

    Hi Deborah,
    Welcome to AZ. You are right, you can be almost anywhere and get some amazing photographs of sunsets. I hope you continue to enjoy them.

  5. rick paixao

    on November 7 2010

    id like to know some locations of interest that show more the old west. mines, ghost towns, Indian reserves, rodeos and alike. any advice? i have recently purchased a winter home in north scottsdale and would like to plan my time there carefully during the winter so please keep this in mind when recommending locations

    thank you in advance for your response

  6. Mike

    on November 7 2010

    Hi Rick,
    Having lived in AZ almost all my life I think I tend to take the “old west” concept for granted and have not sought it out much for photography. However, this being AZ there is a lot of opportunity to see all of the things you mentioned. How much and how far you are willing to travel from N. Scottsdale will impact how much of this you can get to, but here are some of my top choices.

    1) Vulture City Ghost Town – out west near Wickenburg. The owner of the land charges a small admission fee but it is a well preserved ghost town with a few buildings and many artifacts. Here are some of my photos from Vulture City – http://shuttermike.com/?s=vulture

    2) One of the best rodeos in AZ is very much worth a drive down to Tucson. La Fiesta de los Vaqueros or the Tucson Rodeo happens in February. There is a non-motorized parade (horses and such) and of course the rodeo. Check out this site for more details: http://www.tucsonrodeoparade.com/

    3) I have never been, but Goldfiled ghost town is out east near the Superstition Mountains and is should be both old west and mining related.

    4) A little closer to home are Raw Hide south of Chandler and Old Town Scottsdale also has a bit of “old west” feel to it, albeit a bit touristy.

    5) Then if you can take a day (or two) trip Bisbee in Southern AZ is one of the best mining towns to visit. You can take tours of the mine and there is a lot of the old town that is well preserved. Or go north to Jerome for another great mining town.

    I’m sure you’ll find a lot to see and do, especially in the winter when the weather is perfect for doing these things. Have fun and welcome to AZ.


  7. rick paixao

    on December 14 2010

    mike thanks for the info. I will be heading to some of the locations my next trip

  8. Mike

    on December 14 2010

    Thanks Rick. Hope you get to visit them soon. – Mike

  9. David

    on February 16 2011

    Rick/Mike – check out Gold Field Ghost Town/Mine out in Apache Junction. Touristy but cool.

    I took these today at South Mountain…


  10. David

    on February 16 2011

    ps the password for the South Mountain album is “south”

  11. Mike

    on February 16 2011

    Hey Dave,

    Thanks for sharing. But I don’t get any place to enter a password on the link in your first comment. Just a message that says “Content restricted by owner – access not available.”

  12. Van

    on October 27 2011

    Thanks Mike,
    Is it Dec still have good sunset or sunrise?

  13. Mike

    on October 27 2011

    Yes, there are still great sunrises and sunsets in December.

  14. Rae Henson

    on October 16 2012

    I am nuts about sunrise and sunsets. Your picture of cambelback mountain. wow! I can just sit there and watch it goes down. sooooo serene. Thanks for sharing it!

  15. Mike

    on October 17 2012

    Thank you Rae!

  16. wpjo

    on November 10 2013

    Interesting picture. Some questions you maybe never thought about for the answer is obvious to you but not to me. When copying your picture and examines it with Microsoft paint, it seems the limit of the sun is very well determined. Is this due to particularv wheather conditions? Is this always the case in the desert or not? The picture for sunrise and sunset are equally sharp? Do you mind to send me a very sharp picture of a sunset ? I’m working on http://www.academia.edu/4209380/Spica_the_Star_of_Bethlehem_—_refraction_for_near_horizon_events_ which explains my interest in this subject.


  17. Scott Butwin

    on November 1 2014

    Thank you for the good information and great ideas. Finally getting some free time to enjoy my hobbies and passions together, Staring with sunsets sunrises nature and now western photos are of interest

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