Nothing quite compares to the incredible sight of Arizona sunsets. It’s so easy to get lost in the brilliant shades of pink, purple and orange so effortlessly slashed across the sky. We’re lucky to experience the vibrant glow of the horizon and watch in wonder as the curtain comes down at the end of another day. Only then do we stew in anticipation for the promise of a new, just as brilliant, return show featuring an Arizona sunrise the next morning. There’s no doubt about it—Arizona has some of the most amazing sunsets around, and there are plenty of spots to watch the sun paint the sky right from Arizona’s state parks. So, grab the beverage of your choice and a comfy camp chair and watch the daily show with friends and family from your favorite park. Check out the suggestions below, plan a trip, and don’t forget to snap some photos of your unforgettable Arizona sunset experience!
The scientific answer is actually pretty interesting, and has a lot to do with the ecosystem, landscape, and something called scattering. Small particles and molecules found in the atmosphere change the direction of light rays as the sun goes up, or down. The color of the scattered light is determined by the size of molecule or particle and the actual wavelength of light. Because Arizona is generally dry, dust particles are able to float effortlessly on the breeze so there’s a lot of them available for scattering. More particles equal more color.
When is the best time of year to experience Arizona sunsets? You really can’t go wrong any time you’re able to experience this gorgeous state! However, after learning new information about how sunsets are formed, there seems to be a certain time of year that throws out more vibrancy than others.
The vast amount of loose soil gracing our state means any day has the potential to throw out an amazing array of colors as the sun breaks the horizon. We know that loose particles and molecules in the air cause scattering. And what gets these particles up from their resting spots? That’s right…Wind! Windy days inspire the movement of particles from their sedimentary state and more of them are available in the sky to scatter light. During the summer monsoon season wind creates a perfect atmosphere for the amazingly colorful Arizona sunsets we all appreciate.
Affectionately known as “The Valley of the Sun”, the Phoenix area is an absolutely amazing place to watch an Arizona sunset! Phoenix sunsets are seen daily by millions of residents, but true sunset aficionados know that sunset quality increases just outside of town. Banked to the west by a variety of mountain ranges, one of the more popular places to watch the sun descend is located near the Superstition Mountains, via Lost Dutchman state park.
Right from the comfort of your campsite or cabin you can watch the glow illuminate this historic mountain range before dipping into a sea of orange, pink, or purple oblivion. The surrounding Sonoran Desert truly accentuates this central Arizona sunset experience! As the sun glances a fiery glow off the mountaintops, perhaps you’re lucky to see a few evening clouds absorb and project even more of those vibrant colors. For just fleeting moments—an unforgettable performance of epic proportions plays out right before your eyes while hoping the Lost Dutchman himself enjoyed a similar experience so many years ago.
Let’s face it, the views from Picacho Peak State Park are iconic day or night and this is a great spot to enjoy a Sonoran Desert sunset. A short 40-minute drive from the Tucson area and this park slides easily into the Tucson Sunset category. Kick back at camp as evening approaches and watch in wonder as two prominent mountain crests cut a sharp image against a golden, pink, or purple sunset. An optional sunset viewing location can be found after a short hike up the aptly named Sunset Vista Trail. There’s no need to take the trail all the way either, just hike until you’re between Picacho Peak and the smaller range to the west. If expansive sunset views are your thing, this is the spot for you!
A Tucson sunset is easily accentuated by the grey-tinged granite peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains. This local mountain range makes it easy for you to watch in wonder as the sun goes down from a perfectly situated campground at Catalina State Park. Any of the easy-moderate trails that lead into the foothills from camp will really increase the epic golden hour display in this Sonoran Desert wonderland. Stick around to watch the sun disappear while cloaked in a blanket of vibrant hues before heading back to camp and looking to the sky once more for inspiration from the starry night.
This high-desert park is situated comfortably in the foothills country that overlooks the San Pedro Valley. Oracle State Park can really give you the best of both worlds when seeking out eye-popping colored displays of either a Tucson area sunrise or sunset! East of the park, the Galiuro mountains etch a dark figure into each sunrise and offer a stark contrast to the variety of gorgeous colors greeting you each morning. Look west and you’ll see the sun plummet behind the Santa Catalina Mountains before casting a last ditch effort to grab your attention with deep tones of an exuberant desert sunset. This 4000-acre wildlife sanctuary has plenty of trails if you want to watch the sky show off from a remote location, or you can kick back on the porch of the Kannally Ranch House to experience the show just as the ranchers did that lived here over one hundred years ago.
The scarlet landscape of this iconic location lends itself perfectly to awe inspiring Sedona sunsets. The rust colored rocks seem to glow from every angle and the green studded hillsides absolutely pop in when the sun hits the right angle. Light fades quickly in Oak Creek Canyon at Slide Rock State Park, but don’t forget to look up! At times the sky is ablaze with the most vivid orange sunsets we’ve experienced in AZ and the refraction of light from the surrounding red rocks is just icing on the cake!
This conservation park is surrounded by notable crimson peaks of the Sedona area. Cathedral Rock and the Seven Warriors can be seen from several locations of the park and become illuminated with a vibrant glow at sundown. The red rocks reflect a rust colored hue into the atmosphere which really adds to the mystique of the world-renowned destination. When park hours allow, take a hike up Eagle’s Nest Trail for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area to fulfill your Sedona sunset experience.
Whether you’re catching the sunset for a photo op or just to take in the breathtaking view, make sure you’re prepared! Know what time the sun sets, and get there early—it’ll go by faster than you think and you don’t want to miss a thing! Allow time for a hike to get a better view. Take some snacks and plenty of water, and if you’re sunset gazing in the cooler months, bring a jacket just in case! Be ready to hike out in the dark, with flashlights, a headlamp, and navigational gear like phone app or, if you’re old school, a map! Check out this post from REI to make sure you’re prepared for a dark trek through the desert, and don’t forget to enjoy every second of Arizona’s beautiful sunset surprises!