Sedona’s Towers of the Virgin: A Surprising Sedona Sunrise Photo Location!

I spent three days shooting in Sedona, Arizona last week and I have some great images and tips that I will be sharing over the next weeks about the area’s iconic locations (Cathedral Rock, Devil’s Arch, Bell Rock, etc.)  However, first I’d like to let you know about a Sedona sunrise photo location that I’ve never seen discussed before…and it surprises me because I think it bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous Towers of the Virgin at Zion National Park.  I’m going to call it Sedona’s Towers of the Virgin, but I just made the name up this afternoon, so don’t ask anyone in Sedona about it…they will just look at you like you were another crazy tourist.

A 'mini' Towers of the Virgin?
A ‘mini’ Towers of the Virgin?

Okay, now it certainly isn’t as large as the real thing, but it’s a wonderful vista just the same.  And, unlike the shot at Zion, I wasn’t in a field filled with other photographers taking the same shot!  For the sake of comparison, here is an image of the “Virgins” at Zion:

The 'real' Towers of the Virgin at Zion
The ‘real’ Towers of the Virgin at Zion

Like the location at Zion, the Sedona ridgeline is lit by the rising sun as it clears the horizon and the red rock just glows as it warms up.  Wonderful spot to spend a morning.

If you would like to visit this location, here are the directions and photo tips:

  1. From the “Y” in ‘downtown Sedona (this the roundabout intersection where 89A and 179 meet), just head south 4.9 miles on Highway 179.  Here is a map on Google Maps.   GPS Coordinates for the trailhead are 34.807336,-111.769574
  2. There will be a ‘scenic overlook’ sign on the right (west).  This is the only scenic overlook on the right…all the others are on the left, so you can’t miss it.  Park and pay $5 at the automated kiosk.  This location is called Yavapai Point (not to be confused with the location with the same name at the Grand Canyon:)
  3. The trail is well marked.  Follow the one called Yavapai Vista Trail.
  4. The trail will twist and turn and will have a slight elevation gain.  In about .2 of a mile you will come to a large slick rock shelf from which you will see the ridgeline I photographed.
  5. The sun will start hitting the ridge about ten minutes after the “official” sunrise time.
  6. Take a tripod.
  7. You will need a 35-50mm lens on a full sized sensor camera…or a 57mm-75mm on a cropped’ sensor DSLR.
  8. The dynamic range of the sunrise is best captured via HDR.  If you don’t use HDR, bracket your shots and merge them in Photoshop so you avoid blown-out highlights and totally black shadows.
  9. There are great shots to be had here of Bell Rock as well, just look to the east:

    Photo of Sedona's Bell Rock at sunrise
    This location provides you with a perspective of Bell Rock that is different from the ‘standard’ shot.

If you are in Sedona, this is a great sunrise spot.  Personally, I like it better than the popular Airport mesa.  Hope you enjoy it!

Good luck and good shooting!

PS:  Here is a final shot:

Red Rock in it's morning glory!
Red Rock in it’s morning glory!

Related Images:

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Hello,

    I’m looking to do some astrophotography (milky way) on July 13th, 2013. Is Yavapai vista point easily accessible at night? I will have my head lamps with me. Per my research, the milky way should extend from due South to Southeast. Alternatively, I was considering Courthouse vista location. Any advise would be appreciated.

    1. If you have hiked before at night then you should find Yavapai vista point pretty easy to get to(Courthouse vista is also). I’d strongly suggest you scout out the location(s) first in the daylight and have a GPS. Have fun and good luck with the Milky Way shots!

  2. Will spend two mornings and two evenings in Sedona early March and like to plan ahead. I want sunrise and sunset photo spots. I don’t mine a little hiking. All suggestions are welcome and the one I just read seems perfect. Am I right to understand that the final leg to the spot means parking the car and hiking?

    Many thanks for very useful and generous info.


    1. Hello Anders,
      You should have a wonderful time in Sedona. Great photography and it is wonderful little town to spend a couple days at.

      Yes, to photograph the ‘Sedona Towers of the Virgin’ you do have to make a short hike (less than 10 minutes.)
      Here are some of my suggestions:
      1) Do a jeep tour with the “Pink Jeeps.” The “Broken Arrow” tour is my favorite. The guides are great and the photo ops wonderful.
      2) I’ve booked the balloon tour twice but they were both cancelled due to winds. It looks like a lot of fun to me and if I was going to be there two weeks I’d try it again.
      3) Do a day trip down to Montezuma’s Castle. It is a wonderful site and your camera will be happy.
      4) Take at least a day to explore Oak Creek Canyon. Lots of photo ops (expecially when the leaves change in the fall). Great hiking
      5) Try Airport Mesa for sunrise and sunset. Everyone does it and with good reason.
      6) Bell Rock is cool and has great hiking trails as well.
      7) Chapel of the Holy Cross is very photogenic…certainly worth a couple hours.
      8) Personally, I love photographing Devil’s Bridge but it is a bit of a hike. I believe that there are some places you can rent 4 wheel drive jeeps which would save you quite a bit of walking.
      So, there are my thoughts, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have more questions!

  3. Great info Jeff. Thank you so much for taking the time to blog out all of these wonderful locations.It sure makes planning trips much easier with your kind of guidance. Thank you! Great images.

  4. Thanks so much for all the pointers and tips
    Your photo collections are beautiful and inspiring!

    1. I’m glad you found my info helpful. Hope you got some memorable photos!

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