An illuminated guide to seeing Austin rise and shine

Austin, Texas, is a beautifully situated town, set among rolling hills with plenty of green space. It stands to reason, then, that there would be lovely sunrise viewing opportunities for those willing to brave the dawn. But, the best news? The sun doesn’t rise all that early in Austin. Even its earliest sunrise doesn’t happen before 6:30 a.m., and at the best time of year for photographs, it’s later than that.

The best time for sunrises

In the summer, the sunrise in Austin happens relatively early. At the beginning of May, it's around 6:45 a.m. and at 6:30 by the end of the month. That early wake-up lasts through the middle of July, when the sun starts rising a little later, reaching 6:45 toward the end of July. By late August, it’s around 7 a.m., and keeps inching later until the end of October, when it’s at an even more convenient 7:45, or so.

In November, when the time changes, the sunrise jumps to an earlier 6:45, but by the end of the month it’s back to 7 a.m. It keeps getting later until mid-January, when it hits 7:30, but then gets earlier again, reaching 7 a.m. by the end of February. Not to worry – the time change in March bumps it back just as it’s reaching about 6:45, and it stays between 7:30 and 7:45 until mid-April, when it starts moving earlier to reach 6:45 by May. Before heading out to watch the sunrise, it's a good idea to check online or with the local paper for the exact time.

Seasonal considerations

Happily, for people who don’t enjoy a pre-7 a.m. wake up call, the sunrise is best in winter. That’s because the air moves more slowly in summer and air pollution tends to be more prevalent, which can lend a haze to the sunrise that impedes viewing and, particularly, photography. The good news is that Austin's air quality is above average, and smog is not a big problem for viewing sunrises or for breathing in general.

Where to watch the sun come up

So, times have been locked down, but where’s the best place for viewing? Opinions differ, but only because there are several options.

  • Mount Bonnell: At 775 feet, this is the highest point in Austin. Accessible by a long staircase, Covert Park on Mount Bonnell makes excellent sunrise viewing.
  • The 360 Bridge Overlook: To reach this local favorite, take 360 Loop south from 2222. Just before the bridge, parking is visible on the right side of the road. From there, it’s about a 10-minute hike to a gorgeous view.

Because the best viewing spots in Austin may require some walking, wear comfortable shoes to view the sunrise.

  • Auditorium Shores: Located on Riverside Drive, this park is popular and can get crowded, especially when there’s a concert or event, but it's a lovely place to watch the sunrise on the river.
  • The Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge: Just a short walk away from Auditorium Shores, the Pfluger Bridge offers access to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Barton Springs: A spring-fed pool in Zilker Park, Barton Springs is open at 5 a.m., but has no fees until later in the morning, which makes sunrise the perfect time to go. One catch: It’s only open May through September.
  • Enchanted Rock: This is actually outside the immediate Austin area, but sunrise from Enchanted Rock is so good that rangers sometimes offer guided sunrise hikes. To get to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, take TX-71 to Ranch Road 965.

All of these spots make for such great sunrise viewing that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Fortunately, with the exception of Enchanted Rock, the sites are fairly close together, making it possible to hop from one vantage point to another for different views. The best advice? Get there early to avoid missing a minute of an Austin sunrise.