Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Sunrise Area

Located on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, the Sunrise Area is a gorgeous location, and it is also a pleasant location to bird.  Elevations range here from 9,200' to nearly 11,000'.  Sunrise is highly made up up spruce-fir forest with scattered stands of aspen.  There are many grasslands and meadows in the area, especailly along Highway 273 through the area.  Sunrise Lake, a large, long, and narrow reservoir in the area, holds an excellent harbor for many waterbirds.  This area is well known for observing Gray Jay, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak, and more.  If visiting the White Mountains, this area is a must-stop-and-bird-at.

Getting to the Sunrise Area:  The Sunrise Area is located on Highway 273, and the most convenient way to get to Highway 273 is from Highway 260 whether coming west from Eager or east from Show Low.  From Eager, travel west on Highway 260 for 18.7 miles and turn left (south) onto Highway 273.  Head south on 273 for a few miles to Sunrise.  From Show Low, head east on Highway 260 for 35.7 miles before turning right (south) onto Highway 273. 


IMPORTANT:  The Sunrise Area is located on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation.  Every location under this area requires a Reservation Permit held by anyone who isn't a tribal member.  Failing to have a permit and using the land will result in fines.  Permits are ten dollars for the day and they are sold at the Sunrise General Store.  After turning south onto the 273, the first five miles of 273 are on the Indian Reservation before the 273 re-enters forest land.  Do not walk anywhere on the Reservation or stop anywhere to hike within these hotspots without that permit.  If going to the Sunrise Ski Area to bird or for any recreational activity, they sell different passes there for $15.  If going to the Ski Area to hike and pay that fee for that location, a $10 Reservation Permit isn't needed.

Sunrise Birding Hotspot Overview Map:  To view an overview map to see all of the birding locations in this area and their proximity to each other, click on the link here- Sunrise Area Birding Hotspot Overview Map

Sunrise Lake: At 2.7 miles after turning south on Highway 273 from Highway 260, look for a turnoff on the left (east) side of 273 for Sunrise Lake.  This road accesses the immediate dam area of the Lake quickly, and another road branches off to the north and heads east along the northern side of the lake for 2.4 miles.  Any stop along this road to view the lake is suggested.  In spring and summer, the grasslands surrounding this long and narrow lake are good for viewing Vesper and Savannah Sparrows, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, Horned Lark, American Kestrel, and perhaps a Swainson's Hawk.  In colder months, watch for a possible Rough-legged Hawk.  Around the lake, look for Osprey and Bald Eagle.  The obvious reason to bird Sunrise Lake is to search for waterbirds.  Breeding birds on the water include Canada Goose, Redhead, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, and Eared Grebe.  Throughout winter, spring, and fall, watch for different waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and other surprises.  The east side of the lake has shallower water and mudflat habitats that will appeal to shorebirds during migration.  If accessing the lake from the south side through Sunrise Park Lodge, there are stands of apsen and spruce-fr forest.  Look for any birds associated with that habitat selection to round out a good selection of birds for the lake.  Once past the Sunrise General Store at 4 miles on the 273, look for a few dirt roads veering north towards Sunrise Lake.  These roads give closer access to the south and southeastern side of the lake.  For a separate page on Sunrise Lake with more information that includes location photographs, a link to the Sunrise Lake page on eBird, and a Google Earth Map, click on the link here to view that page- Sunrise Lake

Sunrise Store:  At about 4 miles, look on the north side of 273 for the Sunrise Store.  Reservation Permits are sold here.  As mentioned above, be sure to pick one up as it is required to bird these locations.

Sunrise Campground: After 4 miles on 273, make a right (south) turn to the direction of Sunrise Ski Area.  Sunrise Campground will then be a quick left turn to the east after this turnoff.  The road to the campground is a dirt road, and it is .4 mile long before reaching the campground.  This campground is situated at 9,400' and is full of spruce-fir and aspen forest.  Walk the loops of the campground and on trails just outside of the campground in nearby meadows for the best results.  Sunrise Campground is best known for being a reliable location to see Gray Jay in the White Mountains.  If there are campers at the campground, then there is a good chance the Gray Jay will be around.  This fearless jay will often come into campsites to search for food, and seeing them is a real treat.  Sunrise Campground is also known for producing Pine Grosbeak sightings on rare occasions.  Be alert incase these birds may be around.  Look for a variety of forest birds in Sunrise Campground, including Wild Turkey, Williamson's and Red-naped Sapsuckers, Downy and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Clark's Nutcracker, Western Tanager, and Red Crossbill.  For a separate page on Sunrise Campground with more information on this location that features photographs of both birds and scenes on location, a link to the Sunrise Campground hotspot page on eBird, and a Google Earth Map, click on the link here to view that page- Sunrise Campground

Sunrise Ski Area:  At 4 miles on 273, go south on Sunrise Ski Road (Marked as Road 600 on maps) towards the Sunrise Ski Area.  Follow this paved road for 2.4 miles before a large gravel parking area is reached.  There are ski lifts here, an office to purchase passes (where one needs to go if they want to hike in this area), and Sunrise Park Resort.  This is a very popular place for summertime activities on weekends and for many winter events once snow fills the mountains.  This location is usually open Friday through Sunday in summers and it varies in the winter.  Calling in advance is helpful before visiting this location.  Spruce-fir forest is dominant here with scattered stands of apsen.  Elevation at the base of this area is 9,500' before it climbs up to 10,900' on the ski lifts.  If purchasing a pass, one can ride up the ski lifts to the top of the area and hike back down, or they can take a steep hike up to the top.  Pine Grosbeak has been found here before, and there is decent potential to find them if going to the higher elevations in this area where there are grassy clearings and spruce-fir stands.  This location holds more potential for Pine Grosbeaks than Sunrise Campground itself.  Look for a variety of other spruce-fir species in this area.  For a separate page on Sunrise Ski Area with more information on this location that features photographs of both birds and scenes on location, a link to the Sunrise Park Resort and Ski Area hotspot page on eBird, and a Google Earth Map, click on the link here to view that page- Sunrise Ski Area

End of Sunrise Area:  After 5.5 miles on 273.


Back to White Mountain Birding Areas

Birding in Maricopa County

An online guide to the birds and birding locations of Maricopa County


Birding in Greenlee County

An online guide to Greenlee County Birding


Birding in Arizona's White Mountains

An online guide to Birding in Arizona's White Mountains