yosemite firefall
Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson
February 4, 2020 ·  4 min read

Catch the stunning “Firefall” phenomenon at Yosemite this February

For two weeks in February each year, thousands of tourists flock to Yosemite National Park, California to witness a startling natural phenomenon called the Horsetail Fall, more popularly known as “the winter Firefall [1].”

The Firefall occurs when the setting sun casts its light on the Yosemite Fall, a small waterfall tumbling down about 2,000 feet on the east side of El Capitan. This effect only occurs in the evenings when the water is flowing, and if you’re looking at the right time, you’d swear it was fiery, red-orange lava flowing down the fall [2]

The phenomenon was named after the man-made Firefall caused by park employees as part of an old Yosemite tradition. At a high-altitude viewpoint in the Yosemite Valley called Glacier Point, they would tip off glowing embers to create a visual effect of fire cascading down the rock. The tradition has long phased out, since 1968, but no one can stop nature from doing her thing with the Horsetail.


Planning a trip

February is the month of love, and this particular phenomenon couldn’t be happening at a more suitable time. It’s a perfect thing to bond over and make the most remarkable memories. The location became popular in 1973 after the dazzling effect was captured in mind-blowing images by photographer Galen Rowell, for National Geographic. 

Just like every other natural phenomenon, you can’t really be certain how everything will play out. Slight disturbances in atmospheric conditions such as a light haze, a fog or even a passing cloud could leave people disappointed. The skies must be clear or the glow will either be jumbled up or invisible.

The Firefall can be seen from February 12 to 28 at sunset. According to photographer Aaron Meyers, February 22 this year will most likely be the best date for viewing the phenomenon at its brightest, between 5:28 and 5:40 pm as the best projected viewing time [3].

To go watch the Firefall, no reservations have to be made with the park. However, some clubhouses offer guided tours in the area. Between the 19th and 22nd of February, AutoCamp Yosemite in Midpines will be open for business for Firefall tourists. Accommodations are tastefully furnished and luxurious cabins, tents, or airstreams are available. If you plan to stay at Autocamp for the duration of the event, you can sign up for the Firefall Experience with REI. AutoCamp would provide you with round-trip transportation, a full-day tour, and a professional photographer, all priced at $275 per person. 

The perfect spot…

… is nowhere exactly. As long as you can see the waterfall from your vantage point, you’d most likely see the glow. Meyers explains that most visitors prefer to set up at the El Capitan picnic area. However, everyone must park at Yosemite falls and walk 1.5 miles to the picnic area to avoid unnecessary traffic jams and trampling of vegetation. Only disabled drivers showing a placard will be allowed to park in the picnic area. The restrictions will be in place from noon till 7 pm each day

 “The sunset starts out on the west side of the rocks during early February and progressively moves east. … If you want to see the falls all lit up in the early Firefall season, go further east. As the sunset moves east you can move east (toward picnic grounds) to get good shots,” Meyers wrote on his website [4].

As early as 2 pm on each day of the two-week window, people would already be filling up the picnic area and getting set for the experience. You can go with food, water, mats, seats, and even books to keep you busy until the sun begins to set and everyone takes watch. 

If you’re going with a camera, it’s as important as everything else to go with a sturdy tripod – if you want to get flawless shots. 

It’s not too late to start planning a trip with your loved ones to witness the Firefall this year. Everyone deserves a dose of enchanting magic in their lives once in a while.

Read More: 11 natural phenomenons caught on camera that you won’t believe aren’t photoshopped

  1. Horsetail fall. NPS. https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/horsetailfall.htm. Retrieved 30-01-2020
  2. Kathleen St. John. A Rare ‘firefall’ Will Be Happening Soon At Yosemite. Simple Most. https://www.simplemost.com/firefall-happening-yosemite-february-14-27/. Retrieved 30-01-2020
  3. Mary Forgione. Yosemite’s ‘firefall’ glow lasts only two weeks. Here’s how to see it. Los A https://www.latimes.com/travel/story/2020-01-15/yosemites-natural-firefall-only-appears-in-february. Retrieved 30-01-2020
  4. HORSETAIL FALLS 2020 DATE & TIME PREDICTIONS (YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK). Aaron Meyers. https://blog.aaronmphotography.com/2019/12/29/horsetail-falls-2020-yosemite-national-park/. Retrieved 30-01-2020