As the distant sun sets, the rays illuminate the running waters of Horsetail Falls within Yosemite National Park, and the backlit of the sun turns the waterfall a bright red orange, seemingly like lava outpouring down the side of the cliff.
It’s a beautiful sight isn’t it, something that looks like it jumped out from the page of a fantasy novel.
What Is It?
It was photographer Galen Rowell’s photo of the natural Yosemite Firefall in 1973 that started popularising this wonder, attracting a countless number of budding photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
This ephemeral phenomenon is known as the Yosemite Firefall, and it only happens during an exclusive two-week span from mid-late February every year. This is owing largely to the angle of the setting sun as it shines upon the east face of the famed rock formation known as El Capitan.
More than the angle of the sunset, this amazing sight hinges upon the snow bed that has been accumulating over the cold winter months. A sufficient level of snowmelt is needed for Horsetail Falls to gush down 480m during late winter/early spring.
Of course, visibility conditions matter as well, and things like fog may cloud up your view. But if the optimal situation arises, what you get is a stunner of glowing hues of orange and red set against the wintry snow-capped El Capitan which has captivated so many over the years.
How To Catch It?
While there aren’t exact dates, Yosemite.com has recommended the latter half of February as the best time to visit and the magical moment takes places roughly 5 to 15 minutes before sunset.
The Firefall Only Appears During These Two Weeks According To This Photographer
Aaron Meyers is a seasoned photographer who has captured multiple amazing photos of Horsetail Falls and written extensively on the firefall phenomenon, and per his calculations for 2020, 12 Feb through 28 Feb are the optimal dates with the best projected time being between 5:28PM and 5:40PM on 22 Feb.
Perhaps the most popular viewing spot would be the El Capitan Picnic Area. It’s the closest viewing point to the cliffside and also the closest to where Rowell took his legendary photo of the firefall.
Because of the rising popularity of the Yosemite Firefall, the Yosemite National Park has introduced restricted zones to better manage the skyrocketing crowds expected. The zones cover the area from Yosemite Valley Lodge to the El Capitan crossover.
Don’t get confused because the zones are more of preventing the entry of vehicles into specific areas which are the best spots to view the firefall event. The restriction beings on 14 Feb and runs all the way to 27 Feb from noon to 7PM.
Visitors can instead park at the Yosemite Falls parking just west of the Yosemite Valley Lodge, before hiking to the prime location.
Things To Take Note
Don’t expect to mosey on up there half an hour before the suggested timing of when the event might occur and think you’ll get the perfect shot.
You’ll more likely find yourself facing hordes of people who have already set up shop in various spots, leaving you to battle at the fringes in the hopes of getting a good photo. It’s recommended to head over during the early afternoon or even late morning to secure a prime spot to witness this natural phenomenon.
Also, it’s highly recommended to bring along warm clothes and a headlight or flashlight to the Falls.
Well, it seems like a lot of work for something that happens for mere minutes, and it probably is. But for many, it’s magical, it’s unbelievable, and it certainly reminds you of how beautiful and amazing the natural world around us can be.
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