Submitted by: Tom Arfsten, Valley Complex Supervisor
Not to be outdone by mere chocolate boxes and red roses, Yosemite has its own romantic gesture which occurs only for a two-week period in mid-February and lasts only a few minutes each day. Only visible at this time of year when the sun sets through the lowest canyon notch on the western horizon, the normally unappreciated Horsetail Fall, seems to catch fire and courses downwards in a liquid blaze of red-orange color.
It can best be observed from a narrow lane of viewpoints on the Valley floor, and so most people never see the stunning cascade of light and water. This dramatic display has come to be known as “Firefall” after the historic man made firefall off of Glacier Point which was wisely discontinued decades ago.
What causes this extraordinary phenomenon?
Horsetail Fall has a short season due to a tiny watershed that only flows when there’s a snowpack in place above the rim. In all other months when the Fall is flowing, the sun sets behind higher canyon walls and departs in mere white light. These factors combine in February to give witnesses a transient visual delight.
To get to the best vantage point take a late afternoon stroll along the river trail from Yosemite Lodge. Be sure to bring a flashlight as the return trip will be in the dark. If you choose to drive, take Northside Drive about a mile west from Yosemite Lodge. Keep an eye out for that near shoulder of El Capitan coming into view beyond Three Brothers. Starting around 4 p.m. you may start to see a few tripods going up as people get ready to catch the moment on film. If it is a clear day and the conditions are right, the Firefall is visible after 5:15. You may also choose to take Yosemite Conservancy guided photography course that will seek to capture this stunning display. Click here for details.