Fire Falls in Yosemite – Horsetail Fall gets LIT!

firefalls fire falls in yosemite horsetail fall looks like lava
Fire Falls in Yosemite – What is it?

At the end of January and the beginning of February, you’ve probably seen posts and news about the fire falls in Yosemite. I actually had my eye on this during the end of 2015 but I missed it in 2016. As you may know now, Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite national parks in California. It came to my surprise though that it received much more press than I expected for this fire falls phenomenon.

So what is this Fire Falls? Keeping it short and sweet, it is basically horsetail fall getting lit during sunset in the month of February. With the right cloud conditions (minimal to no clouds), horsetail fall is illuminated during golden hour. The angle the sun hits the fall gives it an illusion of lava flowing down. This particular waterfall, horsetail falls, free falls off the gigantic rock called El Capitan. It’s fairly hard to locate this waterfall because it’s a thin ribbon waterfall, unlike those Oregon waterfalls. During the California drought, the horsetail fall is definitely nonexistent.

before the firefalls fire falls phenomenon in yosemite fire falls in yosemite about to get lit

The best spot to view the Fire Fall phenomenon

The fire falls in Yosemite can be seen at several spots in the Yosemite Valley. During February, the park rangers will set up cones to designate additional parking spots to view this spectacular phenomenon. As the day gets closer to sunset, you will notice a crowd of cars parked along the road. If you plan to photograph the fire fall phenomenon, make sure to scout the area early to reserve your spot. Come prepared with reading materials and food because once you’ve found your parking spot, you do not want to give it up.

Make sure you have your Yosemite valley map handy. If you are heading east on southside drive, you’ll start to see parking spots to view the fire fall after you pass catherdral beach. If you are heading west on northside drive, be on the lookout for additional parking spots as you arrive and pass the El Capitan picnic area. The sun sets on the west side of Yosemite valley and it’s best to view the fire fall phenomenon from the east side. The two side by side images above gives you an idea of what it looks like just minutes before horsetail fall gets lit!

UPDATE: National Park Services are running a pilot program this year in 2018 for this phenomenon. Please follow this link for details.

Tips from my experience

Everyone’s experience will be different but use my experience to make yours unforgettable.

  1. Get there early and find the perspective you want for your shot.
  2. Be prepared for the crowd. And a lot of shutter clicks.
  3. Bring a hammock or a camp chair. You don’t want critters crawling up.
  4. Bring food and friends to entertain you.
  5. Bring a tripod, zoom lens, and a remote transmitter. Your tripod will be used to reserve your spot and hold your camera #1. The zoom lens will give you a good shot. 24mm won’t suffice here. The remote transmitter will let you shoot hands-free and use multiple camera bodies.

fire fall in yosemite with a zoom lens close up


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