Firefall: Five Things to Know about Horsetail Fall in Yosemite

What is it?

Horsetail Fall is a small waterfall flowing off the eastern side of El Capitan.  Most people don’t notice it, but when there is a perfect alignment of water and sky and sun, for a few minutes each year it lights up like a cascade of fire reminiscent of the days when hot coals were tossed from Glacier Point.  A cliffside glowing blood red and burnt orange is an unforgettable site!

Night shot in Yosemite of waterfall cascading a golden sunset color with clouds overhead.

Dates for 2020

The projected best dates for the next event are between February 19 – 22.  Firefall only lasts for about 10 to 15 minutes and begins about 15 to 5 minutes before sunset, which will occur at 5:40-5:45pm.

 

Conditions must be just right

First, the fall must be flowing.  The spectacle is dependent upon the snowpack and warm enough temperatures to melt the snow – if there is no snowmelt there is no fall.  If the temps are too cold, the snow doesn’t melt, the fall doesn’t flow.

Second, the sky must be clear.  Even the tiniest bit of cloud cover can block the sun’s rays and the fall won’t light up.  Luckily, you’ll have a couple of days to try for just the right conditions. 

Get there early!

The rising popularity of Firefall has caused quite a bit of traffic congestion in the Park for this event.  Get there early to claim your spot and be prepared to walk at least a mile from where you park to the best viewing areas.  The closest parking will be in the Yosemite Falls Parking Area near Yosemite Lodge.  There will be traffic controls in place as lanes will be closed for driving and made available for pedestrian use.  Remember to bring warm clothes, boots, and a headlamp or flashlight.  Snacks are also advisable.

Firefall at Horsetail Fall in Yosemite - tall, thin waterfall cascading a golden sunset color.

History

The first known photograph of the natural Yosemite Firefall, taken by photographer Galen Rowell, was in 1973.  Digital photography and social media have since shot the once-a-year Firefall into super-stardom status attracting hundreds of photographers and spectators.

Prior to Rowell’s famous photos, there was no mention of the unusual event.  The Native Awahneechee Indians, who lived in the Valley for centuries and would have known of it, appeared to have kept it a secret from the white explorers and settlers.  Even John Muir, who surveyed the area extensively, did not mention the phenomenon at Horsetail Fall.

Make your reservations early

You’ll want to reserve a room at the Groveland Hotel to take advantage of the few evenings that Firefall may be on display.  End your day in the cozy comfort of a room at the historic hotel, with a nosh and bourbon to perfectly top off your day!

Send us your Firefall photo: The winning shot will be featured in our Email Newsletter and the photographer will receive two vouchers for a Mix-it-Up Bourbon Flight in Provisions Taproom.

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