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Yosemite Firefall: The Spectacular Natural Phenomenon That Only Happens Once a Year

Yosemite Firefall

Yosemite's annual "firefall" glow phenomena is happening soon!

One of the reasons we love nature is because of the unbelievable and spectacular beauty that can be found in the little moments.

For one of the most spectacular of those "little moments," look no further than the annual "firefall" in Yosemite National Park in California.

This is a once-a-year phenomenon that draws people from all over the world. One look at the photos and videos and it's easy to understand why.

What is the Yosemite Firefall?

To be clear, this isn't really a waterfall of fire. It's a natural phenomenon where if conditions are right, the setting sun hits the park's horsetail falls and the rocks at just the right angle to make it seemingly glow like hot embers spilling out the top of a volcano in a post apocalyptic movie.

Posted by Wide Open Media Group on Wednesday, June 21, 2017

According to, this amazing sight was first recorded by photographer Galen Rowell in 1973. Before that, it was one of the park's best-kept secrets. Ever since the first firefall photos went public, it has been a popular tourist attraction in late February.

In order to see this rare sight, a lot of things must go right. First, weather conditions are a huge factor. If there's too little snowfall, Horsetail falls may not flow at all. The good news is, there is flow this year.

Assuming there is plenty of flow, a clear sky is an absolute necessity. Any cloudiness will ruin any chance of the sun's rays hitting in the right spot to create the effect. Even if conditions are ideal, the phenomenon usually only lasts about 10 minutes. The firefalls disappear once the sun goes down for the evening.

Yosemite Firefall 2021

The optimal dates for viewing the firefalls vary. Photographer Aaron Meyers has posted a set of optimal times on his website. His absolute "best day" for viewing this phenomenon as February 22 from 5:28 p.m. to 5:40 p.m. He does note that for 2021, water flow has been light, thus the falls may not be flowing this year. However, the hope is that some rains will come in and give a slim chance at a firefall in 2021.

Additional restrictions for 2021

Unfortunately, with the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, the National Park Service has some entry restrictions in place for 2021. For one, you must have a reservation to enter the park in 2021. The reservation restrictions went into effect on February 8.

The NPS defines the reservations accepted as a day use reservation, an Upper Pines Campground reservation, a Yosemite Valley Lodge or The Ahwahnee Reservation, a vacation rental or private lodging reservation in Foresta, Yosemite West or Wawona, a Yosemite wilderness permit or some type of commercial use authorization.

See the NPS website for more information on Covid-19 travel restrictions within Yosemite.

The firefall is largely weather dependent.

The phenomenon is known to be unpredictable. You can probably catch a glimple of the red falls before or after that date if you're lucky. It also matters where you stand in Yosemite Valley. Meyers recommends standing to the east of the falls for the best viewing spot.

Why? Well, you'll still get the beauty of the falls farther west, but it's on the east side that the sun hits the rocks at just the right angle to produce the effect.

Half Dome at Sunset | Timelapse Video

We know many of you are excited for Horsetail Fall next month, but Half Dome puts on kind of a show of its own! The setting sun hits the face of the rock just right, and for a few minutes, Half Dome glows red!Have you enjoyed a memorable sunset in the park?

Posted by Yosemite National Park on Saturday, January 18, 2020

You should also know you're likely to run into crowds. That's why the National Park Service has put some restrictions into effect. The restrictions run from Valentine's Day, February 14, 2020 through the 27th. Because the ideal viewing area, the El Capitan Picnic Area has limited parking, officials are closing one lane of Northside Drive to allow pedestrians to walk there from the Yosemite Falls parking area.

Officials don't want pedestrians walking on Southside Drive. They also don't want vehicles stopping, parking or unloading people there. That same restriction is in place for the El Capitan Crossover.

In case you're wondering, the NPS says on their website the restrictions are in place because increased traffic in recent years resulted in more erosion from visitors on road edges and riverbanks. The restrictions may be a pain, but they help ensure the park stays clean and the vegetation undisturbed.

Yosemite's firefalls are one of nature's great natural pheomenons and something you should add to your bucket list!

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis Youtube channels



Yosemite Firefall: The Spectacular Natural Phenomenon That Only Happens Once a Year