Creative Commons photo by evelynquek is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Chances of seeing the elusive firefall effect in Yosemite Valley this year are fading, but nothing is ever certain with Mother Nature. Here’s how to see the show if the falls roar to life this month

Nicole Clausing  – January 22, 2020 | Updated February 13, 2020

Yosemite National Park is full of breathtaking photo ops like Half Dome and El Capitan. And in February, if we’re lucky, one that might even eclipse those two icons will pop into view. Most years, a so-called firefall phenomenon can be observed at Horsetail Falls from mid- to late February.

Conditions have to be just right. Not only does the angle of the sun have to be perfect (which only happens during February and October), but atmospheric conditions have to be very clear, too. Crucially, there has to be a healthy amount of water flowing over the rocks, too, which doesn’t happen even every spring, and rarely if ever during Yosemite’s fall season. When everything does come together, the falls are illuminated by the setting sun in such a way that the water glows orange, looking for a few short minutes like fire or lava is spilling over the edge of the cliff.

Will it happen this year? Unfortunately, it’s looking less and less likely. The last month has been dry in the park, and many Yosemite waterfalls are running at a trickle, if at all. Long-range forecasts call for clear skies with few chances for precipitation between now and the end of February. Is the show definitely cancelled? No, a little rain or a warm spell could still change everything. Our advice is to keep checking news sources and social media for updates—and to not base your decision to go to the park on whether or not this one thing is happening. Yosemite has plenty of eye candy even without a firefall.

If you still want to try to catch the phenomenon this year, the El Capitan picnic area is a good viewpoint. You won’t be able to park there, though, unless you have a handicap placard. Northside Drive also has good view lines, but no one is allowed to park or stop there. The nearest general parking is the Yosemite Falls parking area near the Yosemite Valley Lodge. That’s at least a mile away from good viewing points, so be prepared for a hike. Arrive in the park plenty early, and expect crowds. Bring a camp chair. Bring a camera. And bring your best attitude. A firefall sighting is by no means guaranteed—that’s part of what makes its ephemeral beauty so compelling.