This Rare Spectacle Is Happening in Yosemite (But You Can Only See It for a Limited Time)
Here’s how to see the firefall happening in Yosemite National Park right now.
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 the 1,575-foot Horsetail Falls from mid- to late February. The National Parks Service estimates that this year’s event will take place up until February 27.
Photographer Aaron Meyers, who has photographed the event countless times over the years, estimated earlier in February that it would reach its peak on February 22. However there is a severe winter storm rolling through California from Canada this week, so it’s recommended to keep an eye on the winter storm watch, which could impact viewing.
Conditions to see the firefall 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, which doesn’t happen 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.
Because of the significant snowpack and rainfall this year in California, the firefall is living up to its dramatic name. Images from social media are flowing in of the spectacular natural phenomenon, including helpful Reels from photographers who have braved the cold to view it this year.
If you still want to try to catch the phenomenon, 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, of course. But that’s part of what makes its ephemeral beauty so compelling.
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