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Photos: 'Firefall' ignites in Yosemite National Park during sunset

February 18, 2019; 12:01 PM


Yosemite is one of the most beautiful and well-known national parks in the United States, and visitors in mid-February were treated to a spectacle not seen during any other time of the year.

Millions of people from around the world flock to Yosemite Valley, California, to see granite cliffs thousands of feet tall and dazzling waterfalls. Yosemite Falls is the most popular of these waterfalls, but this week, all eyes and cameras were be focused on Horsetail Fall.

"Horsetail Fall flows over the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. It's a small waterfall that many people don't notice, but it has gained popularity as more and more people have noticed it can glow orange during sunset in mid- to late February," Yosemite National Park said on its website.

(Photo/Paul Seibert)

(Photo/Miguel Vega)

Large crowds gather for a view of the firefall in Yosemite National Park. (Photo/Jeff Saliba)

Large crowds gather for a view of the firefall in Yosemite National Park. (Photo/Jeff Saliba)

Photographing the firefall in Yosemite National Park. (Photo/Jeff Saliba)

(Photo/Rodney Chai)

(Photo/Joel Baeza)

The firefall in Yosemite National Park earlier this week. (Photo/Patrick Hulce)


Horsetail Fall appears as if it is on fire when the sun illuminates the waterfall from just the right angle. To witness the phenomenon, people need to be at the right place at the right time and hope that the weather cooperates.

"The 'firefall' effect happens during the second half of February when there is a clear sky and enough snow for the waterfall to flow. Even some haze or minor cloudiness can greatly diminish or eliminate the effect," Yosemite National Park reported.

This year, the best evening to see this phenomenon was projected to be on Friday, Feb. 22, starting around 5:28 p.m. PST and ending around 5:40 p.m. PST, according to predictions from Aaron Meyers, a professional photographer in California.

People in the park may still be able to see the firefall on the evenings over the weekend, although it may not appear quite as spectacular as it was during the week.

best firefall

The firefall in Yosemite National Park earlier this week. (Photo/Patrick Hulce)


Onlookers in Yosemite witnessed the firefall glisten as early as Monday evening as breaks in the clouds illuminated Horsetail Fall.

Photographers packed together tightly to get a view of the waterfall through small clearings in the trees.

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There has been plenty of rain and snow in California this winter, meaning that the waterfall will be flowing throughout February.

This has been an issue in the past when drought conditions resulted in the waterfall running dry and not flowing when the firefall was expected to take place.

This winter has been exceptionally stormy across California, but breaks in the storms lead to favorable weather in Yosemite several evenings this week, including on Friday.

Saturday evening will likely be the next best time to took toward Horsetail Fall at sunset, but some clouds moving into central California ahead of the next storm could interrupt the light show.

yosemite national park

In this May 25, 2017 file photo, a class of eighth grade students and their chaperones sit in a meadow at Yosemite National Park, Calif., below Yosemite Falls. (AP Photo/Scott Smith)


This natural phenomenon is reminiscent of the human-created firefall that took place in Yosemite National Park off-and-on between 1872 and 1968.

Every afternoon, a fire would be lit atop Glacier Point that would eventually burn down to a pile of coals.

At 9 p.m., these glowing red ashes would be pushed off the cliffside, cascading thousands of feet into the valley below, resulting in an incredibly beautiful firefall for visitors in the park.

This event was discontinued early in 1968 as it was deemed an unnatural spectacle by the director of the National Park Service. Additionally, the large crowds that would gather on a nightly basis would cause traffic jams in the park before trampling through and damaging meadows to watch the light show from a unique perspective.

glacier point firefall gif

Footage of the man-made firefall in Glacier Falls in the 1960s. (Video/Yosmite National Park)


Park-goers hoping to see Horsetail Fall appear to catch fire should arrive in Yosemite National Park well ahead of time, as spectators and photographers will be sure to get in place hours before sunset.

"No permit or reservation will be required to view Horsetail Fall in 2019," according to Yosemite National Park. This is unlike 2018 when the park put rules in place to help with parking and crowds.

"The closest parking to view Horsetail Fall will be in the Yosemite Falls Parking Area near the Yosemite Valley Lodge and on Northside Drive along El Capitan Straight," the national park said.

"Visitors should be prepared to walk at least a mile from their parking location to a viewpoint; remember to bring warm clothes, boots, and a headlamp or flashlight," they added.

Those that miss the upcoming firefall will need to mark their calendars for next February in hopes to catch the annual light show.


Questions or comments? Email Brian Lada at Brian.Lada@accuweather.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter!


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