Firefalls Are a Thing and Here's Your Guide to Witnessing This Stunning Phenomenon


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Photo of Firefalls Are a Thing and Here's Your Guide to Witnessing This Stunning Phenomenon by Neha Bhise Sadalge

As the setting sun strikes California’s Yosemite Valley during winter to early spring, spectators get to witness one of the most mesmerising displays that nature has to offer. The sun rays illuminate the water with an orange glow, making it seem like the waterfall is set on fire, like a 'Firefall'. Dipped in a fiery orange-red hue, water flowing down the snowy cliff looks as if it is lava and it is a sight to behold.

While the Yosemite National Park is known to be home to nearly 20 beautiful waterfalls, every year in February, the second largest one, Horsetail falls turns into a “Firefall”, thus attracting thousands of spectators from across the globe.

This stunning display, popularly known as the Firefall season, however, can only be seen subject to the right conditions. For the illusion to occur, it requires clear skies, a specific sunset angle and sufficient snowmelt to feed the waterfall.

While the Park had initially planned to open registrations to witness this magical phenomenon, it has now decided to keep this open for all the visitors. This annual occurrence gets its name from a summer time event that began in 1872 and continued for almost a century, in which burning hot embers were spilled from the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park to the valley 3,000 feet below. This went on till 1968 when director, George B. Hartzog discontinued it due to overwhelming crowds and it not being a natural event. Later in 1973, when photographer, Galen Rowell took a photo of the Horsetail Falls beautifully lit up without any human intervention, its popularity started soaring again.

If you want to capture this yearly spectacle, there are various popular viewing areas in the park, the most convenient being the El Capitan picnic area close to Yosemite Lodge at the Falls on Northside drive. While photographers line up to explore different angles to create unique images, any location which offers a view of the falls backlit by the setting sun, such as along the rim or river will give you the perfect opportunity to gaze at this unforgettable view.

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