Yosemite 'firefall:' the best way to see Horsetail Falls light up

YOSEMITE, CA - FEBRUARY 24: General views of the Yosemite Firefall natural phenomenon at Horsetail Fall ending in a pinkish hue on February 24, 2021 in Yosemite, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Whether you have a telephoto camera, the latest iPhone or even just want to capture nature's beauty with your naked eyes, thousands of people from all over the world will flock to Yosemite National Park this week to catch the stunning beauty of Horsetail Falls.

When the sun sets, the light streams through a thin sliver of the waterfall, turning it a molten orange, as if it were on fire.  

In 1973, photographer Galen Rowell accidentally stumbled on this firefall-like phenomenon off the shoulder of El Capitan, turning this moment into a must-see annual activity. 

If the waterfall has enough water and the skies are clear, there's a good chance you'll snap the photo you want. 

When is the best time to see the Yosemite Horsetail Fall's ‘firefall'?

Prime viewing is expected this week, according to the National Park Service, about 5 to 15 minutes before sunset. But veteran observers say you need to get there several hours earlier to mark your spot. People from all over the world come to see Horsetail Falls when it shines in the setting sun. So, the experts say you have to get there super early to find parking and then walk to the perfect spot. Some say you should get to the valley in the late morning or early afternoon. 

Where is the exact spot to stand? 

The eastern edge of El Capitan on the valley floor. Specifically, the picnic area is a good spot, but it's getting harder and harder to get there.

Where do I park? 

Park at Yosemite Falls parking (just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge and walk 1.5 miles (each way) to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. If this parking is full, park at Yosemite Village or Curry Village and use the free shuttle (which stops at both) to get to Yosemite Falls parking/Yosemite Valley Lodge.

What do I need to bring?

Flashlight or headlamp, warm clothes, camp chair, camera for low-light photography and food. 

Do I need reservations?


Are there bathrooms?

Toilets are in the picnic area

Is it worth it?

Some people don't end up seeing the firefall even after scoping out their spot early in the day. 

However, others have been able to capture these stunning images. 

Take a peek at what's in store and decide for yourself. 

Yosemite’s firefall event on Feb. 16, 2021. Photographer Niaz Uddin said the glowing clouds are what makes this shot of Yosemite’s ‘firefall" really pop.  (Niaz Uddin)

The natural fire fall on the rock formation know as El Capitan about to begin. The fire fall happens once a year during late February. A combination water falling from Horsetail fall, clear atmospheric conditions, and late afternoon sun are all neede

Sources: Yosemite.com and nps.gov