Yosemite Firefalls, aka the coolest glow stick in the world is a natural phenomenon that happens a few times a year. Here’s what happens: As the sun sets and disappears behind the rim of the valley, the rays refract off the water of Horsetail Falls and start to glow golden yellow, then neon orange, making it look like it’s on fire. Hence - Firefalls. It only lasts for a few minutes, but it is one of the most amazing sights you will ever see. Pinky promise.
This happens mid to late February (I was there the last weekend in February). This is the only time to view this rare piece of magic, because the sun is hitting the falls at the perfect angle (thanks, math) when it sets, it smacks that waterfall right in the face, turning it into what looks like liquid lava. It is rad and nature is neat, my friends.
What to expect
Conditions have to be perfect for Firefall to happen, some years it doesn’t even happen at all. I went the year before; nothing. Major bummer. Could be because it’s too overcast, or not enough water flowing from the falls, or because sun has body Image Issues and Is shy. Because of this, most people plan on spending multiple nights in Yosemite hoping the flames will be out at least one of those nights. I was lucky and saw it the first night I was there, and even more lucky because I wasn’t supposed to be there until the following night, which didn’t have ideal weather conditions. So, If you can, plan on being there for multiple days, or just be lucky like me.
If you’re planning on taking Photos, expect a group, no a sea, no an ocean of photographers. It’s a real Instagram vs reality moment, let me tell you! Most Photographers arrive early, like, 5am early to claim their spot, but you don’t necessarily have to stake out your spot THAT early. I didn’t, but getting there a couple of hours before is not a terrible idea. Be prepared to be very very cold though, so bundle up and bring a chair and snacks!
Where the heck is it
Horsetail falls over the eastern edge of El Capitan.
On top of the Firefalls being dope, it happens in the dead of winter which means you get to see Yosemite covered in snow! And since Firefalls only last a few minutes and you’re not an insane person staking out your spot 12 hours in advance, you’ll have most of the day to explore and go on a couple of mini photography adventures.
Where to park and take photos
The parking lots around Yosemite Valley Lodge and Yosemite Falls should be available. A parking permit wasn’t required the year I went, but they’ve been required in the past, so I would just check the Parks website to be safe. Since the Firefalls have been gaining popularity, it’s going to be crowded! Parking is tough, but not impossible, but plan extra time for parking just In case. Also, keep in mind walking to a decent viewing area might take a hot minute. There are so many viewing options though, basically if you can see the eastern side of El Cap you’re golden. That being said, Popular spots are the El Capitan Picnic Area and El Capitan Meadow.