For the 50+ Traveler

The natural occurrence of a small, ephemeral waterfall appearing ablaze as it flows over the eastern edge of the famous El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park has become an almost supernatural event for those lucky enough to see it in person. The natural phenomenon is only visible two weeks out of the year, and the National Park Service recently instituted new rules regarding how and when we can witness the magic that is the Firefall at Horsetail Fall.

This year, the peak viewing times fell between February 13 and February 25. And now we’re starting to see new, amazing photos from those who made the journey.

Erin Sharma was kind enough to share with us her photos and her experience.

Understanding The Firefall

Horsetail Fall only flows during the winter and is quite easy to miss, but on some occasions, in mid-to-late February, if the sky is clear and the sun sets just right, the water gives off a unique lighting effect that looks like liquid fire falling from the heavens. And because of social media, the occurrence has drawn increased crowds in recent years, unfortunately causing damage and increased erosion to the area. So this year, the park limited viewing to a specific zone that stretches from Yosemite Valley Lodge to the El Capitan Crossover.

Sharma, who lives about 90 minutes from Yosemite, made 3 trips to Horsetail Fall to see the Firefall. “Our first trip was Friday, February 12, and it was the first time I have ever tried to see it,” says Sharma. “But a cluster of clouds came in and blocked the view.”

Five days later, Sharma and a friend went back, and this time the weather was ideal and she was able to get her first glimpse of the falls. But not her last.

According to the National Park Service, Sunday, February 21, was the peak day of the peak season, and Sharma was there. “We arrived around noon, and parking was pretty full already, but we found a spot,” wrote Sharma. “We met people who arrived hours earlier to make sure they had a spot.”

From the restricted Yosemite Falls parking area, just west of the Yosemite Valley Lodge, Sharma and others hiked the 1.5 miles on paved roads to the viewing area near the El Capitan Picnic Area, hoping for the best. Remember, this is a natural occurrence, so there is no way to predict when it will occur, and conditions must be perfect for a glow to appear. If there is a below-average snowpack in January, there may not be enough runoff through snowmelt for the water to flow. Temperatures can also be a factor; if it’s too cold, the snow won’t melt, and no water will fall.

Conditions were ideal. For 12 glorious minutes starting around 5:28 p.m, Sharma and thousands of other park visitors got to see the Firefall at its best.

“People were very excited to see it because the past few days, it was not visible,” said Sharma. “Finally getting to see it. It was definitely a bucket list item that I am glad to check off. If the opportunity comes again to see it, I will definitely go again. Maybe try seeing it at a different viewpoint.”

The incredible Firefall spectacle at Yosemite.
Erin Sharma

Tips For Viewing The Firefall

After three trips, Sharma has the following advice for anyone planning a visit to the Firefall during a future February:

“Plan, plan, plan ahead. Most places in the park you can make your reservations a year in advance. [And] come prepared. This is not Disneyland. This is a national park.”

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