The natural light phenomenon looks like flowing lava.

By Kelly Vaughan
February 04, 2021
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Yosemite Firefall at Sunset
Credit: Getty Images / Heyengel

Mother nature works in mysterious and marvelous ways. One of the most stunning examples of her work is the Firefall light phenomenon that can be viewed at Yosemite Park in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. The natural light wonder occurs in February when the sun and water come together to create a mesmerizing light show that resembles lava flowing down the Horsetail Fall, over the Eastern edge of El Captain in Yosemite Valley. However, there's no guarantee that you will actually be able to witness Mother Nature's show. This small waterfall usually flows only during winter and can be easy to miss. Firefall only happens on evenings that have a clear sky when the waterfall is slow; any amount of haze or cloudiness can completely ruin the effect.

Firefall is generally viewed in mid- to late-February. This year, it's expected to be visible from February 13 and February 25 between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. However, photographer Aaron Meyers, who has shot the light glow numerous times, predicts that the best time to see the waterfall will be between 5:28 p.m. and 5:40 p.m. on February 21.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, anyone wishing to visit Yosemite to catch a glimpse of the fall must make a reservation in advance. The only exceptions to this rule are if you have a camping or lodging reservation; have a wilderness permit; have a vacation rental reservation inside the park; enter the park via the local public transit system; or enter with an authorized tour, according to the National Park Service (NPS).

To view the Firefall at Horsetail Fall, park at Yosemite Falls parking (just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge) and walk one and a half miles each way to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. Vault toilets, along with trash and recycling dumpsters, are available at the picnic area for visitors. Experts advise that visitors should dress warmly and carry a headlamp or flashlight to navigate the grounds after sunset.

Visitors can begin making reservations on the National Park Service's website on Monday, February 8. The NPS expects that 80 percent of reservations will sell out on the first day. Reservations for the public are free, but there will be a $2 handling fee.

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