In the heart of one of America’s most iconic national parks, a natural phenomenon known as the Yosemite Firefall awaits those seeking to capture its breathtaking beauty. 

This awe-inspiring event is a testament to the wonders of nature as a sliver of sunset light casts a lava-red glow upon a thin stream of water plummeting off El Capitan. 

While it may not involve actual flames, it’s a mesmerizing illusion of fire that graces Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls every year in late February.

As we delve into this ultimate guide, we’ll equip you with all the knowledge and tips you need to responsibly and successfully see Firefalls in Yosemite National Park in 2024.

Yosemite Firefall: A Natural Marvel

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, let’s briefly explore what makes Firefall so extraordinary. This captivating phenomenon is a modern-day recreation of the original “Yosemite Firefall” that began in 1872 and continued for almost a century. 

Back then, hotel staff would toss burning embers from the top of Glacier Point, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. Today, Firefall has a changed meaning and is a brilliant play of light. Throughout most of February, the sun’s specific angle of descent casts a warm, fiery glow on the seasonally-occurring Horsetail Falls

This convergence of perfect conditions creates the illusion of a waterfall ablaze. Witnessing this natural marvel is undoubtedly bucket-list-worthy, but it requires careful planning and a bit of luck.

2024 Yosemite Firefall Season: Mid to Late February

2024 Yosemite Firefall Season

The eagerly awaited Yosemite’s Firefall season for 2024 is just around the corner. While the prime viewing period has passed, the magic of the Firefall might still grace us during the remaining days of February

This captivating event typically occurs during the mid-to-late February timeframe, with peak intensity usually around February 21 each year.

As the month progresses, the chances of witnessing the Firefall decrease, but it’s not impossible. The spectacle largely depends on the sun’s azimuth and the availability of water in Horsetail Falls.

While it may not be as voluminous as during the peak period, the sunset’s angle will continue to recreate the breathtaking illusion for those lucky enough to visit during this time.

So, if you find yourself in Yosemite in late February, don’t miss the opportunity to experience this natural wonder, even if it’s not at its absolute peak. 

The Firefall is a reminder of the beauty and complexity of nature, and every moment spent observing it is a chance to connect with the natural world.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s address some common queries before we delve into the finer points of photographing the Yosemite Firefall:

  1. Where is Yosemite Firefalls? The Yosemite Firefalls take place in Yosemite National Park, particularly in the Yosemite Valley area, where you’ll find the most popular sites and trails. The waterfall itself is called Horsetail Fall and is a thin stream on the far right side of El Capitan.
  2. When does the Yosemite Firefall occur? The Firefall typically happens in mid-to-late February, with its peak intensity usually around February 21 each year.
  3. What time is Firefall in Yosemite? The golden colors start to appear about 35 minutes before sunset, with vibrant orange and red hues emerging 10-15 minutes before sunset. In mid-February, sunset in Yosemite NP is around 5:30-5:45pm.
  4. What causes the Yosemite Firefalls illusion? The illusion is created by the sun’s seasonal, directional light, making the water appear as if it’s on fire.
  5. Which waterfall is Firefall? The Firefall phenomenon is associated with the seasonally-occurring Horsetail Falls, but its existence in February depends on recent precipitation and snowmelt.
  6. Where do you go to view Yosemite Firefall? You can spot Horsetail Falls from various locations in the park, including the Four Mile Hike, Taft Point, El Cap Meadow, and Tunnel View. However, note that some popular viewing areas along the river may be closed due to damage/conservation reasons.
  7. Where do you park for Firefalls? Yosemite National Park offers ample parking lots, and they are unlikely to fill up, as daily visitors are limited during this time. Look for parking signs along North River Road near Yosemite Lodge.
  8. How far do you have to hike for Firefalls? The walk from the main parking lots to the most common viewing areas is approximately 1.5 miles each way.
  9. Do you need a reservation to see Firefalls? Whether reservations are required for Yosemite Firefall varies each year and is typically decided in January. In 2023, reservations were necessary for weekends only, but in 2022, reservations were required for the whole month of February.

Planning Your 2024 Yosemite Firefall Experience

Planning Your 2024 Yosemite Firefall Experience

Best Time to See the Yosemite Firefall in 2024

Be prepared for a stunning display of yellow hues early on, with the fiery orange and red tones creating the illusion emerging during the 10-15 minute window just before sunset. Yup, that is right, Firefall only occurs for 10-15, sometimes 30 minutes at best.

The sun’s azimuth, or angle relative to Earth, plays a crucial role, but it’s not the only one. Be prepared for a stunning display of yellow hues early on, with the fiery orange and red tones creating the illusion emerging during the 10-15 minute window just before sunset. Yup, that is right, Firefall only occurs for 10-15, sometimes 30 minutes at best.

Choosing Your Viewing Angle

The viewing angle is a factor you can control to optimize your photography. Depending on conditions, different compositions offer various strengths and weaknesses.

In 2021, for example, getting close to the Firefall was a great option. A side-on view can accentuate the Firefall by blocking out surrounding rock faces and creating a chamber of light.

Now, as the National Park Services are closing areas for conservation reasons, finding a solid view can be difficult among the crowds. With that said, there are still plenty of place to find unobstructed views, you might just need to show up early or hike a ways.

Viewing Locations To Consider

Popular viewing areas like Sentinel Beach along the riverbank have been closed due to damage, so you’ll need to explore alternatives. Here are five exceptional locations to consider for experiencing the Yosemite Firefall during the mid-to-late February timeframe:

  1. North River Road: This road offers multiple vantage points where you can witness the Firefall’s magic. Look for areas along North River Road near Yosemite Lodge, and you’re likely to find a spot that provides a stunning view.
  2. Four Mile Trail: For a bit of adventure, take the Four Mile Trail. It’s about a 1.5-mile hike each way from the main parking lots to the most common viewing areas. The hike itself can be a memorable part of your Firefall experience.
  3. Taft Point: Taft Point is known for its breathtaking vistas, and it’s an excellent spot for capturing the Firefall’s beauty. The short hike to this viewpoint is well worth it, offering a unique perspective on the phenomenon.
  4. El Capitan Meadow: This open area provides a broad view of Horsetail Falls and is a popular choice among photographers. Arrive early to secure a good spot, especially during the Firefall’s peak days.
  5. Valley View: Located along Northside Drive, this spot offers a classic view of El Capitan and the Merced River. It’s not an ideal location to capture the Firefall but it can be a worthwhile location to try if you are running late and can’t fund a spot.

Each of these locations offers a distinct perspective on the Firefall, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your photographic vision.

Essential Tips for 2024 Yosemite Firefall Photography

Essential Tips for 2024 Yosemite Firefall Photography

Capturing the mesmerizing Yosemite Firefall in 2024 is a photography dream come true. However, to make the most of this incredible experience, it’s crucial to be prepared. Here are some essential tips to ensure you have a successful and memorable photography adventure:

  1. Reservations and Planning: Check for the latest information on reservations. During peak weekends in February, reservations may be required to enter Yosemite National Park. It’s wise to plan your visit well in advance, especially if you’re considering a weekend excursion.
  2. Crowd Control and Viewing Locations:
    Yosemite is implementing measures to control crowds and protect the environment. During the peak Firefall season (between February 10 and 27, 2024), Southside Drive will be closed to pedestrians. The recommended viewing location during this period is the El Capitan picnic area on Northside Drive, where one lane will be closed to vehicles to allow pedestrians to safely access the viewpoint.

To reach the viewing area, you have two options:

  • Walk the 1.5 miles from the Yosemite Falls parking lot, which is near the Yosemite Valley Lodge.
  • Take advantage of the free shuttle service from Yosemite Village or Curry Village, which covers the 5 to 6 miles to the viewing point. The shuttle provides a convenient and eco-friendly way to reach your destination.
  • Weather Preparedness: Yosemite in February can be chilly, especially after sunset. Be sure to dress warmly in layers to stay comfortable during your evening photography session.

Recommended clothing includes a warm jacket, gloves, a hat, and a scarf. Ensure your footwear is suitable for potentially icy or wet conditions, as you may encounter snow or moisture on the ground.

Don’t forget to bring a flashlight or headlamp. After sunset, natural light will diminish rapidly, and having a reliable light source will help you navigate safely as you leave the viewing area.

Be mindful of average February temperatures in Yosemite, which range from 28 to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Preparedness is key to enjoying the experience to the fullest.

Equipment and Camera Settings: Bring the right camera gear. A sturdy tripod is essential for capturing long-exposure shots during low-light conditions. A wide-angle lens is ideal for capturing the expansive beauty of the Firefall and its surroundings.

    Familiarize yourself with your camera settings, including manual mode. Adjust your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to suit the changing light conditions during the Firefall event. Experiment with different settings to achieve the desired effects in your photographs.

    Consider using a remote shutter release or the camera’s built-in timer to minimize camera shake when taking long-exposure shots.

    Patience and Timing: Patience is a virtue in Firefall photography. Arrive early to secure a prime viewing spot, as photographers often gather well before the event starts.

      Pay attention to the changing light as sunset approaches. The best shots often happen in the moments just before the sun dips below the horizon, creating a warm, fiery glow on Horsetail Falls.

      Take multiple shots with varying exposures and compositions to ensure you capture the Firefall’s full splendor. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative with your photography.

      The Legacy of Yosemite Firefalls

      While the modern Firefall is a mesmerizing display of light and water, it’s worth mentioning the legacy of the original Yosemite Firefall. Before 1968, campfire embers were pushed over the edge of Glacier Point nightly, creating a stream of embers known as the Firefall. 

      This tradition began in 1871 and continued into the 20th century, drawing crowds to witness the fiery spectacle. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later, in the early 1970s, that the natural version of the Firefall was noticed and captured by photographers like Galen Rowell.

      Today, social media continues to draw visitors to this captivating phenomenon, making it more popular with each passing year.

      As you prepare for your 2024 Yosemite Firefall adventure, keep these tips in mind. Nature’s grand spectacle, the Firefall, is a breathtaking reminder of the wonders of our world. With the right knowledge and planning, you can capture its magic through your lens and create memories that will last a lifetime.


      When to see Firefall in Yosemite in 2024? 

      The best time to see the Yosemite Firefall in 2024 is typically during mid-to-late February, with the peak period usually around February 21.

      Where is the best view of Firefall in Yosemite?

      Some of the best viewing locations for the Firefall include North River Road, Four Mile Trail, Taft Point, El Capitan Meadow, and Valley View.

      Does Firefall happen every year? 

      Yes, the natural Yosemite Firefall phenomenon occurs annually during the mid-to-late February timeframe, dependent on the right conditions of sunlight and water flow.

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