Skip to content
For a couple days in February you have a chance, given perfect conditions (lack of low clouds at the coast), to see the dying light of the sun catch the seasonal waterfall which only flows in Winter and early Spring, off El Capitan. For less than a minute you are treated to one of the most magical moments in Yosemite Valley as Horsetail Falls appears to catch fire in its plummet to the valley floor.

You can’t visit Yosemite without seeing beautiful waterfalls. The national park has thousands – from ones that tumble a few feet to others that drop from almost 2,500 feet high. But one stands out in particular around the last couple weeks of February every year. If the weather conditions are good, and the sun is shining down at just the right angle, Horsetail Fall can illuminate at sunset and look like a giant stream of lava pouring off a cliff.

It’s known as “The Natural Firefall”. Every year, hundreds of people come to witness this fiery phenomena, but it can be tricky trying to time your visit. The conditions have to be just right, and the weather has to be permitting or else it will not glow.

What exactly needs to happen in order for this amazing natural firefall to occur? Well, to start, Horsetail Fall needs to be flowing. If there isn’t enough snowpack around in February, there will not be enough water to feed into the cascade. It also needs to be warm enough during the day for the snow to melt. If temperatures are too low, the snow will just stay frozen and the waterfall will not be able to flow.

Snow aside, the sky also needs to be clear enough at sunset. If it’s cloudy, the sun rays will be blocked and will not light up the falls (which drops 1,570 feet off the east side of El Capitan).

But if everything works out, the falls can stay illuminated for up to about ten minutes. It can glow from a lava orange to a deep blood red, and it’s absolutely hypnotizing.

Here’s what the falls looked like when it glowed in 2016: