Horsetail Falls Yosemite Firefall is a sight to see. I have only ever seen it one time, but I have tried multiple times. This year I tried again.
The adventure started like every other one. Plan the trip, pack up the gear, and go. It should have been easy peasy right? WRONG! It typically takes me 2 hours to get to Yosemite Valley. I left around 1pm which meant that I would have over 2.5 hours to find my spot, set up, and enjoy the view.
The drive started out nice. You know, a nice clear sunny day, but as I started to get into the mountains the roads started to get a little snowy. Now I had planned for this. I drove my truck, brought my chains just in case, but I wasn’t prepared for the roads to be completely snowed over.
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There were cars everywhere. Most were pulled over putting on chains, some were stopped while their kids went sledding, and others seemed…. well…. stuck.
This slowed me down quite alot. I was only able to drive about 15-20 miles per hour due to the cars in front of me with chains on. As I approached the entrance of the park it was already 3:30. That is 2 hours already. I should have been on the valley floor by this time, but I was still an hour away if things went smooth. The firefall should start at 5:20 - 5:40.
Since I was already so far behind, I almost turned around, but I figured I had made it this far I might as well keep going. Unfortunately the roads were the exact same condition almost the entire way to the valley floor.
As I approached Cathedral Beach Picnic area it was already 4:50pm! It took me almost 4 hours to get to the valley floor. That ate away all my cushion time to adventure around and find the perfect spot. I only had 20 minutes to get to my location and set up. By the way, my spot was about a quarter mile hike to the river in the snow.
As I tried to hurry, I slipped quite a bit on the ice and in the snow, but I made with over 10 minutes to spare! YAAAASSSSSS!
I set up my gear and got ready for the show. The sun was setting and the light was looking just right. There was even a super neat little cloud right over the face of El Capitan.
It was 5:20. As the sun lowered, the falls started to turn yellow. It was happening!
Then, all of the sudden, out of now where, the light went away. Everything went dark except that tiny little cloud over El Capitan. It stopped. The firefall stopped! I sat there and waited…
5:30 came around and Horsetail falls was still dark.
5:40 came around and everything began to get blue… blue hour was upon me and it was obvious that it didn’t happen that night.
So, I took advantage of where I was and got a few pictures with the remaining light that was in the sky.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it, but this was only Attempt 1. I am determined to see it, so stay tuned for Attempt 2…
Luckily I was able to see it in 2016 so I wanted to share that series of images with you:
How to Photograph Horsetail Falls Yosemite Firefall
Let’s talk about what the Yosemite Firefalls actually is, how to see it, and how to photograph it…
1. What is the Yosemite Firefalls?
This is an amazing natural phenomena that occurs in Yosemite. Basically, it is where the waterfall that runs off of El Capitan, called Horsetail Falls, lights up and looks as though it is on fire as the sun sets. It turns a bright yellow, then orange, then pink color.
2. How to see the Firefall
In order to to see the Firefall off of Horsetail falls you have to have all the right conditions. It is a little tricky:
The Horsetail fall waterfall that runs off of El Capitan must be flowing.
The western sky must be clear. Basically, you don’t want any clouds to cover the sun as it sets or else you won’t see the falls change colors.
You have to be there at sunset (this year it was around 5:20)
You have to be at the right angle. You need to be on the east side of the waterfall looking up at it.
The angle of the sun has to be just right in order to hit the waterfall and create the gorgeous colors. This only occurs in late February. Basically the 2nd and 3rd week of February are the optimal times to see it.
3. How to Photograph the Natural Phenomena
Alright friends this is where it gets fun! So obviously you have to be there at the right time of year, have the right conditions, and be at the right angle. Now how do you make sure to get the shot you want?
You need to explore Yosemite and decide where you want to take the picture from. Try to envision the photo that you want to take. Do you want a tight cropped photo? Do you want a wide landscape photo? Once you figure out the composition that you want, this will help you choose your spot.
4. Other Gear You Need (Not Photography Related)
SO MUCH GEAR! lol, no not really, but kind of. Ok so you need your photo equipment obviously, but you also need to bring other things.
A chair to sit and be comfy in (not necessary but nice)
A head lamp to walk back to your car
WARM CLOTHES - This happens in February in the High Sierra Nevada Mountains. Think COLD. This year it was getting down into the teens people. I bring:
Yoga pants under my hiking pants
Thick wool socks
Base layer long sleeve shirt
Hand warmers. This things are amazing if you get cold easy.
Backpack to carry all your things
5. Other things to consider
According to the Yosemite National Park website they are going to be implementing a permitting process. It was supposed to start this year, 2019; however, due to the snow they decided to push out the permit requirement to start next year 2020. I am uncertain as to how that his going to look, but make sure you are prepared so you don’t go to all the planning just to get to the entrance of the park and have to turn around.
Have you ever seen the Firefall? Did you even know about it before you saw this post? Comment below and let me know.
Do you have any questions on how to shoot the falls? Ask your question in the comments below and I will get back to you.
Wishing you the very best!