Yosemite’s ‘firefall’ glow is a no-go, but you may still see a great sunset on El Capitan

Yosemite's "firefall" at Horsetail Fall in 2019
Horsetail Fall glowed in 2019, but park officials say a lack of water may ruin the effect this year.
(Raul Roa / For The Times)

Yosemite’s annual “firefall” phenomenon likely won’t appear this year, according to Yosemite National Park. The stunning glow best seen the last two weeks in February depends on the sunset’s waning light striking a glistening waterfall on El Capitan’s granite walls. But right now, the fall isn’t running.

“When weather and conditions align, the light at sunset will reflect on the water in Horsetail Fall, causing the waterfall to light up,” a park statement says. “This year, there is little to no water in Horsetail Fall, with no precipitation in the forecast over the next two weeks.”

But all is not lost.

If skies remains clear, you may still see a great sunset. “The light reflecting off El Capitan is still a spectacular sight” even without the waterfall, says park spokeswoman Jamie Richards. Make sure you heck forecasts and the park’s website to see whether clear skies are predicted.


Last year, about 2,000 people came to see the phenomenon, apparently trampling sensitive riverbank areas and leaving trash and unsanitary conditions behind. Though the firefall may be a no-show, the park is imposing restrictions on roads that lead to viewing areas starting at noon Thursday.

If you go, make sure to dress warmly in layers, with a fleece or puffy jacket. Bring snacks and water to have on hand while you are at your chosen viewing site, and make sure you have a flashlight because you’ll be walking back from the site in the dark.

Here are some of the rules drivers and hikers in Yosemite Valley need to know:

  • Northside Drive will close one lane to allow pedestrian access; no stopping, parking or unloading on the road;
  • Southside Drive and the El Capitan Crossover will be closed to pedestrians; no stopping, parking or unloading; and
  • The area between Cathedral Beach Picnic Area and Sentinel Beach Picnic Area and along the Merced River will be closed to drivers and pedestrians.

The restrictions will remain in effect daily from noon to 7 p.m. through Feb. 27.

Yosemite urges firefall visitors to park at Yosemite Falls and walk 1.5 miles to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. Only vehicles with a disability placard will be allowed to park in the picnic area.

Photographers were angry about the closures, saying the park was closing off the best viewing spots, according to SFGate. The annual firefall phenomenon usually appears from Feb. 12 through 28.

Info: Yosemite National Park