Once a Year, This Waterfall In Yosemite Turns Gold

Tucked away on the east side of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is Horsetail Falls, a seasonal waterfall that occurs only in winter and early spring. Seeing the waterfall itself is something of a rare and precious sight– but during the second half of February, when the setting sun hits it just so, the water looks as though it has been transformed into a fiery gold spout, like a single thread of lava pouring from a primordial volcano.

During this time, Horsetail Falls is sometimes nicknamed Firefall. Though the effect is only brief, it is an incredibly powerful experience, one that speaks to the unbounded magnificence of nature.

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In recent years, drought and other snowmelt-related developments have made it so that Firefall is not always visible, and in the past, forest fires in and around Yosemite have limited the vantage points at which hikers can view the effect. For the lucky few who follow in Ansel Adams footsteps and aim to take pictures of the park in its more rare, awe-inspiring moments, Firefall can be a thing of wonder (just look at that picture, above). Those interested in camping or hiking in Yosemite Valley in the Summer will not have a chance to encounter this phenomenon, but for those of you trepidatious few who venture out into the wilderness in the winter, the possibility of viewing Firefall is sure to reward those efforts.

If driving north from Southern California, parking is available near the trailhead leading to Horseshoe Falls, which is easily distinguishable on most road maps and very close to Yosemite Valley– to say nothing of the fact that you can now plug this natural feature directly into Google Maps and find paths and other driving routes to get there. Ah, technology.

Interested in exploring more of our nation’s parks? Check out our list of National Parks you can visit (and donate to!) year-round.

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