The Rare and Stunning “Firefall” Returns to Yosemite National Park

A fleeting phenomenon lights up the snowy mountains

El Capitan Mountain in Yosemite National Park may appear to have flames shooting up its iconic face–but don’t worry, there’s no actual wildfire involved. Instead, it’s a rare visual phenomenon known as the “firefall” which happens for only a few hours a year, and inspires nature lovers and ambitious photographers to travel for miles to catch a glimpse.

When conditions are just right, Horsetail Fall, which flows down the east side of the mountain, catches the golden rays of sunset in a way that makes it look like lava or fire is pouring down the rock. But those conditions are fleeting–with the firefall only able to occur on a few days each February.

While it’s hard to pin down the exact dates, the phenomenon has been spotted this week, and should continue for a few more days. If weather conditions shift even slightly, it ceases to be visible, even if the sunlight’s angle is otherwise correct.

Thinking of paying a visit? Prepare for lots of snow and very cold conditions–and you’ll want some sturdy snow boots, as the designated parking area will be at least a mile from the firefall viewing area.

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