Yosemite National Park – Horsetails Falls – Firefall

This is an image I took of Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park. Weather and water permitting, these falls light up in February.

Feature Image Details


Between for about two week between mid- and late-February the sun hits Horsetail Falls right at sunset.

It takes two conditions: There must be no clouds on the horizon and sufficient water. This year California was hit with snow but it also has to be warm enough for the snow to melt.

Counting pit stops, its about an 11-hour drive from St. George to Yosemite. The peak date is supposedly around the 20th or 21st but President’s Day is a zoo. Weekend in general are so busy that the park limits access on weekends. If you have a room at the lodge though, you are in.  

The lodge was booked for all but two days when I decided to give it a go. I had lodge reservations for the 15th and 16th. 

Conditions were perfect on the 15th. And the show lasted for about 20 minutes with the last two minutes the best. On the 16th, the sun came out in the last two minutes. I was at a slightly different spot. My location on the 15th was perfect.

February 16th Image 

Yosemite - Horsetail Falls (565S2) NR

The 16th of February did not look promising at all. Some people packed it in and left. 

To get a prime spot, you need to claim it a couple of hours ahead of sunset and then stand around hoping something happens. That’s not as bad as it seems, I had fun chatting with other photographers. But on weekends it can get so crowded there are fights over tripod spots.

The very best spot, Sentinel Beach, on the Merced River, where one can get the falls reflected in the water was so damaged by masses of photographers a few years ago that the park closed it off. 

It’s a $5,000 fine to be there and the park police caught a group of about 8 photographers on the 15th. They got no shot at all in extremely good conditions. 

A lot of trails are closed from ice now, so in February, you are going for one shot. For me, that’s 22 hours of driving. I got the shot.

We are going back in April or May when the trails are open, the weather is warmer, and the redbuds and dogwoods are blooming.


I created a video by taking images every 4 seconds and blending them. This is the first time that I have done this.

I accidentally had my built-in intervalometer stop at 100 images so I had to restart it twice. That accounts for a bit of chop in a couple of spots. Just touching a camera with a heavy lens on it can move the image slightly. 

The lead image and the video are slightly different crops. Both the lead image and the video lead are blends. In my original post I edited out the left tree in the lead image. It’s now back to match the video.


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

3 thoughts on “Yosemite National Park – Horsetails Falls – Firefall

  1. Apologies for deleted comments.

    I had to redo this post to insert the video. That means some comments from my original post are gone.

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