Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley

Glow of Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley, California
Glow of Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley / E. Howe, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 37.7311 N 119.6275 W
No:509        (list of all attractions)
Values:Geology, Visual
Address:North America, United States, California, Yosemite National Park, northern side of Yosemite Valley, south-eastern wall of El Capitan
UNESCO World Heritage status:Part of "Yosemite National Park", 1984, No.308.
Total height:˜ 630 m
Highest drop:480 m
Width:some meters
Average annual flow:Flows only for a few weeks in year

Images of Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley create a sensation in social networks almost every year. For a few days in a year in February it shines in the light of the setting Sun and, it seems, it even emits an eerie light!

Small but very tall

Horsetail Fall is formed by a small stream which for most part of the year is dry or just a meagre trickle. But for a few weeks in the late winter - early spring it turns into a spectacular waterfall. If there is enough water, it even divides into two parallel streams. The western stream is a bit higher - its main drop is 480 m tall, while eastern stream (a bit more powerful one) has a 470 m tall drop.

After the main drop both streams join and continue to fall down a steep terrain for another 150 m, thus bringing the total height of waterfal to whooping 620 - 630 m.

Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Valley, California
Horsetail Fall / Anita Ritenour, / CC BY 2.0

Such figures are very impressive even if waterfall flows only for a short time during the year. But... it is located in Yosemite Valley - one of the most beautiful places in the world with several world-class waterfalls (see Yosemite Falls) and the small Horsetail Fall is rather insignificant if compared to these giants.

Wonder of nature

Nonetheless for a few days in the year Horsetail Fall becomes a world-class "star". Around the February 17 - 19 the setting Sun sends a beam of light exactly to this waterfall. As the Sun is setting down, the surroundings become dark but the waterfall for some 10 minutes shines like a stream of fire.

Horsetail Falls, California
Horsetail Fall illuminated by the Sun / Rachel Chang, / CC BY 2.0

The unique properties of Horsetail Fall have not been mentioned until the recent times. The first known colored image of this phenomenon was taken in 1973 by Galen Rowell. Since then more and more people are coming to appreciate this wonder of nature. Not every year is lucky - sometimes there is almost no water, sometimes the sky is grey. But no one should complain - anyway they are in one of the most beautiful places in the world - Yosemite Valley.


See Horsetail Fall on the map of California!


  1. Yosemite Firefall - a website devoted to this site. Accessed on December 9, 2015.

Landmarks of California

Golden Gate Bridge, California
Golden Gate Bridge, California / David Ohmer, / CC BY 2.0

Although California is one of states in the United States of America, Americans often compare it to a separate country, e.g. "if California would be a country, it would have the eighth largest economy in the world". We can go on with this comparison - California has more landmarks and attractions than many large countries of the world.

Waterfalls and rapids

Iguazu Falls - one of most impressive waterfalls in world
Iguazu Falls in Argentina / Brazil / L.Galuzzi, CC-BY-SA-2.5.

Some of the most fascinating and awe inspiring natural monuments are waterfalls, or locations where a river abruptly changes its elevation.

Recommended books

John Muir: The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books

Books of Muir reveal why he devoted his life to preserving the West's greatest natural treasures.

Top Trails: Yosemite: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone (Top Trails: Must-Do Hikes)

Jeffrey Schaffer has selected 46 "must-do" Yosemite hikes. Whether you're looking for a scenic stroll, a full-day adventure, or even a spectacular backpacking trip, you'll find it here. And with at-a-glance information for each hike, visitors can determine which hikes are most suitable to their skills, schedules, and preferences.

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