Images of Yosemite Horsetail Fall 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

Yosemite 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 waterfall to whooping 620 – 630 m.

Yosemite Horsetail Fall, California
Yosemite Horsetail Fall / Anita Ritenour, Flickr / 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 Yosemite 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 illuminated by the Sun
Horsetail Falls 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.


  1. Yosemite Firefall – a website devoted to this site. Accessed on December 9, 2015.
Yosemite Horsetail Fall on the map
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Location, GPS coordinates: 37.7311 N 119.6275 W
Categories: Waterfalls
Values: Geology, Visual
Rating: 4 out of 10 stars
Where is located? 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
Drops: 1
Highest drop: 480 m
Width: some meters
Average annual flow: Flows only for a few weeks in year

Landmarks of California

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve / , Flickr / 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

Virginia Falls, Canada
Virginia Falls / Paul Gierszewski, Wikimedia Commons / public domain
Some of the most fascinating and awe inspiring natural monuments are waterfalls, or locations where a river abruptly changes its elevation.

Recommended books

Moon California Waterfalls

California outdoorswoman Ann Marie Brown covers the best of California’s waterfalls, from all areas of the state: Cascade Falls in Lake Tahoe, Limekiln Falls in Big Sur, and South Fork Kaweah Falls in Sequoia National Park, among others. Brown includes various travel strategies, including Top 5 Unusual Waterfalls and Top 5 Waterfalls at Family Campgrounds.

Top Trails Yosemite: 50 Must-do Hikes for Everyone

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amazing number of choice destinations in Yosemite National Park―Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy, and many other famed locales. Now in full color, Top Trails Yosemite by Elizabeth Wenk and Jeffrey P. Schaffer helps you sort through the options. It doesn’t describe every possible hike in the Park, only the best.

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