The Rainbows of Yosemite Falls

One Good Thing in Yosemite Valley.

PUBLISHED MAR 21, 2024 12:27 P.M.
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Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley.

I'm a native Californian and have been visiting Yosemite National Park my entire life. My wife is from the East Coast, and her first trip to Yosemite was around 1990, when we were driving across the park on our way to visit friends at Mono Lake. As is sadly becoming more common, a forest fire was buring nearby and the air was hazy with smoke as we turned off at Crane Flat to make the ascent over Tioga Pass in the Yosemite high country. 

After we'd driven several miles and steadily climbed in altitude we cleared the smoke and I pulled into the parking lot at Olmstead Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley.  We got out of the car to breathe the clean air and walked over to take in the view.

The smoke engulfed the valley like fog, and my wife gasped at her first sight of Half Dome, rising regally above it all and shining in the sun.

Since then we've made it a habit to visit the park every year for a few days in early spring to avoid the crowds, and it was during our last visit that a member of the park staff told us about this One Good Thing:

As the sun rises over the southern rim of the valley, the light slowly inches across the northern wall. When it reaches the mist of Yosemite Falls, it creates a shimmering rainbow (short video below). The effect only lasts a half hour or so.

The rainbow in the falls will from now on be a daily event when we visit. Our favorite vantage points are:

  • Next to the Merced River across from Housekeeping Camp, where the water forms an almost perfect refective surface
  • On the south side of the meadow between Yosemite employee housing and the Ahwahnee Hotel
  • A breakfast table at the Ahwahnee Hotel near the amazing window with the view of Yosemite Falls
X marks the spot for good vantage points of the rainbow in Yosemite Falls.
Mobile phone photos never do justice. Yosemite Falls seen from the south side of the Housekeeping Camp bridge over the Merced River.

Mobile phone videos also don't do justice, but this view of the rainbow in the falls from the south side of the meadow gives a taste.

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