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02 May.

Yosemite Falls Moonbow 2011

A nighttime lunar rainbow in Yosemite is a marvel to see. But don't expect crowds. This event takes place late in the evening. During a full moon in Yosemite in spring and early summer, lunar rainbows, also known as moonbows, can be seen on waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley.

By far the most impressive and majestic are the moonbows of the Yosemite Falls. Like the Firefall at Yosemite near El Capitan, a number of conditions must be met to see a moonbow, including a full moon, a cloudless sky and wind to kick up a decent spray from the waterfall.

On May 5th, I set my alarm for midnight so that Vonnie and I could get a little shut eye before our big adventure. It went off on time, much too soon. After turning off the alarm, I had second thoughts about getting out of bed, driving down to the valley and hiking out to the falls for what might just be, well... nothing. Vonnie was not helping my decision by disappearing like a ninja under the covers, silently as a hawk certainly immovable as a mouse caught in the gaze of said hawk. Ok, go time.

Everything was ready to go, back pack with gear, and essentials, coffee ready to perk, and of course camera and tripod. Even clothes, don't get me wrong normally I'm not the type that lays out the clothes that I'll wear the next day before hitting the rack. But when I'm stumbling around at O-dark thirty in a pre-caffeinated condition I like to just grab and go.

Arriving just before 1 am, I was amazed and delighted to see this wonderful moonbow. The trail to the Lower Yosemite Falls held high expectations as the path was well lit and the waterfalls were glowing and bright catching the full moon framed by deep shadows of pines, oaks, and large boulders sitting like silent immovable Tolkienesque-like trolls.

Everything came together as Vonnie and I approached the falls, a clear night, a super bright moon, and a playful wind at the base of the falls. There were probably 10-20 other folks taking photos, which for the area is not a lot of people. Everyone had the angle they wanted with room to move around, not my experience with the Firefalls which I can only describe as being enveloped in a sea of humanity packing big ass camera lenses.

One thing that was the same with the Firefalls was the festive and happy mood of everyone who was there to witness a rare Yosemite event.

The best time of year to see moonbows in Yosemite National Park are in the evenings preceding a full moon during periods of peak snow melt – in April, May, and June.

If you visit the park at the right time, I strongly encourage you to get out of bed, have some joe or hot chocolate and hit the trail. You just might be lucky enough to see this spell-binding sight for yourself.


APRIL: Pink Moon - April 30th - * Moon rise 7:50

April's full moon is known as the Pink Moon named after the pink wild ground phlox flower, or Moss Pink, which bloom in the US and Canada in early spring.

The naming of the moons come from native american tribes. Most tribes have their own names for the moons, however the Ojibwe tribe is said to have named April's moon the Pink Moon.

MAY: Flower Moon - May 29 - * Moon Rise 7:37

This is called the Flower Moon because spring has returned. That is definitely true for the Sierra Nevada's. The Yosemite comes alive with wildflowers as animals and insects return bringing with them airy daytime songs, and the sounds of the night.

TIP! On May 29th, the moon will rise at about the same time as the sun will set, moon rise being 7:37 pm and sunset being 7:24 pm. Find a high place in Yosemite and you may just see a strawberry colored moon rising catching the rays of the setting sun over an alpenglow mountain range of light. No worries, you have plenty of time to get ready for the moonbow.

JUNE: Strawberry Moon - June 28 - * Moon Rise 8:06

This moon is named after the beginning of the strawberry picking season. If you pay attention you may find wild strawberry growing in the park along with shooting stars, showy milkweed, evening primrose, baby blue eyes, larkspur, and dogwood to name only a few of the many wonderful flowers and plants returning to the mountains.

I would encourage you to visit one of the many meadows in the park such as Cook's Meadow Loop Trail in the valley, or one of the meadows off of Glacier Point Road such as McGurk Meadow, or Mono Meadow.

* For the moonlight to illuminate the spray from Lower Yosemite Fall, the moon must rise above the south valley wall in the east. Astronomy apps like Star Walk can help you determine when the moon might be high enough for the moonbow to begin.


  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
    The approach to the valley during this full moon evening.
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
    Walking up the Lower Yosemite Falls trail we see the moon lit upper and lower falls.
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
    The sight of this wonderful moonbow framed against the stars is unforgettable!
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
    The wind driven spray causes the moonbow to change shape, intensity, and position among the base of the lower falls.
  • Yosemite Falls Moonbow
    The moonbow is dependent on the position of the moon against the falls and does not last more then an hour or two before moving over the valley wall and returning the falls to darkness.