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Seeing a Moonbow in Yosemite National Park

Bow Lake – Hiking to Bow Glacier Falls
May 19, 2016
Exploring Toketee Falls, Oregon
September 10, 2016

Seeing a Moonbow in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places we’ve been in the U.S., if not the world, and it’s really a photographers’ paradise. The valley is littered with view points and waterfalls, and it’s probably as close to ‘the land before time’ as I’ve ever come across. While the day time has some really incredible spots, the real jewel in Yosemite’s crown is the legendary ‘Moonbow’.

Moonbow?

Believe it or not, a rainbow isn’t just a day time phenomenon. If you’ve got enough light and water vapour then you can have a rainbow, and if that light happens to come from the Moon, then you’ve got yourself a moonbow!

Conditions for a Moonbow

Moonbows are a very rare phenomenon because you need some very specific conditions to come together. Those include:

1.       Having the moon at the right height and angle to refract the light properly

2.       Having enough water vapour in the air (i.e. having enough flow in the waterfall)

3.       Having enough light (i.e. a full moon)

4.       Having a clear sky (no clouds for maximum brightness)

So clearly a lot of things have to come together at once to get the perfect moonbow shot, and a lot obviously comes down to chance. While you can’t reasonably plan a trip around the weather, predicting the moon’s position and phase is fairly straightforward. The water flow during the year is fairly cyclical as well, and the flow is strongest during spring and early summer as the winter snow and ice melts.

Predicting a Moonbow

So how on earth can you predict Yosemite’s likelihood of showing a moonbow, and how can you plan your trip there to have the best chance of snapping one? Fortunately for us, some genius has worked it out, and has scheduled all of the best nights/ times for seeing it – click here to check the moonbow schedule. Our trip to Yosemite last month used this chart, so we can 100% confirm that they’re accurate. We obviously can’t predict the weather though, so you’re on your own for that one!

Where to find the Moonbow in Yosemite

The moonbow appears on Upper Yosemite Falls, so the best place to be is right at the bottom at the bridge directly in front of it; an easy walk-up spot on the main paved footpath. It’s perhaps ten minutes from the parking spots along the main road through Yosemite.

For the most part, the moon is only at the correct angle for around 2 hours, and chances are that the best positions are going to be pretty hotly contested. We took our spot at the bridge at Upper Yosemite Falls and were lucky to find a good spot. I’d definitely recommend getting there early to make sure you get a good position.

Obviously there’s a lot of spray coming off the waterfall, so be sure to bring waterproof clothing and something to wipe/protect your camera with. The amount of spray really means you can’t get much closer than the bridge to take a photo, otherwise you’ll get pretty drenched.

Moonbow

Shooting the Moonbow

In terms of camera equipment to bring, most experts probably already know what to pack, but I would recommend a remote and a tripod for your camera as absolute essentials for late night photography. I’d also recommend a wide angle lens to fit the whole scene in. I used a 10mm-18mm and it worked perfectly. Bear in mind that long exposure photos bring out the colours a lot more than you can see in person, but if your eyesight is any good you should be able to see the rainbow and the colours in the spray!

This really is something extremely rare and amazing to witness, and I’d highly recommending planning your visit to Yosemite to coincide with one of the moonbow dates. Feel free to email me at robin@eliteyyc.com if you have any more questions about planning your trip!

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