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The Only Places on Earth to See a Moonbow

posted in: Strange  |  posted by: Jennifer Gregory on September 16, 2008  |  10 Comments

You may know a moonbow by one of its many names. It’s commonly referred to as a white rainbow or a lunar rainbow. Moonbows are incredibly unique and rare occurrences, and are very difficult to see with the naked eye.

Moonbows are, as their name suggests, created by the light from the moon as opposed to a rainbow, which is created by the light from the sun. The light coming from the moon is obviously less brilliant than that of the sun, making moonbows almost invisible. For some reason, however, a camera can capture the colors within a moonbow in a photograph clearer than it could be seen on its own.


A number of conditions must be met for a moonbow to appear. First, the moon must be very close to full and be no more than 42 degrees away from the earth, if not closer. The sky must be as dark as possible and completely clear. There must be some sort of rain falling on the other side of the moon, though sometimes the conditions created by a waterfall are enough to create this stunning vision.

It’s rare to have all of these conditions occur at one time, so there are very few places on earth where a moonbow may be seen. Watch out for one the next time you visit one of these locations.

Yosemite National Park

Lower Yosemite Moonbow

Yosemite National Park, found in the United States, is full of waterfalls year round. There are, of course, even more waterfalls in the spring as some are created by melting snow. The waterfalls create just the right rainy conditions for a moonbow to appear.

Moonbow at Bridevail Falls

Photo “canonical moonbow” by Ian Langworth

There are plenty of other things to see and do in Yosemite as well. Yosemite national Park actually covers over 1,189 square miles of land, but most visitors only stop in the Yosemite valley, which encompasses a mere 7 square miles. There are plenty of places to stay in Yosemite National Park, and if you stay a while you might just catch a glimpse of the elusive moonbow.

Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls is located in southeastern Kentucky along the Cumberland River. The waterfall is 68 feet high and is fondly referred to as Little Niagra or Great Falls.

Moonbow at Cumberland Falls

It is not uncommon for a moonbow to appear in the mists around Cumberland Falls. The atmosphere in Daniel Boone National Forrest, where the waterfall is found, are often clear and inviting. All you need is a full moon and a good camera to create permanent proof of your experience.

Waimea Canyon – Hawaii

Waimea Canyon

Not far from the city of Waimea, also known as Kamuela, you’ll find the incredible Waimea Canyon State Park. The area is considered one of the rainiest places on the planet, and the canyon was created after the formation of the Waimea River due to the constant rainfall.

If we know nothing else about moonbows, we know they love rainy conditions. Waimea Canyon is on the island of Kauai, which is actually the top of a monstrous volcano and considered one of the oldest islands. Waimea Canyon State Park is considered one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island and is one of the best places in the world to visit if you want to increase your chances of actually seeing a moonbow. If you are interested in staying, you’ll be pleased to find that there are dozens of discount hotels in Kauai.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is also commonly referred to as Mosi-ao-Tunya which loosely translates to “the smoke that thunders.” The waterfall is shared by the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe, as can be found along the Zambezi River at a point where it serves as the border between both countries. The waterfall isn’t considered one of the largest in the world because of its height, but rather because of its length – Victoria Falls is almost a full mile wide.

Victoria Falls Moonbow

The waterfall has an odd shape that allows visitors to get as close as 200 feet from the top very easily. Visitors can watch the river drop into a chasm leading to a combination of gorges when they are not viewing the incredible wildlife found only around the falls. The ability to get so close to the waterfall makes it easier to watch for moonbows.

Don’t forget the camera if you should happen to have the opportunity to visit one of these incredible locations. Each is incredibly breathtaking on its own and the possibility of seeing a moonbow should only add to their allure.

Remember, moonbows are incredibly difficult to see. You may not recognize them the way you would a colorful rainbow. Instead, they may appear as white mist. If in doubt, snap a photograph with your long exposure camera. The colors will appear in your masterpiece portraits after you develop your film!

Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Responses to this Article

10 Responses to “The Only Places on Earth to See a Moonbow”

  1. Kenny Ritchie says on

    That it is a truly awesome set of photographs, I’m glad I stopped by. Yeah I think I’ll be back.

    The one at Bridalvail is my favorite.

  2. Marques Jackson says on

    1 less pip for Cumberland Falls is actually 1 more pip for you. Don’t over complicate, just keep it simple and apply this stunning vision. That’s how you identify your film.

  3. Greg@AzerothCookbook says on

    Gorgeous photos. I like your idea of using the longer exposures to catch the moonbows we can’t otherwise see.

  4. Vickario@Adjustable Beds says on

    Gorgeous pics. I’ve actually never heard of a “moonbow” and didn’t know the light could be strong enough to create that effect. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Isabella says on

    It is so awesome to travel around Hawaii! It makes me feel at ease and relaxed.

  6. Gareth says on

    I’ve just seen one at Okehampton, Devon, UK. Didn’t realise what it was or how rare!

  7. me says on

    ALL ARE FAKE EXCEPT Cumberland Falls

  8. me says on

    ALL ARE FAKE EXCEPT Cumberland Falls….Suckers

  9. me says on


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