Up until a few years ago, the natural occurrence of a small, ephemeral waterfall flowing over the eastern edge of the famous El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park pretty much went unnoticed. Even the almost supernatural-looking event that gave the falls a deep, fire-like glow did not attract large amounts of attention.
Instagram changed that.
Soon, thousands of adventure-seekers and photographers began to flock to the area to see the natural phenomenon that is only visible two weeks out of the year. The National Park Service recently instituted new rules regarding how and when we can visit and witness the magic that is Horsetail Fall.
The waterfall only flows during the winter and is quite easy to miss, but on some occasions, in mid-to-late February, if the sky is clear and the sun sets just right, the water gives off a unique lighting effect that looks like liquid fire falling from the heavens. And because of social media, the occurrence has drawn increased crowds in recent years, causing damage and increased erosion to the area, so this year the park has instituted new rules for visitors.
The restrictions are in place during peak viewing times beginning February 13, 2021, through February 25, daily from noon till 7 p.m. No reservations or tickets are required to view Horsetail Fall.
Viewing has been restricted to a specific zone that stretches from Yosemite Valley Lodge to the El Capitan Crossover. To see Horsetail Fall, you’ll need to be ready to park and walk. Parking will be restricted to the Yosemite Falls parking area, located just west of the Yosemite Valley Lodge. From the lodge, you’ll need to walk 1.5 miles on paved roads to the viewing area near the El Capitan Picnic Area. You will find some facilities here.
The Northside Drive will be reduced to one lane to allow more pedestrians to traverse the area safely. The Southside Drive will be open to all vehicles, but no parking or stopping will be allowed.
Because it is February and viewing is at night, be ready for low temperatures and dress appropriately. Headlamps or flashlights are recommended.
Remember, this is a natural occurrence, so there is no way to predict when it will occur in February or when it will end. Conditions must be perfect for a glow to appear. If there is a below-average snowpack in January, there may not be enough runoff through snowmelt for the water to flow. Temperatures can also be a factor. If it’s too cold, the snow won’t melt, and no water will fall.