There aren’t too many places where visitors can see what appears to be a waterfall made of liquid fire, but that’s exactly what is expected to happen at Yosemite National Park next month.
Water only flows over Yosemite’s Horsetail Fall waterfall on the eastern edge of El Capitan in the winter. Sometime in mid-February, when conditions are perfect, the waterfall becomes what’s known as “Yosemite Firefall.”
For the Firefall to happen, the phenomenon first requires a significant snowpack in the mountains. Then, warmer temperatures in mid to late February melt the snow, which, in turn, feeds the waterfall. When the sky is clear, the sun’s setting rays strike the waterfall to create what appears to be a waterfall of liquid fire. The fire-like glow of orange and red colors lasts for about 10 minutes.
To help alleviate crowding and also protect Yosemite’s fragile natural resources, the National Park Service (NPS) has announced that visitors will need to make reservations to visit the park on weekends in February when the Firefall may occur. On February 10 to 12, February 17 to 19, and February 24 to 26, reservations will be required to enter Yosemite 24 hours per day.
The non-refundable reservation fee is $2 and the reservations will be made through this website. Importantly, visitors will also need to pay the park’s $35 per car entrance fee or show an annual or lifetime national park pass when they arrive at Yosemite, the NPS said in a statement.
Half of the reservations for weekends in February have already been booked but the NPS has good news for anybody who still wants to see the firefall.
“Beginning at 8 a.m. Pacific Time 2 days prior to a day-use reservation date, the remaining 50 percent of the reservations will be available,” according to the NPS. “For example, on February 8 at 8 a.m., day-use reservations for February 10 will become available.”
However, keep in mind that these reservations are expected to go quick.
“Reservations are taken almost immediately,” the NPS cautions. “Be sure to have an account and be logged in and ready to get a reservation promptly at 8 a.m. Pacific Time.”
Growing Popularity Brings Crowds And Traffic
In the past, there weren’t a lot of people who knew that the sunset on Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park created a spectacular Firefall. Consequently, people traveled to see the annual phenomenon, but the crowds weren’t large.
That’s all changed in recent years, however.
“This event now attracts many visitors to a small area, causing traffic congestion, parking issues, safety concerns, and impacts to natural and cultural resources,” the NPS explains.
“For example, on February 19, 2022, 2,433 visitors viewing Horsetail Fall gathered in areas mostly lacking adequate parking and other facilities. In prior years, visitors have spilled onto riverbanks, increasing erosion and trampling vegetation,” the NPS reports. “As riverbanks filled, visitors moved into the Merced River, trampling sensitive vegetation and exposing themselves to unsafe conditions. Some undeveloped areas became littered with trash, and the lack of restrooms resulted in unsanitary conditions.”
How To See The Firefall
In addition to requiring a reservation to enter Yosemite, the NPS is putting other restrictions in place to further alleviate traffic congestion, crowding, and visitors’ overall impact on the park.
Most notably, if you’re planning to visit Horsetail Fall, you’ll need to park at the Yosemite Falls parking area and then walk 1.5 miles to the viewing area near the El Capitan picnic area. If the parking lot is full, you can park at Yosemite Village or Curry Village and then ride the park’s free shuttle service to get to the Yosemite Falls parking area — and then walk to the viewing area.
It’s also important to note that one lane of Northside Drive will be closed to vehicles so pedestrians can walk on the road between the viewing area and Yosemite Falls parking. Furthermore, on busy weekends, Northside Drive may be closed to traffic completely for about a half hour immediately after sunset.
Meanwhile, although Southside Drive will be open to vehicles, parking, stopping, and unloading passengers will be prohibited between El Capitan Crossover and Swinging Bridge Picnic Area. Pedestrians will also be prohibited from traveling on or adjacent to the road in this area.
Know Before You Go
If you do plan to visit Horsetail Fall in hopes of seeing the Firefall, you’ll need to dress warmly. You’ll also need to wear boots and have a flashlight or headlamp because it will be cold and dark for the 1.5-mile walk back to the parking area.
The NPS also cautions that visitors should expect snowy and icy roads.
You can learn more about the Firefall restrictions and even find a park map showing road closures, parking restrictions, and other important information at Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls website.
You can find all the details about the reservation process on Yosemite’s Entrance Reservations.
For more about viewing Firefall at Yosemite as well as similar phenomena, be sure to also read: