Yosemite announces new way to view 'firefall'

Yosemite announces new way to view 'firefall' (Photo Courtesy Raja Ramakrishnan )

Only one time of year can park visitors experience the mesmerizing phenomena that is the Yosemite 'Firefall.'

That time of year is rapidly approaching. The jaw-dropping spectacle happens for about two weeks in mid-February during sunset.

In order for this optical illusion to take place, a number of things have to happen.

  1. Horsetail Falls has to be flowing. If there is no water flowing down the falls, there will be no 'Firefall.' Park officials say right now there isn't much water flowing down the falls, but they are hopeful in the next couple weeks there will be more rain, and snow that will increase the amount of water in the falls. According to Yosemite National Park, the snowline is around 6,000 ft, and snow amounts range from a few inches to over a foot at higher elevations.
  2. The weather has to be just right. There have to be clear skies in order for the sun to reflect off the falls. It also has to be warm enough to melt any existing snowpack. Winter weather can be touch and go in the park so be sure to check the forecast.
  3. The timing has to be perfect. In order for the falls to look like fire, the sun has to hit the water at the right angle, and this happens during sunset.

If all those things fall into place, the falls will light up for about 10 minutes.

According to Jamie Richards, Park Ranger, this year the park is doing things a little differently in order to alleviate some of the congestion this spectacle brings.

Richards says this year the park has announced a new program for the Horsetail Fall event, that addresses visitor feedback on traffic and concerns over pedestrian safety.

The park is now working with The Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite Conservancy, and Yosemite Hospitality by creating an event zone inside Yosemite Valley, from Yosemite Valley Lodge to El Capitan Crossover.

Visitors can enter the event zone and watch the 'Firefall' by walking from El Cap Meadow or the Yosemite Falls Parking Area, taking a naturalist-guided tour, or pick up a permit to park inside the event zone.

You'll need a parking permit to park inside the event zone. The permits are free but have to be reserved online at 250 of these free permits will be available online each day. There will also be 50 first-come-first-serve permits available at The Ansel Adams Gallery each day from 9 AM to 3 PM. The reservation window opens Saturday, Feb 3rd.

Anyone who has made an online reservation needs to bring their confirmation in person to The Ansel Adams Gallery between 9 AM to 3 PM to pick up their permit for the event zone. Any permits not picked up by 3 PM will be forfeited.

The following are additional recommendations from the park to make the most of your 'Firefall' experience:

Important Tips for Planning Your Visit to the Horsetail Fall Event:

  • Visitors interested in walking to the event site are encouraged to park in the Yosemite Falls Day Parking Area, park at El Capitan Meadow, or ride the free park shuttle to Shuttle Stop #7 and walk into the event site approximately 1.2 miles one way.
  • Yosemite Hospitality, Inc., the park’s primary concessioner, will be offering naturalist-guided tours each day for a fee to the Horsetail Fall Event. To learn more please visit
  • To reduce traffic congestion in the event zone and to ensure easy visitor access to Yosemite Valley, the park will convert Southside Drive to two-way traffic from El Capitan Crossover to Sentinel Bridge. No roadside parking will be permitted while two-way traffic is in place for the safety of both pedestrians and motorists.
  • On Northside Drive, the left-hand traffic lane in the event zone will remain open as an exit route for YARTS buses, commercial buses, and other vehicles exceeding 25’ in length.
  • Visitors who plan to get to Yosemite Valley using the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS) should review the YARTS schedule at to make sure that you do not miss the last bus of the day. The closest YARTS stop to the event is located at Yosemite Valley Lodge. YARTS buses will not be picking up visitors in the event zone.

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