Le Wild Explorer
California National Parks North America Outdoors United States

Yosemite Firefall | Your Horsetail Falls Guide

ephemeral waterfall Horsetail Falls at Yosemite National Park glowing at sunset, appears like lava during the Firefall phenomenon from Yosemite valley surrounded by three evergreen trees

The Yosemite Firefall or Yosemite Horsetail Falls Firefall is a natural phenomenon that happens for about two weeks each February. It happens when the sun is setting and it hits Horsetail Falls just right, causing it to have a glowy, almost lava-like effect. Photographers, outdoors enthusiasts, and tourists from all over the country and the world visit Yosemite National Park each year to witness this. If you’ve been wanting to experience the Firefall in Yosemite keep reading this guide for all the details. 

Cascading waterfall Horsetail Falls at Yosemite National Park glowing at sunset, appears like lava during the Firefall phenomenon

This post contains affiliate links. If you click my link, I make a small percentage (at no extra cost to you). This helps me keep the travel blog running.

Yosemite National Park Firefall Things to Know

There are some things to know when planning your trip so you have the most enjoyable experience. Continue reading for all you need to know about the Yosemite reservation system, lodging, where to see the Firefall, and more.

Yosemite valley with huge granite rock formations on other side of the valley and evergreen trees in middle from Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park

When is Yosemite Firefall?

Yosemite Firefall 2024 Dates:
The Yosemite Firefall prediction dates for 2024 are February 9th – 25th

 ephemeral waterfall Horsetail Falls at Yosemite National Park glowing at sunset, appears like lava during the Firefall phenomenon

Where is Yosemite Firefall?

The Yosemite Firefalls is inside Yosemite National Park in California. Most spectators view the Firefall from the El Capitan Picnic area and the surrounding area. This is where Horsetail Falls is located and you’ll want to be sure to have a clear shot of the waterfall to properly view the firefall.

people sitting in chairs waiting for the faint waterfall Horsetail Falls at Yosemite National Park glowing at sunset, appears like lava during the Firefall phenomenon

Yosemite Reservations/Permits

Yosemite National Park requires every vehicle entering the park to have a reservation through recreation.gov if you’re planning to visit on any of the dates below. 

You’ll need a Horsetail Fall Ticketed Entry permit if you plan to visit any of these 2024 dates:

  • February 10-11
  • February 17-19
  • February 24-25 

Reservations go on sale, for all arrival dates (the day you arrive at the park), December 1st, 2023 at 8am Pacific Time. And on February 8, 2024, an additional batch of reservations will be available two days in advance at 8am Pacific Time. This means if you plan to arrive on February 18th, reservations will be made available on February 16th at 8am Pacific Time.

The reservation is good for seven consecutive days and you don’t need to arrive on the first day of your reservation.

woman's hand holding a red annual national park pass
you’ll also need to purchase entry into the park or present your America The Beautiful National Park Pass

Can You Visit Without A Reservation?

You can enter Yosemite National Park without a reservation if you have a lodging or campaign reservation inside the park, are taking regional transit into the park, or are visiting the park with a tour group.

Campground and Lodging

You do not need to secure a reservation for Yosemite National Park if you have campground or lodging reservations INSIDE Yosemite National Park.

This includes private lodging or vacation rental reservations in Wawona, Yosemite West, or Foresta, as long as the reservation is within the park.

Regional Transit

You can enter, without a reservation if you are taking regional transit, the YARTS bus into the park. YARTS has a few routes that connect the surrounding areas to Yosemite Valley.

Tour Groups

You also do not have to secure a reservation if you are visiting the park with a Commercial use authorization tour group.

What Causes the Yosemite Firefall?

This natural glowing effect of the Firefall happens only on evenings with a clear sky, when Horsetail Falls is flowing, and when the sun is at the right angle (which happens in mid to late February). You can check the Yosemite Falls webcam to get a sense of the Horsetail Falls water flow to manage expectations.

Things To Know: 

Make sure you have all your reservations (if needed) and that you are aware of the restrictions.

Be aware of where you can view the Firefall. Be sure you are not in a restricted area or in an area that can be harmful to the vegetation. Please leave no trace.

If you have any questions or need any help while in the park visit the Conservancy volunteer crew’s information booth (available from February 9th to the 28th). It’s located in the Yosemite Falls Day-Use Parking Lot.

Be sure to check the Yosemite Valley weather forecast before your trip. And check the NPS site to be aware of Yosemite road conditions and closures.

Packing List

Dress in warm layers! The park is cold during the day and the temperatures drop even lower as the sun goes down. Bringing gloves or mittens, and hand warmers such as HotHands Hand Warmers to keep in your pockets are a must! They also have larger “lap warmers” that are perfect for sitting in the cold, which you’ll be doing a lot of waiting for the firefall.

Bring snacks and warm beverages to enjoy while you wait. Keep hot water, coffee, or tea in an insulated container such as a Stanley insulated thermos which keeps beverages hot (or cold beverages cold) for up to 24 hours.

You are allowed to set up chairs, tripods, etc so give yourself ample time to secure a viewing spot and set up. And pack out everything you bring, please leave no trace.

Prepare to walk anywhere from one to two miles in the cold. The parking lot is at least a mile away from the viewing area so depending on where you set up you’ll be walking for at least a mile each way. And take a headlamp because you will be walking back to your car in the dark.

DSLR camera photographing faint waterfall Horsetail Falls at Yosemite National Park glowing at sunset, appears like lava during the Firefall phenomenon

Winter in Yosemite – Other Things To Do In The Park

There is so much to see and do in the park in the wintertime. From snowshoeing, short hikes, photography, chasing the waterfalls, and more, there is a lot to experience in the winter and it’s one of the most beautiful times in the park. Check out this Yosemite winter guide to help plan your trip.

woman in yellow jacket kicking snow in front of small chapel durrounded by snow and evergree trees at Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley Chapel in the winter

Quick Notes About the Yosemite Firefall: 

  • The most intense part of the glowing effect lasts for about 3 minutes. The glow will last about 15 minutes overall.
  • Best viewing area is around El Capitan Picnic Area. Look for a spot to set up that has a clear view of Horsetail Falls.
  • For a wider angle view set up in the parking areas east of El Capitan Picnic Area. That way you can see more of Yosemite Valley,
  • Park at the Yosemite Falls parking area (this is the beginning of the event viewing area).
  • Sunset will be around 5:30pm so plan to arrive to park and set up at least between 3-4pm. The earlier the better and of course give yourself time to explore the park outside of viewing the Firefall.
  • Plan for a 1-2 mile one-way walk.
  • Bring everything you’ll need including chairs, blankets, hand warmers, camera gear, a tripod, snacks and warm beverages, and extra layers to stay warm.
  • Take a headlamp and/or a flashlight for the walk back to your car.
  • There will be restrooms in the viewing area.
ephemeral waterfall Horsetail Falls at Yosemite National Park glowing as the sun is setting, appears like lava during the Firefall phenomenon from Yosemite valley surrounded by trees
the Firefall after sunset

Where to Stay at Yosemite National Park

Lodging inside the park is ideal, especially for an event such as the firefall but can be extremely challenging to secure without booking months in advance. An alternative to lodging or camping inside the park is to stay just outside. The Oakhurst area is about a 45-minute drive or so to Yosemite Valley. The good news is that there are plenty of lodging options. 

Oakhurst Area

My favorite places in the Oakhurst area are Sierra Meadows, Yosemite Southgate Hotel, and the new Hampton Inn. Sierra Meadows is affordable and offers micro cabins, which are perfect for two. Or you can opt for their large cabins that can accommodate up to six. Yosemite Southgate Hotel and Suites offers guestrooms and suites that can accommodate up to five guests (they offer rollaway beds). They also have a delicious hot breakfast that’s included with your stay. The Hampton Inn & Suites is one of the newest hotels in Oakhurst which opened in May 2022.

Fish Camp

If you’re looking for something a little closer to the park, opt for Tenaya at Yosemite. This is in Fish Camp, about an 8-minute drive from the Yosemite Southgate Entrance and it’s a 3-star hotel with amazing amenities.

Midpines

For those who love unique accommodations opt for AutoCamp Yosemite. Choose to stay in a classic Airstream, safari tent, or cabin. AutoCamp has locations all over the US and the Yosemite property if perfect for families, couples, and friend groups.  

How to Get There

Yosemite National Park is located in the California Central Valley about 60 miles northeast of Fresno. You can fly into Fresno Yosemite International Airport and rent a car to travel to the park. There is regional public transportation via YARTS that connects the park to the surrounding areas. Once in Yosemite Valley, you can get around on foot or around the valley with the free shuttle. 

Yosemite National Park is about a 4-hour drive and about 5.5 hours from Los Angeles. If you are traveling from out of state or another country and plan to do a Yosemite road trip which includes other stops you may want to fly into SFO or LAX, depending on your itinerary. These are both major airports with a large number of daily flights.

The Original Firefall Yosemite National Park

The original Firefall or the “old Firefall,” took place back in 1872. This was when the owners of the Glacier Point Hotel pushed the burning embers from a bonfire off the edge of the cliff at Glacier Point. This created an actual firefall. The two Yosemite fire falls can be easily mixed up. However, the tradition of pushing off the embers stopped in 1897.

*****

Follow more of my adventures on Instagram!  Check out my Instagram Reels for more on California, Yosemite National Park, the Firefall, and other Yosemite experiences and destinations! 

Click here to read more about California destinations.

Pin it for later

1 comment

Winter in Yosemite National Park  - Le Wild Explorer January 14, 2024 at 10:02 am

[…] National Park will get a big spike in visitors in mid to late February. This is mainly for the Yosemite Firefall, a natural phenomenon that lights up Horsetail Falls at sunset and makes it look like fire. This […]

Comments are closed.