There is no shortage of natural wonders at Yosemite National Park, but for two weeks in February, the “firefall” steals the spotlight.
Horsetail Fall is a small waterfall located on the eastern edge of the El Capitan mountain in the Yosemite Valley. Every year, from mid to late February, when the fall is flowing, it takes a beautiful and bright orange glow at sunset. The striking phenomenon gives the impression that lava is flowing down the mountain. For a true firefall to take effect, however, there need to be clear skies and enough snow to allow water to flow, so plan your visit accordingly.
In 2022, the firefall will be visible between February 10 and 28, and it’ll be easier to see than in past years (at least in terms of access). Unlike the past two years, visitors will not need a reservation to enter the park. In fact, you don’t need to make reservations for anything, as the Yosemite Valley shuttle is free for park guests. It’s running again in 2022, though check the website before going as it could be subject to COVID-19 restrictions at any given timer. Note that you must wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth while in the viewing area or on the shuttles.
The closest parking option is the Yosemite Falls Parking near the Yosemite Valley Lodge, so you should be prepared to hike at least 1.5 miles each way from your car to the nearest firefall viewpoint. It’s also important to stay up-to-date on Yosemite’s COVID-19 rules, which vary frequently and could affect park hours, viewpoint access, or your ability to visit.
If you decide to visit, remember that Yosemite gets very chilly — and very dark — once the sun goes down. Be sure to pack a headlamp, an extra insulated layer, and shoes with good traction on ice and snow for the walk back to your car.
If you plan to visit the firefall, book one of these Yosemite Airbnbs near the park for easy access.
The term “firefall” was first used to describe a practice that occurred at Yosemite’s Glacier Point as early as 1873. Campfires built for guests near the edge of Glacier Point, where the Glacier Point Hotel used to stand, were pushed off the edge, creating the illusion of a stream set ablaze. That practice has since been outlawed, however, for safety reasons.
A version of this article was previously published on January 30, 2020, and updated on February 2, 2021. This versionw as updated on February 8, 2022, with current information.