Every February, photographers and nature lovers alike flock to Yosemite National Park in the hope of glimpsing the famed "firefall": a natural phenomenon that makes Horsetail Fall on El Capitan appear like it's on fire at sunset.
Yosemite Horsetail Fall firefall is a rather particular phenomenon — in order for the full "lava flow" effect to appear, conditions have to be perfect. Horsetail Fall itself, a small waterfall that usually only flows during winter, needs to actually have water in it. It's this water that glows orange when it's lit from behind by the setting sun. The firefall also requires a clear sky, because any haze or cloudiness affects the quality of the illusion.
If you're thinking of trying your luck, keep your eye on park conditions on Yosemite's website and watch the weather forecast. And if conditions aren't perfect to see a Yosemite firefall this year, at least there's plenty of other natural wonders to witness in Yosemite National Park.
If you do travel, the state asks that you take appropriate COVID-19 safety precautions, including wearing a face covering, maintaining social distance of 6 feet from people who aren't in your household and frequent hand-washing.
Making a Reservation for Yosemite Firefall 2021
You can make a Yosemite National Park day reservation for $35 per car (National Park pass holders only pay a $2 reservation fee) through Recreation.gov. Some things to know:
Day-use tickets become available two days before the reservation date, at 8 a.m. PT. (That means that if you want to visit on Sunday, Feb. 21, day-use tickets will go online at 8 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 19.)
Have an account already made and be logged in, ready to make your reservation. The tickets go fast!
If you weren't lucky, don't despair. Yosemite says that canceled reservations become available immediately on Recreation.gov, so it's worth returning to see what might have become available since your last attempt
One reservation is needed per vehicle: It doesn't matter how many people are in the vehicle, but the reservation holder must be one of them, and have photo ID to enter the park
These day-use permits are valid for unlimited entries lasting seven days after you first enter. You don't need a day reservation if you have an existing reservation for camping, lodging or a vacation rental in Yosemite National Park.
If you're lucky enough to snag a reservation, you should know and plan for the restrictions that'll be in place within Yosemite National Park to limit crowding.
To view Horsetail Fall, park officials say you'll have to park at Yosemite Falls and walk 1.5 miles each way to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. You're advised to bring warm clothes and a headlamp/flashlight for safety on the walk.
Yosemite National Park says these restrictions are in place owing to a sharp increase in visitors straining to get a glimpse of the firefall phenomenon. One day alone in February 2019, says the park, over 2,000 people gathered to see Horsetail Fall "in areas mostly lacking adequate parking and other facilities," trampling the ground, congregating in the Merced River itself and leaving litter behind them.
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