The incredible phenomenon of the Yosemite firefall has lit up social media in recent years, and if you want to see it in person, you’ll have to take note of the restrictions on numbers in 2023. 

Every year from mid- to late- February, a captivating and unusual sight can be witnessed as the sun sets at Yosemite National Park. Horsetail Falls, which flows in the wintertime over the eastern edge of El Capitan in the valley, can be seen lit up in brilliant glowing hues of orange and red as if lava is flowing down the face of the cliff. The phenomenon is called the Yosemite firefall, and it always manages to captivate astounded audiences that have ventured there to see it.

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Yosemite National Park Firefall
The Firefall at Yosemite National Park © Xin Wang / Getty Images

But for anyone who is looking to see it this year, there will be restrictions in place daily from noon to 7 pm due to the popularity of the event. The tentative dates for 2023 are around February 10 to 28, according to the National Park Service (NPS), but check back in closer to the date as it depends on unpredictable weather factors.

The striking lighting effect happens on evenings with clear skies when the waterfall is flowing and is caused by the water being backlit by the sunset when it is in the correct position in February. While overhead haze or clouds can negate the effect, on rare occasions they can help create some interesting light play. A few elements must be in place for the phenomenon to happen. There must be enough water at Horsetail Falls, meaning that ground snow must be melted by the sun to cause it to flow over the edge.

The ephemeral nature and striking visuals of the phenomenon make it popular with photographers.

Viewing the firefall

The moment happens between five and fifteen minutes before sunset. It’s incredibly popular, with people traveling from all over the country to find a prime spot from early in the day onwards. advises people interested in seeing it to head there in the late morning or early afternoon.

Yosemite Firefall.jpg
The phenomenon happens from mid to late February © Spondylolithesis / Getty Images

Where is the firefall located? How to get there

The firefall appears in Horsetail Fall. According to the NPS, to view Horsetail Fall, guests should park at Yosemite Falls parking (west of Yosemite Valley Lodge) and walk 1.5 miles to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. If that area is full, visitors are advised to park at Yosemite Village or Curry Village and use the free shuttle to get to the viewing area. 

One lane of Northside Drive will be closed to vehicles to make way for pedestrians traveling between the Yosemite Falls parking site and the viewing area. Parking or stopping to unload passengers on Northside Drive in the area is prohibited. Find out more details about parking and accessing the area from the NPS website.

Visitors are also advised to bring warm clothes, as well as a headlamp or a flashlight. 

While this event had previously been little-known, there has been a massive increase in interest in recent years. The new restrictions were added after the area had seen litter and unsanitary conditions due to a lack of facilities and more visitors, according to the NPS. This year, toilets and dumpsters will be available at the picnic area. 

Yosemite National Park has always been popular, but with more and more people seeking outdoor experiences, it is one of many national parks implementing forms of reservations. To manage summer crowds, Yosemite ran a lottery for early reservation access to North Pines Campground, a popular site in the heart of Yosemite Valley with views of Half Dome looming above it. Here are some of the other epic national park experiences that will require a reservation.

This article was first published January 2020 and updated September 2022

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