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Visiting The Yosemite Firefall: Everything You Need To Know


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Kim Lee

Yosemite, Firefalls
Photo by Richard Schneider on Flickr

Mother Nature’s beauty is incomparable. One irreplaceable natural beauty is the Yosemite Firefall, and it’s a wonder of nature that will surely make your jaw drop. When the setting sun hits the falls just right, it illuminates the falls, giving off the illusion that the entire length of the falls is “on fire”. It truly is a marvel to behold!


Amazing yosemite firefall

Photo by katie Rodriguez on unsplash


Officially called the Horsetail Falls, it wasn’t always a famous destination among hikers. In fact, the Yosemite National Park is peppered with a number of other gorgeous waterfalls such as the Yosemite Falls and the Snow Creek Falls. When visitors noticed the “glowing” Horsetail Falls, it suddenly became the center of attention.


Before you get too excited, there are a few things you need to know about about the Yosemite Firefall. Officially called the Horsetail Falls, this waterfall isn’t always “glowing”. In fact, water flows only during the winter and early spring. There’s only a certain time of the year when we can witness the marvelous Firefall. Read on to know more!


When To Visit The Yosemite Firefall

To witness the stunning Yosemite Firefall, you have to visit in late February — the last two weeks of the month to be exact. You can visit as early as February 14, but that’s not a guarantee. If you want to make the trip worth it, you’ll have higher chances of seeing the Firefall around February 17 to 19.


As mentioned earlier, the 650-metre Horsetail Falls doesn’t flow all year round. To be more specific, water flows from this waterfall from December to April. Moreover, getting a glimpse of the Firefall depends greatly on a few factors such as the time of the day and weather conditions.


How To Get To The Horsetail Falls

First, you have to make your way to the national park. Where is Yosemite exactly? It is located in Sierra Nevada’s mountains in eastern central California. Spread across 748,436 acres, the park is loosely surrounded by California’s major cities: San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.


You can easily drive up to the park from any of the major cities. On average, it takes almost three hours from Sacramento, around three and a half to four hours from San Francisco, and five to six hours from Los Angeles. 


All public roads are well-maintained. Whilst it may seem tedious to drive such a long distance, you won’t get bored because of the scenic views along the way. Remember to install and use tire chains if you’re planning to head up to the park from October to April to avoid accidents.


If you’re not exactly fond of driving, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) also provides bus services.


Things To Do At The Yosemite Firefall

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park

Photo From Pexels


First and foremost, prepare to take pictures. Whether it is with a professional camera or a smartphone, you’ll most likely want to take a photo or two (or three!) back home.


You can also camp at the Yosemite campsite in the park. If you’re not into camping, you can stay in a Yosemite lodge at the falls — the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Take out a pair of your sturdiest boots and follow one of the many hiking trails within the park. The tallest waterfall in North America is located there — the Yosemite Falls. And that is not the only awesome sight to see in the park. Aside from the Yosemite Firefall, you can also witness majestic peaks, waterfalls, and of course, lots and lots of lush greenery. 


Take your family with you for some bonding time while waiting for the exact moment the Yosemite Firefall starts to glow. Plus, bringing your kids along will do them a world of good as this would be the perfect opportunity for them to stay away from their phones. 


Parking And Viewing Points Of The Yosemite Firefall

Yosemite Map, Viewing Points, Firefall

Photo From the National Park Service Website

You can expect heavy traffic around February. It just goes to show how renowned and famous the Yosemite Firefall is. To address this problem, park officials established a few rules in 2018.


From February 12 to 26, the park issues 300 parking permits to visitors. This ticket will permit travelers to access the prime viewing area of the Yosemite Firefall.


A small clearing close to the picnic area provides one of the best views of the Firefall. You can get a northern view of the waterfall on the east side of the El Capitan Picnic Area. Alternatively, you can also opt for the southern view — the parking area near Cathedral Beach.


Moreover, 250 of the permits are available online, while 50 are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can get one of the 50 permits at the Ansel Adam Gallery between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Online reservation holders also need to come in person bringing a printed copy of their reservation for confirmation; otherwise, it will be forfeited.


If you’re interested in walking to the site, you can park at either the Yosemite Falls day parking area or the park at the El Capitan Meadow. You can also ride the free park shuttle at shuttle stop #7 and then walk to the falls. The hike is around 1.2 miles.


For a fee, you can also take the Naturalist guided tours which are available every day. It is hosted by Yosemite Hospitality, Inc. You can avail the tour if you don’t want to get lost!


More About The Horsetail Falls

The Horsetail Falls is a modest-sized fall that flows from two adjacent streams. The east side has a drop of 1540 feet whilst the west side has a 1570-foot drop. Both of these streams pool together and drop at a staggering height of 650 metres (2130 feet).


Sometimes called an ephemeral fall because of its seasonal nature, the Horsetail Falls is worth the trip! When seen from certain angles, some have said that it looks as if lava is flowing down its sheer cliff. Imagine that!


Additional Info

Yosemite Firefall

Photo by Mark Willard on Flickr


The most important thing to remember is that the Firefall only happens during sunset. With that in mind, dress accordingly. You should wear warm clothing or bring an extra shirt or sweater just in case. Have a few snacks in your bag. You don’t want to miss the striking beauty of the Yosemite Firefall because you’re hungry, do you? Moreover, bring enough drinking water as hiking around will definitely make you thirsty!


There you have it — every basic thing you need to know about the Yosemite Firefall! The drive may be long but once you reach the park and the fall itself, it’ll definitely be the experience of a lifetime. Have fun!