Yosemite Horsetail Fall Is About To Start Glowing: How and When To See the Firefall

Yosemite's famous "firefall" phenomenon is due to return to the park in a matter of weeks, as park authorities and tourists prepare for the spectacular natural event.

The firefall occurs at the national park's Horsetail Fall waterfall, typically during mid to late February. When backlit by the sunset at specific angles and particular moments, which only happen at this time of year, the Horsetail Fall appears to glow in bright oranges and yellows that make it appear as if it is on fire.

Brooke Smith, director of public relations at Visit Yosemite, has seen the phenomenon three times.

"The Horsetail Fall light phenomenon known as 'the firefall' is very special to me," she told Newsweek via email.

Since moving to the park in 2017, Smith said she had seen the phenomenon explode in popularity, with last year a particularly popular event despite the COVID pandemic.

"When I moved to Yosemite National Park in 2017 it was a lesser-known event. It was busy but still relatively under the radar. The turnout was unbelievable on my last trip to see it in February 2021.

"Walking over a mile to/from the viewing area from Yosemite Valley Lodge you join a stream of people taking up one entire lane of the road and using the trail systems. I thought the National Park Service (NPS) did a good job of managing the people.

"Many, including ourselves, experienced traffic trying to depart. It's best to come prepared," she said.

How to see the firefall

Yosemite NPS have listed specific instructions for visitors to the park hoping to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

"Due to the popularity of the event, restrictions are in effect during mid- to late February each year daily from noon to 7 pm. The tentative dates for 2022 are February 10 through 28. Wearing a mask is required. Reservations are not required," a statement on the Yosemite NPS website said.

"To view Horsetail Fall, park at Yosemite Falls parking (just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge) (P1) and walk 1.5 miles (each way) to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. If this parking is full, park at Yosemite Village (P2) or Curry Village (P3) and use the free shuttle (which stops at both) to get to Yosemite Falls parking/Yosemite Valley Lodge," the statement said.

The park service said that restrictions were implemented after the rise in popularity of the event led to unwelcome impacts on the environment of the park, such as in February 2019 when over 2,000 visitors crowded onto riverbanks, damaging plant life and increasing erosion in the area.

Despite the park restrictions and COVID mask mandates in place, the popularity of the event is expected to draw many visitors to the national park for a glimpse.

Smith told Newsweek that despite the buzz that now surrounds the firefall, the magic and splendor of the event had not been lost: "Despite all of that, at Horsetail Fall in February, when the light, water, and sunset combine just right, is quite possibly one of the most spectacular sights I have seen in my life. It is mesmerizing and spiritual.

"You can feel the positive energy of nature in Yosemite all around you. It makes me want to work harder to protect this place and leave it better for the next generations."

Horsetail Fall 'Firefall' in Yosemite
The Horsetail waterfall 'Firefall' phenomenon in Yosemite National Park. The phenomenon occurs in mid to late February and is growing in popularity with visitors to the park. AaronP/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor/Getty Images