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Reservations required to see Yosemite’s Firefall event

Yosemite
For a few weeks every winter, the angle of the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park and makes it look like a torrent of flames tumbling off of a cliff (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Yosemite National Park is open again after a two-week closure, but the chances of seeing one of the park’s most popular February features will be limited this year.

Every winter, the angle of sunlight and falling water come together to produce the breathtaking illusion known as Firefall. For a few weeks, the angle of the setting sun illuminates the park’s Horsetail Falls and makes it look like a stream of falling flames or hot lava tumbling over a cliff.

Each year thousands of visitors are drawn to see the natural phenomenon of glowing light flowing down the 1,575-foot Horsetail Fall on the east side of El Capitan, according to the National Park Service. It's a small waterfall, and it normally flows only during winter.

On some days during mid- to late February, it might glow an enchanting and magical orange when it's backlit by sunset. The National Park Service has said the expected viewing dates for 2021 are February 13-25.

Starting February 8, you'll need a reservation to drive into the popular park in order to see the glowing waterfall, according to the Los Angeles Times.

With California still reporting more than 15,000 new Covid-19 cases on most days, Yosemite National Park will require visitors to reserve day passes beginning on February 8 (as reported by CNN) in order to limit crowding inside the park during this year’s spectacle.

The park required visitors to purchase permits when it reopened after an initial Covid-19 shutdown in June last year, but suspended the program starting in November, as park officials said they expected lower visitor numbers over the winter.

Yosemite firefall

Firefall only occurs when the sky is clear (Image credit: Getty)

Yosemite National Park reopened on February 1 after a two-week closure resulting from a devastating windstorm. That storm, known as a Mono high-wind-event, brought gusts up to 110 miles per hour and knocked down 15 of the park’s giant sequoia trees and hundreds of other trees. Portions of the park are still inaccessible due to downed trees.

Reservations cost $2 at Recreation.gov, and will be deducted from the $35-per-car entry fee; visitors with an annual or lifetime pass only need to pay the $2. Reservation-holders must enter the park on the day indicated on their pass; after that, the pass is good for 7 days and allows an unlimited number of re-entries.

The Park Service says the dazzling Firefall effect happens only on evenings with a clear sky when the waterfall is flowing. Even some haze or a bit of cloudiness can ruin the effect. It's about a 1.5-mile walk each way from the closest parking to the viewpoint near the El Capitan Picnic area.

Brian Metzler

Brian is an award-winning journalist, photographer and podcaster who has written for Runner’s World, The Times, Outside, Men’s Journal, Trail Runner, Triathlete and Red Bulletin. He's also the author of several books, including Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and loves to run, bike, hike, camp, ski and climb mountains. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes, completed four Ironman triathlons, as well as numerous marathons and ultra-distance running races.