YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (KRON) — The “Firefall” in Yosemite National Park is one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful and elusive spectacles.

For just a few days in February, the sun sets at the perfect angle to backlight Horsetail Fall with vivid orange colors. Sunlight shining through the waterfall looks like graceful flowing lava or liquid fire.

Plenty of nature photographers have tried and failed to capture the “Firefall.” Horsetail Fall flows over the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Its unique lighting effect happens only on evenings with a clear sky, and when enough water is flowing.


But that hasn’t stopped flocks of photographers from still trying to capture the stunning sight. In fact, the “Firefall” has become so popular in recent years that park officials are requiring day-use  reservations to enter Yosemite between February 10-27, 2023. The window for making reservations will open at 8 a.m. on January 13.

“Horsetail Fall can glow orange when it’s backlit by sunset, which can make it appear to be on fire. This event attracts many visitors to a small area, causing traffic congestion, parking issues, safety concerns, and impacts to natural and cultural resources,” National Park Service officials wrote.

Reservations will be required for entry to Yosemite on:

  • February 10–12, 2023
  • February 17–19, 2023
  • February 24–26, 2023 

Park officials said the Firefall is no longer a hidden gem in Yosemite. “Historically, the sunset backlight on Horsetail Fall was little known. However, in recent years, visitation around this event has increased dramatically. For example, on February 19, 2022, 2,433 visitors viewing Horsetail Fall gathered in areas mostly lacking adequate parking and other facilities. Visitors have spilled onto riverbanks, increasing erosion and trampling vegetation. As riverbanks filled, visitors moved into the Merced River, trampling sensitive vegetation and exposing themselves to unsafe conditions. Some undeveloped areas became littered with trash, and the lack of restrooms resulted in unsanitary conditions,” park officials wrote.

A flock of photographers stand ready with tripods and large lenses along a riverbank. (Image courtesy National Park Service)

Reservations will be required even for those who do not visit Horsetail Fall during this time period.

If you visit Horsetail Fall this winter, Yosemite officials advise the following safety tips:

  • Bring warm clothes and a headlamp or flashlight for each person.
  • Expect snowy and icy conditions. Wear warm footwear and bring traction devices for your boots.
  • Expect to park far from your viewing area: prepare to walk to and from the viewing area (it will be cold and dark when you’re walking back to your car).