Experience Yosemite’s Famous Firefall
What is a Firefall?
Yosemite’s famed phenomenon, the Firefall, happens for about ten days every February. The angle of the sun hitting Horsetail Falls (located on the east side of El Capitan) creates a spectacular glow making the water look like fire plummeting from 1500 feet above. Now, you can see this breathtaking event from a number of view points in Yosemite, given the conditions are just right; Horsetail Falls must be flowing and the sky must be clear at sunset. Due to the California drought, Horsetail Fall has been rather dry this year, disappointing thousands of enthusiasts. The sun was in the correct position to kick off the two weeks of firefall on February 12th, 2018, but eager photographers and visitors were mainly disappointed. Luckily, Yosemite experienced some rain and snowfall the following day, giving hope to all those venturing into the park for President’s day weekend – me included.
If you, too, are heading for the falls this weekend, here are a few things to consider:
Parking Permit Reservations
The park faces a severe influx of visitors during this time, therefore, to reduce traffic, Yosemite is testing a pilot program which requires guests to obtain a (free) day-parking permit. As of now, they are all sold out. (They only issue 150 permits a day between Feb. 12 and Feb. 26)
The good news is that they will still be issuing at least 50 additional permits per day at the Ansel Adams Gallery on a first-come first-serve basis.
If you can’t get a permit, there are still other options! The YARTS is a public transit service which you can take into the park so that you do not have to worry about parking (and you reduce traffic and pollution! Yay!) You can take this bus directly to Yosemite Valley Lodge, where you can secure a viewing spot. Just make sure to get there early! For the YARTS routes and schedules, click here.
NOTE: although this is a good option, it will not work for me as the last bus from Yosemite Valley Lodge leaves at 6:00 PM, and the firefall concludes around 5:35 PM, leaving me rushed to get back to the bus stop. I am expecting there to be a heavy crowd…
The Yosemite Valley Shuttle System is another option if you are lodging elsewhere in the park and can’t get a permit to park close to the falls. The Yosemite Valley shuttle operates from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM
I’m sure all/most lodges in the park are sold out by now, but you can find accommodation within half hour of the park entrance – but be weary, it’s not cheap.
Where to Photograph/View the Firefall
I found an amazing resource by Aaron Meyers Photography that details everything about the Firefall, from date and time predictions, to best viewing locations (GPS coordinates included), to photography tips for shooting Horsetail Falls! Check it out.
The weather reports are another important aspect to consider when planning your trip. It’ll be cold, so make sure to pack clothes that will keep you warm in 40 degree weather. Remember, prolonged exposure to cold will make it feel ten degrees colder! Here’s the weather forecast. Additionally, be sure to consider all park alerts, not only in regards to weather, but also for any road closures.
Even if witnessing this fiery cascade becomes doubtful, don’t be disheartened. Yosemite is a vast land of magnificent landscapes such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, Hetch Hetchy, and many many more! Go hiking, biking, birdwatching, or simply have a picnic! Seize every opportunity to be out in nature.
I’ll be heading to Yosemite this weekend to photograph this event (hopefully weather conditions are good!) If you’d like to see live updates and the current status of the falls, be sure to follow me on Instagram!
Read about my experience here: February 17, 2018