Yosemite Firefall 2024: Your Guide to Horsetail Fall’s Natural Phenomenon

If you think Yosemite National Park might make for a lackluster experience in winter—think again.

From mid- to late February, Yosemite National Park hosts a rare phenomenon known as the Yosemite firefall. At sunset during this time, all eyes are on Horsetail Fall, a 2,030-foot seasonal waterfall that runs down the eastern side of El Capitan. As daylight fades, the sunset illuminates the waterfall, transforming it into a ribbon of orange light visible from the valley floor.

In recent years, the magical Yosemite firefall has become one of America’s must-see events that attracts thousands of spectators. With that, witnessing the phenomenon in person requires some planning—reservations are required!—and a little bit of luck. But if you’re traveling to Yosemite National Park during the winter firefall season, you won’t want to miss this spectacular show. Read on for everything you need to know about catching the view.

Photo by Sheng L.

What is Yosemite firefall?

The Yosemite firefall occurs on February evenings when light from the setting sun strikes Horsetail Fall at just the right angle, causing the waterfall to glow like a flame. It’s Yosemite National Park’s most stunning event, but it can be elusive.

The firefall only occurs for a few weeks in February while the sun is perfectly positioned in the sky and weather conditions are perfect. The seasonal Horsetail Fall waterfall is fueled by snowmelt, so its waters only flow when the combination of sunlight and melting snowpack have provided enough water. When these factors align under a clear sky, there’s a good chance that the Yosemite firefall will appear. In the best-case scenario, the firefall can last for up to 10 minutes.

Today’s natural Yosemite firefall shares its name with a former tradition that took place in the park from around 1862 to 1968. During the original, artificial firefall event, park employees lit a bonfire on the edge of Glacier Point each night, then poured the red-hot embers over the edge and down into the valley below. In anticipation, spectators would yell, “Let the fire fall!” Eventually, the National Park Service shut down the practice—but in 1973, photographer Galen Rowell discovered the much more natural wonder we see today at Horsetail Fall.

Will firefall happen in 2024?

Campers are in luck! 2024 is a promising year for firefall watching, thanks to relatively warm temperatures and the ample flow of Horsetail Fall. However, visibility can vary greatly depending on the weather—even the slightest cloud cover can obscure the main event, and this varies day by day.

Check the daily weather forecast for a general idea of visibility conditions—but keep in mind that Yosemite weather can be unpredictable with abruptly changing conditions. That said, don’t get too discouraged if skies are cloudy during your visit. All it takes is a small break in the clouds to bask in that luminous firefall glow.

Photo by Cedric Letsch

When can you see the firefall in Yosemite National Park in 2024?

This year, the firefall is expected to occur between February 10 and February 27, 2024. When skies are clear, the spectacle starts just before sunset at about 5:30 pm. And according to photographer Aaron Meyers’ annual firefall forecast, optimal conditions are most likely to occur between February 13 and February 27. It’s also predicted that Thursday, February 22 may be the best viewing day. But don’t plan on just showing up—you’ll need a reservation to see the show.

Things to know about Yosemite firefall reservations

Due to firefall’s extreme popularity, in 2024, reservations are required to enter Yosemite National Park on the following dates:

  • Saturday, February 10 and Sunday, February 11
  • Saturday, February 17 through Monday, February 19
  • Saturday, February 24 and Sunday, February 25

Ticketed entry reservations for these dates first go on sale via recreation.gov on December 1 at 8am PT. At this time, half of the tickets are released—then the remaining tickets go on sale two days in advance of each entry date at 8am PST.

Since reservations fill up almost instantly, you’ll want to create an online account, log in, and enter your payment information a few minutes before 8am for the best chance at entry. During these timeframes, park entry will require a $2 reservation fee in addition to the standard $35 entrance fee (valid for 7 days). Pro tip: If you arrive Monday through Friday (though not on Feb. 19) and stay in the park through one of the dates typically requiring reservations, you will not need a ticket reservation.

Photo by Katie Rodriguez

Where is the best place to see the firefall in Yosemite National Park?

The designated firefall viewing area is located near the El Capitan Picnic Area, though you’l need to navigate parking closures. To get there, park at Yosemite Falls (west of Yosemite Valley Lodge), then walk 1.5 miles to the viewing area. The free Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) shuttle is also an option—park at Yosemite Village or Curry Village, then hop on the shuttle to Yosemite Valley Lodge, where you’ll begin your trek to the viewing area. When planning your firefall visit, allow extra time for traffic, parking, and the 1.5-mile-long walk.

Tips for viewing the Yosemite firefall

  • The best way to enjoy the Yosemite firefall is to arrive early and make yourself comfortable. Remember, you’ll need to walk 1.5 miles to the viewing area, so you should wear plenty of warm layers and comfortable, insulated shoes. Plus, be sure to pack headlamps or flashlights for the walk back.
  • Some viewers arrive hours before the firefall, so it’s best to show up early to ensure the best view of Horsetail Fall.
  • You may want to bring a folding chair so you can sit back and enjoy the show. Snacks and warm beverages can also help brighten up your firefall experience—just be sure to follow NPS guidelines and leave no trace by packing out your trash.

Camping near the Yosemite firefall

Many Yosemite campgrounds close during winter, but a few remain open year-round. In February, Upper Pines, Wawona, Hodgdon Meadow, and Camp 4 are all operational and available by advance reservation only (plus, Curry Village is open on winter weekends). And even better, if you do get a campsite, you won’t need to make a separate firefall reservation.

But due to firefall’s popularity, camping reservations in the park can be extremely hard to come by. Be the first to know about and swoop up any last-minute cancellations with Hipcamp Alerts.

And even if you strike out at finding a campsite inside the park, there are plenty of fantastic options in the surrounding area. Check out these gems located right around the corner from Yosemite National Park entrances.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer David Robbins

Yosemite’s Colfax Spring in Groveland

A 15-minute drive from the Big Oak Flat Entrance & 1 hour from the firefall viewing area

This is about as close to the park entrance as you can get! And with tons of amenities, this Hipcamp is a must-try for firefall seekers. Yosemite’s Colfax Spring features five RV/tent sites and one RV-only site with electrical hookups. The property is set above the Tuolumne River Canyon with stellar views of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Here, you can observe nearby wilderness from the comfort and privacy of your campsite, but there’s no need to skimp on conveniences—you’ll have access to flush toilets, showers, and wifi.

 

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Emmy Ga

Hudson and Wendy’s Land in Oakhurst

A 30-minute drive from the South Entrance & 1.5 hours from the firefall viewing area

After a long day of mingling with the crowds in the park, Hudson and Wendy’s Land in Oakhurst is the ultimate respite. This campground offers one creekside campsite for tents or RVs, with full hookups and plenty of woodsy views. Or, hunker down in their cozy cabin, complete with a queen bed, heater, and an eagle-eye view of the local waterfall. It’s easy to see why this campground was named one of the best Hipcamps to visit in 2023.

 

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Sarah Karlan

Yosemite Garden Camp in Groveland

A 45-minute drive from the Big Oak Flat Entrance & 1.5 hours from the firefall viewing area

When you’re not galavanting around Yosemite National Park, enjoy the scenic surroundings at Yosemite Garden Camp. This 10-acre property features three tent sites and one spot for car camping, most overlooking hills, forests, and a small vineyard. Here, campers will find plenty of comfy conveniences, including showers and flush toilets. In the evenings, you’ll be treated to panoramic sunset views followed by dazzling nighttime celestial shows. For the dog parents among us, this pet-friendly site welcomes off-leash pups.

 

Photo by Nick Udell

Gold Wall Ranch & Vineyard in Jamestown

A 1-hour drive from the Big Oak Flat Entrance & 2 hours from the firefall viewing area

To keep the adventure going, head to this stunning 120-acre property east of Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat Entrance. The Gold Wall Ranch & Vineyard in Jamestown offers two tent sites and three homey cabins. Surrounded by sprawling valley views, the campground blends together a wilderness vibe with top-of-the-line amenities like showers, heating, and a wine bar. They even have a miniature railroad and train on the property. 

 

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer David Robbins

Camp with Critters in Mariposa

A 1-hour drive from the Wawona Visitor Center & 1.5 hours from the firefall viewing area

Animal lovers, rejoice! Camp with Critters in Mariposa offers top-notch camping with a touch of farm life. This property hosts a single campsite with water and electric hookups for tents or RVs, meaning you’ll have the place to yourself—aside from some furry neighbors. Here, you’ll camp next to animal enclosures that house alpacas, goats, turkeys, horses, and many more. The Hipcamp Host even offers an animal tour to meet the critters face-to-face. When you’re not snuggling with adorable farm creatures, you’ll be eager to relax and enjoy this spacious, scenic campsite.


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Jessie Lamb is a SoCal-based digital media expert who enjoys writing about her various obsessions, including wellness, pop culture, and travel. Her work is featured in The List, the Women’s Museum of California, and numerous other platforms. When she’s not raving about her favorite topics, she prefers to be climbing rocks in the desert or admiring mushrooms in the forest.

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