Nothing draws the crowds to Yosemite National Park like "Firefall" season—that glorious time between Feb. 10 and Feb. 25 when sunlight hits Horsetail Fall, creating the illusion of fire flowing off El Capitan's cliffs and into the Merced River. However, if you want to see it in 2024, you will need to snag a reservation way ahead of the event: And they are live on Dec. 1.
Yosemite National Park entry reservations will be needed for the following 2024 weekends:
- Feb. 10-11
- Feb. 17-19
- Feb. 24-25
The park service will release the first half of the reservations on Friday, Dec. 1, at 8 a.m. Reservations will cost $2, and visitors must pay the standard $35-per-vehicle fee when entering the park. The remainder of the reservations will be released on a rolling basis at 8 a.m., two days before the day-use reservation date. An annual pass, Fourth Grade Pass, Military Pass, Access Pass, and Senior Pass can all still be used for the $35 park entrance fee, but it will not cover your $2 February weekend reservation fee. Fees for canceled reservations will not be refunded.
Visitors can arrive in the park within seven days of their reservation to explore other areas or settle at the campgrounds. Campsites are typically first come, first served in the park. However, Camp 4, Hodgdon Meadow, and Wawona campgrounds will require reservations from Friday to Sunday for weekends in February. Reservations will be released on Dec. 15 at 7 a.m. on Recreation.gov. Each stay will have a two-night minimum requirement.
The crowd-attracting phenomenon occurs thanks to the sun setting at the perfect angle. The National Park Service says it is "only on evenings with a clear sky when the waterfall is flowing and when the sun is at the right angle in mid-to-late February."
Horsetail Falls and its hidden talents used to be a well-kept secret within the park. But its popularity has blown up in recent years. According to the National Park Service, Horsetail Fall saw just under 2,500 visitors in one day in February 2022. Unfortunately, the sheer magnitude of crowd was the source of issues far more serious than congestion.
Officials wrote that people were in areas "mostly lacking adequate parking and other facilities. Visitors have spilled onto riverbanks, increasing erosion and trampling vegetation." When no room was on the banks, observers found their way into the Merced River, causing just as much damage and "exposing themselves to unsafe conditions." On top of the damage to the waterways, less-visited areas of the park "became littered with trash." Bathroom availability was also an issue, which led to additional unsanitary conditions in the area.
The park encourages visitors to follow Leave No Trace Principles during their stay, keeping the park clean and thriving for others to experience. They also urge visitors to stay on the trails, keep out of the meadows, and respect the fenced areas. It's especially important to stay in already-disturbed areas and not venture into areas that are without any human disruption. Traffic in those areas can limit regrowth and harm existing vegetation.
If you plan to visit the park, you should expect winter conditions—including ice and snow—and dress appropriately, which includes warm or waterproof footwear. Pack headlamps or flashlights and dress warmly; it will be cold while walking from the parking areas to the viewing areas, and it will be dark on the way back.
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