This Natural Phenomenon Looks Like Lava Flowing From Yosemite National Park — See It for Yourself Next Month

This year's Firefall is expected to begin on Feb. 10.

El Capitan is already one of the most recognized and photographed sites in Yosemite National Park. This February, however, there's an event that will draw even more park enthusiasts to admire this vertical rock formation: Firefall.

Every year from mid- to late-February, this natural phenomenon occurs, creating the illusion that lava or fire — hence the name Firefall — is flowing down the face of El Capitan. The dates fluctuate annually, but for 2022, this show, put on by Mother Nature, is expected to dazzle onlookers from Feb. 10 through Feb. 28.

Firefall happens when the orange and red hues of sunset hit Horsetail Fall at just the right angle, illuminating the water to create this unique effect. This small waterfall on the eastern edge of El Capitan usually only flows in the winter, limiting the possibility of seeing Firefall to only February. You'll also need perfectly clear skies for the Firefall effect to make an appearance, so spectators need a little bit of luck — and quite a bit of planning — to witness the phenomenon.

General views of the Yosemite Firefall natural phenomenon at Horsetail Fall ending in a pinkish hue on February 24, 2021 in Yosemite, California.
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Historically, Firefall was not a well-known spectacle, but that has changed in recent years, with the event now drawing thousands of visitors daily. To prevent unsafe conditions for park-goers, as well as damage to the park's sensitive vegetation, Yosemite National Park implements entry restrictions from mid- to late-February.

To view Horsetail Fall — and hopefully catch that Firefall effect — visitors can park at Yosemite Falls parking, located just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge, and walk 1.5 miles (each way) to the viewing area near El Capitan Picnic Area. Only vehicles displaying a disability placard will be allowed to drive to El Capitan Picnic Area, where they can park on Northside Drive.

For more details on how to view this year's Firefall and all of the restrictions in place, visit the official National Park Service website.

Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but always on the lookout for the next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles