Horsetail Fall, located on the eastern edge of El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley, only flows in the winter and early spring. When the setting sun strikes the waterfall in February, it douses the water in an orange glow that makes it seem as though fire is streaming down the rock formations.
The magnificent glow is an eye-catching illusion known as a “firefall,” with its name drawing back to the manmade Firefall that used to occur at Glacier Point in the park. During the late 1800s, campfires built near the edge of Glacier Point were pushed off the edge to create the illusion of a flowing fire stream, later becoming a popular tourist attraction until it was eventually stopped due to fire hazards.
The 2019 viewing season is projected to run from now through Feb. 24 and peak next week, according to Yosemite National Park spokesperson Jamie Richards.
Visitors will want to note, however, that there’s no guarantee of catching the phenomenon on a specific day.
For the illusion to occur, there needs to be clear skies and enough snowfall to allow the fall to flow. But those who do happen to be there at the right time are in for an unforgettable view.
While the National Park Service had set up a reservation process for those who wanted to see the phenomenon in 2018, the park is skipping the reservations process this year and keeping it open to the public. Visitors will have to be willing to hike, though, as the closest parking options will be at least a mile away from viewpoints.
No stopping or parking will be allowed at either Southside Drive between the El Capitan Crossover and Swinging Bridge or at Northside Drive between Camp 4 and the El Capitan Crossover. Instead, the closest parking options will be in the Yosemite Falls Parking Area near the Yosemite Valley Lodge, which is why park representatives advise that people come prepared with warm clothing, boots, and either a headlamp or flashlight for safety.