Need a break from the business of your everyday life? Sick and tired of being surrounded by a concrete jungle?
Take a break, pack up your car and take yourself to Horsetail Falls for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Horsetail Falls is located in Yosemite Valley deep in the national park of California. This small waterfall flows over the eastern edge of El Captain and has grown immensely in popularity because for two weeks in February, the setting sun strikes the waterfall in a unique way, creating a deep orange glow to the water falling off the cliff.
This reminds people of the Firefall that historically occurring from Glacier Point between 1872 and 1968. Thus, the nickname Firefall came to be the term that most people use when referencing to Horsetail Falls.
For those who don’t know what I am refering to - Glacier Point towers 3,200 feet over the Yosemite National Park and a huge bonfire pit was built at the edge of it.
Around 9 p.m. - back in the day - a ceremony would take place nightly where spectators below would interact with the crew up top for some old-fashioned fun. After yelling greetings to one another, the burning embers would be pushed over the edge in a controlled manner, so that the glittered and sparkled brilliantly as they fell for their below bystanders to “ohh” and “ahh” at.
However, because there was controversy around providing unnatural entertainment in a national park, the firfall spectacle was indefinitely shut-down.
However, after photos emerged of a “natural Firefall” within Yosemite Park, interests were reignited and an exciting new chapter in the history of the Firefall began. Beginning only a few decades ago, the natural Firefall that occurs at Horsetail Falls has become as well-known and famous as the man-made Firefall used to be, replacing one exquisite beauty with another, more-natural one.
This “firefall” effect only happens in the second half of February. The small waterfall is always visible, however the magic happens when there is a clear sky and enough snowfall for the water to flow in late February. Everything has to be just-right, for the water to glow magnificently orange and red at sunset.
A Little on the History of Horsetail Falls
The discovery of the natural Yosemite Horsetail Falls is not very well documented, so here is what we know for sure.
Awahneechee Indians lived in the Yosemite Valley for hundreds of years and most likely knew of this beautiful place’s existence but kept it a secret from white settlers. However, the white settlers still discovered all of the vast beauty of Yosemite Valley in 1851, and although the park was heavily talked about and promoted - there still was no mention of Horsetail Falls.
In 1973 a photographer named Galen Rowell photographed the first-known photo of the natural Yosemite Firefall, thus spreading the secret of this place. Since then, landscaping photographers have flocked to Horsetail Falls, captivating the natural beauty as best as they can into their professional photos.
Since then, Horsetail Falls have received global attention, becoming a worldwide known attraction to get a glimpse of. Each year hundreds of people are flocking to Yosemite Park trying to get a peek at the wondrous Firefall.
Horsetail Falls is the Place to Be
The Horsetail Falls Trail is around 3 miles long, with the back of the trail located near Twin Bridges, California. This moderately rated in difficulty trail is used for hiking, biking, walking, nature trips, and bird-watching (AKA birding).
This short hike contains wonderful views of the South Lake Tahoe waterfall and is a great little hike to take to experience the true beauty that encompasses the Yosemite National Park.
Therefore, if you’re wanting to go on a fun hike with your buddies, then grab your friends and some bottles (reusable, of course) of water and have fun adventuring.
More on Horsetail Falls Most Popular Attraction, the February Firefall
Due to the landmarks rise in popularity over the years the park service decided to take extra precautions.
As of this year, it is important to note that vehicles will be required to have a permit to gain access to the natural Firefall spectacle from here on out. Starting this past February 2018, the Northside Drive between Yosemite Valley Lodge and El Captain has closed their vehicular access and parking lots.
In efforts to handle the thousands of spectators that want to view this landmark, the park service has created a viewing zone, offering some of the best views in Horsetail Falls while also helping to contain the crowds.
Thus, if you want to experience this fleeting phenomenon - you have to either walk to one of the viewpoints, take a guided tour with Yosemite Hospitality, or obtain a parking permit for this portion of the Northside Drive.
Reservations for up to 250 parking permits are available through purchase online through the Ansel Adams Gallery.
Please keep in mind, that a reservation is NOT the same thing as purchasing a permit. For those who have a reservation, you still must pick up your parking permit at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley on the day you reserved.
Permits are non-transferable, and refunds will not be granted due to the sheer popularity and want for this viewing site.
On the bright side, making a reservation is free and limited to one vehicle per day. For those with a bigger party who are caravanning, you must make multiple reservations per vehicle and per day that you wish to visit. Reservations are able to be made up until the very morning of when you would need to pick up your permit, so one ought not to fret.
In order to register for a reservation there must be a few key pieces of important information on hand. All of the vehicle information is needed, such as the make, model, color and license plate number. I suggest having this information handy and ready-to-go on you before you begin in order to expedite the process.
Please Note: If you will be bringing a rental vehicle then it is important to note “Rental” in the space for the license plate number. You must bring your rental contract with you when you pick up the permit.
No Reservation, No Problem for Viewing the Firefall
If you wish to see one of the greatest wonders of the world (that might be an exaggeration, or it might not be) in a more private, all-natural manner then do not fret. Visitors are still able to view these areas on foot, so go grab those hiking boots.
Yosemity Hospitality offers guided walking tours, but it’s important to take-note and remember reservations are required for this too.
Want to skip all the reservation crap? No problem!
Individuals can still experience this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon without having to go through the hassle of getting a reservation or permit. There are multiple viewing areas within walking distance of the Yosemite Valley Lodge and El Captain. And depending on how adventurous you want to make the day, there are also trail points further east and west.
The Lodge is accessible by shuttle bus and there is limited parking for El Captain, with unfortunately no parking available along Southside Drive, which is between El Captain Crossover and the Yosemite Chapel.
The free Valley shuttle bus will run its standard route, meaning it does stop at the reserved parking lot along Northside Drive. The stop that is closest to the pedestrian access of Horsetail Falls will be the viewing area at Camp 4.
Yosemite Hospitality will also be running special tours each day of the event (February 12 to February 26) and there will be 50 unreserved permits available each of those days for a first-come, first-served basis for who is able to receive those permits each day.
Pack Up, We're Headed to Horsetail Falls
If everything comes together, you plan it just right and all the environmental factors are all spot-on, then the Firewall experience at Horsetail Falls will rock your world. Once the sun strikes the powerfully cascading water a dazzlingly light-show filled with unimaginably vivid colors illuminates the water for about a total of 10 short and breath-taking minutes.
I know this all seems like an awful lot of work just to see something for such a short time, but trust me, seeing a waterfall tumbling 1,570 feet light up blood orange is an experience unlike any other.
But if that doesn’t appeal to you, or if you don’t want to deal with crowds, permits and the February cold then I would 10/10 suggest visiting Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Park any other time of the year.
The Yosemite National Park is full of natural wonders and if you just are going to hike and adventure around then I would say the best time to go is in late Spring or early Summer.
You really can’t go wrong making a trip over to Horsetails Falls, because no matter the time of year, it’s going to be an experience unlike any other.