The sight at Yosemite National Park — not actually a lava flow but a waterfall streaming down the face of El Capitan and illuminated spectacularly by a February sunset, has captured the interest of millions and drawn flocks of park visitors.
Next year, for the second year in a row, reservations will be required to enter the park during peak time for the “firefall,” as the phenomenon is known.
The firefall occurs in a tiny window in late February when the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall at just the right angle and the water is flowing from winter rains. It has become a massive draw for nature photographers, both professional and amateur, and tourists hoping to snap the perfect National Geographic-worthy shot.
Due to the overwhelming demand, which has caused damage to the park’s terrain, reservations will be required to enter Yosemite on the weekends of Feb. 10-12, Feb. 17-19, and Feb. 24-26, even for those not visiting Horsetail Fall. Additionally, campsites usually available on a first-come, first-served basis will also require reservations between Feb. 1 and Feb. 28.
“Historically, the sunset backlight on Horsetail Fall was little known,” Yosemite National Park said on its website. “However, in recent years, visitation around this event has increased dramatically.”
In 2019, over 2,000 visitors to the site “gathered in areas mostly lacking adequate parking and other facilities.”
The visitors crowded on riverbanks, increasing erosion and trampling vegetation, the park said.
“As riverbanks filled, visitors moved into the Merced River, trampling sensitive vegetation and exposing themselves to unsafe conditions,” the park said. “Some undeveloped areas became littered with trash, and the lack of restrooms resulted in unsanitary conditions.”
Reservations to enter Yosemite are rarely implemented, although they are required for some campsites and other amenities and have been used parkwide in recent years.
Reservations were required in 2020 and 2021 to limit crowds due to the pandemic, and this summer “when numerous key visitor attractions were closed for critical infrastructure repairs.”
The $2 day-use reservations for peak firefall weekends will be made available in two waves; 50% of the reservations will be available online at 8 a.m. Pacific on Jan. 13. The remaining 50% will be made available two days before each reservation date.
For instance, reservations for Feb. 24 will open on Feb. 22.
Reservations for the affected campsites (Wawona, Camp 4 and Hodgdon Meadow campgrounds) will be released Dec. 15 at 7 a.m. Pacific.
Reservations will be available at Recreation.gov.