How to see Yosemite's stunning 'firefall' phenomenon this year

The window to witness Yosemite National Park’s "firefall" phenomenon, where perfect light illuminates a massive waterfall, creating what looks like a line of fire cascading down the granite cliffside, has opened. But new restrictions are in place as crowds have continued to grow each year. 

Around mid-February, Horsetail Fall can glow a fiery orange when light entering the Yosemite Valley refracts off the 1,575-foot waterfall at sunset. The best window to see the natural display in 2021 is Feb. 12-24, and it only happens when skies are clear and the water is flowing, park officials said. 

In recent years, the event has exploded in popularity and crowds grew so large they spilled onto riverbanks, increasing erosion and damaging vegetation. Trash piled up and a lack of restrooms created unsanitary conditions, too. 

Now, from noon until 7 p.m. on Feb. 12 - 24, there’s no stopping, parking, or unloading on Northside Drive, Southside Drive and the El Capitan Crossover. Sentinel Beach is also closed.

For your chance to witness the glow, park at Yosemite Falls parking and walk 1.5 miles to the viewing spot near El Capitan Picnic Area. Visitors can walk along Northside Drive between the viewing area and Yosemite Falls parking. 

Additionally, the park rolled out a temporary reservation system that took effect on Feb. 8 to help officials safely manage visitors during the pandemic. Everyone visiting, including those with an annual or lifetime pass, must make a reservation before driving into the park. 

Keep up with the news by downloading KTVU's news app and subscribing to our newsletter

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.