Yosemite’s Horsetail Fall Parking Is Now By Permit Only (2018)

When Galen Rowell took his now infamous shot of the Horsetail Fall effect in February of 1973 there may have been a few people around gazing at the falls, but it was primarily Galen and a single Ranger who were standing in just the right spot.  Last year, literally thousands of people flocked into Yosemite Valley in an attempt to shoot the Horsetail Fall phenomenon from “just the right spot.”  Whether they were shooting from the North side or the South side, there are generally two viewing areas that photographers flock to, and each year the crowds have become a bit more insane.

So beginning this year, the National Park Service is instituting a permit system in an effort to cut down on the hundreds of cars that have been jamming the roadways each February.  In addition to the cars, they are hoping to avoid the masses of people that have been swarming over the roadways, often in icy conditions.  While the number of accidents have been few so far, it seems like only a matter of time before someone is injured or killed . This pilot program is due to begin on February 12 and will last through Feb 26 of 2018.  It is a pilot program so it is difficult to say if it will continue through next year, but it definitely seems like a good idea given the crowds.  It may be that they scale back the program to weekends only next year as weekdays in Winter seem less crowded, but the National Park Service will make that decision after this program has run its course.

How will this new pilot program work?

250 permits will be available to order online and one permit is good for everyone who arrives in that vehicle.  The vehicles will be allowed to park in the “event zone” while all other non-permitted vehicles will need to find parking elsewhere, i.e. El Cap Meadow,  Cook’s Meadow or around Yosemite Lodge. Some might have to park farther away depending on crowds. 50 more permits will be available on a first come, first served basis inside the park each day from 9 AM to 3 PM in the Ansel Adams Gallery. There will also be an opportunity to sign up for a naturalist guided tour each day as well.  In addition, shuttle service will continue to be available to Shuttle Stop #7 which will drop you about 1.2 miles from the main viewing area. (I am assuming that this is the North side that they are referencing here.)

To make things a bit more challenging, it looks like they will institute 2 way driving on the South side between Sentinel Bridge and the El Cap crossover, eliminating any roadside parking in the process.  If you had plans on pulling over to shoot the Yosemite Falls or to walk back to Horsetail from there, you are now out of luck until after February 26.  While the loss of those parking places is a bummer, it is definitely encouraging to see the National Park Service actively dealing with the gridlock that guests were dealing with as a result of so many cars pouring into the valley in February.








To Summarize:

-The program will run from Feb 12 – Feb 26

-Parking permits are limited to 250 per day and may be ordered online at https://2018horsetailfall.eventbrite.com/

-If you are unable to obtain a parking permit in advance, 50 additional permits will be distributed in the Ansel Adams gallery daily from 9 – 3.

-If you still aren’t able to obtain a permit, you may park near the El Cap meadow or further back near Yosemite Falls parking on the North side.  There don’t seem to be very many options for South Side parking without a permit due to the two way traffic restriction.

-Even WITH  a permit, conditions look very bad this year.  It is possible that we could get a big storm in at the end of February but as of 2/9/18, this has been one of our driest Winters on record, and the snow run off, if any, is minimal at the moment.  The 10 day forecast is not promising.

For more information on what, where, and how to shoot the Horsetail Fall in February, please feel free to read my earlier post at:


For more specific information on the new Horsetail Permit program, visit the NPS website at:


If you have further questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post them below.  If you are headed up there this year, good luck!

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