HistoryEfforts to protect Yosemite Valley began as far back as June 30, 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California as an inalienable public trust. This was the first time in history that a federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and to allow for their enjoyment by all people. The area became a national park on October 1, 1890 following several years of struggle by John Muir against the devastation of the subalpine meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley.
Despite its national park status, California controlled the initial grant area until 1906. Prior to ceding control, the city of San Francisco became embroiled in a bitter political struggle over the Hetch Hetchy Valley, in which the city wanted to dam the Tuolumne River as a source of drinking water and hydroelectric power. In 1913, conservationists led by John Muir lost the battle when Congress passed the Raker Act, authorizing the construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam. To this day crusades to restore Hetch Hetchy are ongoing.
LandscapeYosemite is best known for the massive granite cliffs and domes found within the park. The landscape began forming about ten million years ago when the Sierra Nevada was uplifted and then tilted to form its relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift increased the steepness of stream and river beds, resulting in formation of deep, narrow canyons. About one million years ago, snow and ice accumulated, forming glaciers at the higher alpine meadows that moved down the river valleys. Ice thickness in Yosemite Valley may have reached 4,000 feet during the early glacial episode. The downslope movement of the ice masses cut and sculpted the U-shaped valley that attracts so many visitors to its scenic vistas today.
The park is also home to the Yosemite Falls, at 739m (2425ft), the highest waterfall in North America.
Flora FaunaYosemite has more than 300 species of vertebrate animals, and 85 of these are native mammals. Black bears are abundant in the park, and are often involved in conflicts with humans that result in property damage and, occasionally, injuries to humans. Visitor education and bear management efforts have reduced the bear-human incidents and property damage by 90% in the past few years. Ungulates include large numbers of mule deer. Bighorn sheep formerly populated the Sierra crest, but have been reduced to only a few remnant populations. There are 17 species of bats, 9 of which are either Federal or California Species of Special Concern. Over 150 species of birds regularly occur in the parks. Other species that are found within the park include bobcat, gray fox, mountain beaver, great gray owls, white-headed woodpeckers, spotted owls, golden-mantled ground squirrel, martens, Steller's jays, pika, yellow-bellied marmot, white-tailed hare, and coyotes.
The vegetation in the park is primarily coniferous forest. Most notable among the park's trees are isolated groves of giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world, which are found in three groves in Yosemite National Park.
ClimateWeather can change rapidly during all seasons of the year, and will also vary greatly with elevation. When visiting it is wise to pack for any season with clothing that can be layered, ready to peel off or add on as conditions dictate. Always include some kind of rain gear; the park receives most of its precipitation in the months of January, February and March, but storms are common during the transitional spring and fall seasons, and spectacular thunderstorms may occur during summer.
For Yosemite Valley and Wawona (subtract 10-20°F (5-10°C) for Tuolumne Meadows), average weather is as follows:
* Summer: Typically dry, with occasional thunderstorms; temperatures from 50°F (10°C) to the low 90°F (30°C) range.
* Fall & Spring: Highly variable, with typical high temperatures ranging from 50-80°F (10-27°C) , with lows from 30-40°F (-1 to 4°C). Rain is less likely early in fall/late in spring and rain or snow is likely late in fall/early in spring.
* Winter: Snowy, rainy, or (sometimes) even sunny days are possible, with highs ranging from 30-60°F (-1 to 16°C) and lows in the high 20°F (-4 to 0°C) range. Winter Storm Warnings indicate a significant storm is impending or occuring.
SeeingThe park is extremely large with more than can be seen in just a one or two day visit. The peak seasons for Yosemite are generally Spring, when the waterfalls in the Valley are strongest, and Summer, when the Tioga Pass and Glacier Point roads are open, giving visitors access to the higher meadows and to views of the Valley from above.
Yosemite ValleyYosemite Valley is world famous for its impressive waterfalls, meadows, cliffs, and unusual rock formations. Yosemite Valley is accessible by car all year, but during the summer months traffic can feel like a city rush hour rather than a national park, making shuttle bus usage highly recommended.
Perhaps the most famous sight in the valley is the granite monolith of Half Dome, a mountain whose sheer face and rounded top looks like a giant stone dome that has been split in half. The imposing vertical face of El Capitan is legendary among climbers, and numerous lesser-known features line the valley.
Equally famous for its waterfalls, Yosemite Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the world at 2425 feet (782 m), and is most impressive during the spring months. Bridalveil Fall is another easily accessible waterfall, while Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall can be reached by those willing to do some hiking.
Another popular viewpoint is the Tunnel View. The spot gives visitors a view of the Yosemite Valley with El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right and Half Dome in the center. The view point is on the 41 at the western end of the Wawona tunnel. There is a small parking lot near the lookout.
WawonaWawona is the home to the historic Wawona Hotel, dating from the late nineteenth century. The Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings, is located just over the covered bridge from the hotel. Wawona is accessible by car year-round.
The Mariposa Grove is south of Wawona near the entrance station. The Mariposa Grove is the largest stand of giant sequoias (also known as Sierra redwoods or big trees) in Yosemite. The road to the Mariposa Grove is not plowed in winter and is often closed from sometime in November through March.
Glacier Point and Badger PassGlacier Point, an overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and much of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is located 30 miles (one hour) from Yosemite Valley. The road ends at Glacier Point and a quarter mile long paved walkway leads to one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the park. The road is closed from sometime in November through early May or late June. From mid-December through early April the road is plowed only as far as the Badger Pass ski area and Glacier Point can be reached via skis or snowshoes only. Both downhill and cross-country skiing are available at Badger Pass from mid-December through early April.
Washburn Point, another overlook on the same road, appears about half a mile before Glacier Point. This overlook gives a view of the southern side of the Yosemite Valley.
Tuolumne MeadowsThe Tioga Road (Highway 120 East), is generally open to vehicles from late May or early June through sometime in November. It offers a 39 mile scenic drive between Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows through forests and past meadows, lakes, and granite domes. Many turnouts offer broad and beautiful vistas.
Tuolumne Meadows is a large, open sub-alpine meadow graced by the winding Tuolumne River and surrounded by majestic peaks and domes. From sometime in November through late May or early June, this area is only accessible by cross-country skis or snowshoes. One of the easiest ways to explore the Meadows is to take the dirt road past the Dog Lake trailhead (along Tioga Rd.) for a quarter mile. There you'll find a metal gate and a fire road behind it. The road you're driving on curves sharply to the right here. Park and follow the road past the gate. The first mile of this road provides you with up-close views of the Meadow's beauty, particularly toward the left (south).
Crane FlatCrane Flat is a pleasant forest and meadow area located 16 miles (30 minutes) from Yosemite Valley. Nearby are the Tuolumne and Merced Groves of Giant Sequoias, which are only accessible by foot. Crane Flat is accessible by car all year. Bears can be spotted in the meadows in this area regularly, so keep your eyes open and don't block traffic if you see one!
Hetch Hetchy ValleyHetch Hetchy, a lesser known twin to Yosemite Valley (perhaps because its river has been dammed), is home to spectacular scenery and is the starting point for many less-used wilderness trails. Although the road to Hetch Hetchy is open year-round, on a day to day basis it has restricted hours due to security for the reservoir. It may close periodically due to snow in winter and spring. During the spring and early summer, impressive water falls flow into the reservoir, making hiking in Hetch Hetchy even more spectacular.
HikingPhysically-fit travelers will enjoy hiking the Park's many trails and footpaths. Check with rangers for trail conditions; snow and hazards from falling rock close many trails in winter, and the cables on the Half Dome trail are only up from late May through early October (ascending Half Dome when the cables are not erected is possible but is dangerous and strongly discouraged). No permits are required park-wide for day hikes, with the exception of the Half Dome Summit.
Rock climbingThe Valley also offers some of the most challenging and spectacular rock climbing in North America, with vertical faces 3,000 and more feet tall. At the current time, wilderness permits are not required for nights spent on a wall, but it is illegal to camp at the base of any wall in Yosemite Valley.
SkiingBadger Pass is the oldest ski area in California, and offers both downhill and cross-country trails. For cross-country skiers the park offers over 350 miles of trails, with 90 miles of marked trails and 25 miles of groomed trails originating at Badger Pass. Downhill skiing options include ten runs at Badger Pass, with lifts operating daily from 9AM-4PM during the ski season. Note that the majority of these runs are for beginners and moderate skiers, so thrill seekers may wish to ski elsewhere. Lift tickets cost $5 for a single run or $35 for a full-day ticket. Both downhill and cross-country lessons are available.
Due NPS regulations in place to ensure the area remains as natural as possible, the Badger area has no artificially-lighted skiing and cannot make its own snow.
Most years Badger Pass is open around Dec 15th and closes around April 1st.
CampingCamping is by far the cheapest way of staying within the park, but campgrounds fill quickly during summer months and may require making reservations months in advance. Reservations can be made through the National Park Service from 7AM-7PM PST, or by calling 1-877-444-6777 or +1 518-885-3639 from outside the United States. Written reservation requests can be made by including desired location, type of equipment you will be camping in (i.e.,tent, RV,etc.), as well as method of payment. Send written requests to NPRS, P.O. Box 1600, Cumberland, MD 21502.
All campgrounds offer bear-safe food storage containers, tap water (except where noted), and flush toilets. Pay showers and laundry are located in Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. During summer, showers are also available afternoons at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.
For backpackers, North Pines in Yosemite Valley and the Tuolumne Meadows campground both have "backpacker camps". These are walk-in sites offered for people with valid wilderness permits to stay the night before and the night after their backcountry trips. For more information contact the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center or any park campground office.
WildlifeOver the years the park's bears have become accustomed to scavenging trash and food left out by humans, and will even break into cars and tents to get it. While not the larger grizzly bears that once roamed California, black bears are strong enough to tear a door off of a car with ease. Luckily they usually prefer to avoid humans, so they'll most likely do their work on vehicles left at trailheads or in parking lots. Prevention is remarkably simple: never leave food or scented items (deodorant, air fresheners) in your car or bring them into your tent. Heed this advice! Leaving even just a tube of toothpaste or empty food wrappers in a car may result in thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle should a bear choose to investigate the smell! Bear-resistant storage units are provided at park campgrounds and overnight parking areas: use them.
To avoid bear encounters while hiking, make noise so that the animal knows you are coming. This approach will also help to avoid encounters with mountain lions, which also inhabit the park. Other animals, such as the herds of deer which can be found in the park's meadows, can be equally dangerous; a young boy was killed by a deer in Yosemite Valley several years ago. Give all animals their space, and never feed any park wildlife.