About the Site
Yosemite National Park  


Park History

Yosemite Valley

Merced River

Half Dome & El Capitan

Yosemite Peaks

Glacier Point

Yosemite Falls


Yosemite Village

Valley in Snow

Wawona Area

Mariposa Grove

Tioga Road

Tenaya Lake

Tuolumne Meadows

Plants and Animals


Yosemite National Park is without question one of America's most beautiful national parks. Along with Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, it is one of the three best known parks in the national park system, and one of the most famous parks on earth. It is also one of the most popular; in 1993 it was the third most visited park, behind only Great Smoky Mountain in Tennessee and Grand Canyon in Arizona, and in 1994 was visited by over 4 million people.

Yosemite is known for its spectacular and diverse attractions. It includes high Sierra Peaks (such as Mt. Lyell at 13,114 feet), the highest highway pass in California (Tioga Pass), the Yosemite Valley, Merced River, many acres of high altitude backcountry, some of the highest waterfalls in the word, and some of of the largest living things on earth in the sequoia groves. Park lands range in altitude from 2,000 feet to the peak of Mt. Lyell, supporting a variety of ecosystems. 94.5% of the park's 747,956 acres is officially classified as wilderness.

The most famous section of the park is undoubtedly Yosemite Valley, where El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and other well-known features are located. The first view of the valley for many people is the beautiful "tunnel view", shown below.

But the park contains a great deal more than just Yosemite Valley. It includes the Mariposa Grove, where the ancient and enormous sequoias can be be seen, and Tuolumne Meadows and the back country of the High Sierra which can be accessed via the Tioga Road.

Yosemite is also known for some individuals who have contributed greatly to its preservation and fame. These folks include John Muir, whose lifelong efforts were in large part responsible for its establishment as one of the first national parks, and Ansel Adams, who lived for a while in the park and whose striking photographic images brought the beauty of the park to many around the world.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

An object of fascination for most of Yosemite's visitors has been Yosemite Falls, shown below.


Formation of the Valley The area which now comprises Yosemite National park was once covered by gentle, rolling hills. The Merced River flowed though this valley fairly slowly. However, geological forces pushed the hills and mountains higher and higher, and the Merced River (shown below) flowed more quickly and violently. It increasingly cut a deeper, sharper, v-shaped valley through the terrain.

Several periods of glaciation caused major changes to the valleys and landforms. Glaciers 2000 feet thick flowed through the valley carved by the Merced. These glaciers carved away the bottom of the valley from a V- to the broader U-shape which is seen today.

At the end of the glacial period the valley was actually much deeper that what is seen today, and a large body of water known as Lake Yosemite covered it. However, over a period of time sediment accumultated in the lake, filling it, and the existing valley came into being.

Human History Archaeological findings have indicated that Yosemite Valley and other areas presently within park boundaries have been inhabited by human beings for over 4000 years. At the time the park area was first visited by United States citizens in 1833 the area was inhabited by Miwok Indians and periodically visited by Paiutes who lived east of the park in the Mono Lake area.

Yosemite Valley was first sighted by white men in the Joseph Walker party of 1833. The valley was later visited by members of the Mariposa Batallion who were pursuing Indians in 1851. A substantial number of white men came to the area as a result of the discovery of gold in the Sierras and the Gold Rush which followed.

The artist Thomas Ayres sketched the Yosemite Valley during a visit in 1855. His pictures and the tales of other visitors about its incredible beauty eventually resulted in the signing of the "Yosemite Park Act" by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 ceding the government owned land of Yosemite Valley and around the Mariposa sequoia grove to the state of California for protection and for the use of the public. Although in fact this created a state and not a "national" park (Yellowstone later become the first official national park), this action is often considered to have led directly to the birth of the national park system.

A view of the Sierras from Sentinel Dome is shown below.

Due to the efforts of naturalist John Muir, Robert Underwood Johnson, and others, Yosemite National Park itself was established on October 1, 1890, preserving much of the high country above the valley itself, but not the still state-administered valley or Mariposa Grove. The bill establishing Yosemite as an official natilonal park was signed by President Benjamin Harrison on October 1, 1890. After passagse of the bill, a commision was established to oversee the operation of the park, chaired by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.

In 1903 the area was visited by Theodore Roosevelt, and Muir and Roosevelt camped in Mariposa Grove and rode on horseback to Glacier Point. Roosevelt, a renknowed outdoorsman, called Yosemite "the most beautiful place in the world." In 1906, during Roosevelt's presidency, and again through the efforts of John Muir, Sierra Club president William Colby, Roosevelt, and others, the state lands were receded to the federal government and both the magnificent valley and grove became part of the national park which is known today. Some additional lands were added to the park in 1913.

Another of Yosemite's most famous landmarks, Half Dome, is shown below at sunset.

One additional famous name associated with the park is reknowned lanscape photographer Ansel Adams, who photographed the park for over 50 years. Adams lived for a time in the park and married the daughter of Harry Best, founder (in 1902) of the park's Best's Studio. Now known as the Ansel Adams Studio, and located in Yosemite Village, the studio is presently operated by Adams' son Michael.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com