Hike Yosemite Details
Located in the central part of the Sierra Nevada, 1,189 square mile Yosemite National Park sprawls over three counties—Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera—and is surrounded by three wilderness areas—Ansel Adams, Hoover and Emigrant. The park includes scores of lakes as well two major rivers—the Merced and Tuolumne—both of which begin in Yosemite and have “Wild and Scenic River” status.
John Muir’s pioneering work in glacial theory first helped us understand that Yosemite Valley was mainly created into its U-shape by glaciers. Glaciers began altering the uplifted rock of the High Sierra some 2 to 3 million years ago and continued sculpting Yosemite until about 10 thousand years ago. Those steep granite walls account for Yosemite’s many spectacular waterfalls.
Park elevations range widely from Yosemite Valley at about 4,000 feet to 9,941-foot Tioga Pass, highest mountain pass in California. Many Yosemite peaks top 10,000 feet. Mt. Lyell (13,114 feet) is Yosemite’s highest peak with Mt. Dana (13,057 feet) a close second.
Most discussions of the national park’s attractions begin with its spectacular waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, at 2,425 feet, highest waterfall in North America and third highest on the planet. Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, cascades of uncommon beauty, can be visited via the wondrous Mist Trail and famed John Muir Trail. The park is also known for its groves of giant sequoia. Old Grizzly, patriarch of Mariposa Grove, is estimated to have sprouted some 2,700 years ago.
A wide range of elevations (from 3,000 to 13,000 feet) accounts for a diversity of ecological communities, including oak woodland, mixed conifer forest and meadows (Tuolumne Meadows is the largest High Sierra meadow), plus that very special environment above timberline. White Mariposa lily, corn lily, paint brush, shooting stars, the showy, bright red snowplant — Yosemite’s wildflowers are abundant and include lots of varieties of lupine and more than 30 species of monkeyflowers. Yosemite was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 because of its geology, biodiversity and history.
Mammals, large and small, include black bears, mountain lions, mule deer, marmots, porcupine and pika. Yosemite has exceptional bird diversity, with 262 species including the American dipper, John Muir’s favorite bird.
The magnificent sequoias of Mariposa Grove, along with the wondrous Yosemite Valley, prompted President Abraham Lincoln to set aside Yosemite as a reserve and grant it (temporarily) to the state of California for its protection in 1864. It’s not exaggeration to say that this grove of giant sequoias inspired the first steps to¬ward the establishment of America’s entire system of national parks.
John Muir is inextricably linked with Yosemite. The great naturalist’s passionate efforts to make Yosemite a park have long been admired and will be appreciated by generations to come. Tourism grew rapidly and at the dawn of the 20th century Muir and the Sierra Club began urging the federal government to make Yosemite a national park like Yellowstone, the nation’s first. President Theodore Roosevelt toured the park with Muir, and placed Yosemite under federal protection in 1906. In 1916 the National Park Service was founded and Yosemite immediately placed under the new agency’s protection. Tioga Pass Road and many campgrounds were constructed and tourism to Yosemite greatly increased.
The National Park Service has steward¬ship for the 748,542 acres of Yosemite National Park. The iconic park is particularly challenging to manage because it attracts huge numbers of visitors from around the world and because the agency’s mission requires it to protect park features and its many ecological communities. About 95 percent of the park is wilderness and must be managed accordingly.
If you’re planning a visit to Yosemite National Park, you can get general information on accommodations, weather, and permits from the park’s touchtone phone menu at 209-372- 0200 or online at www.nps.gov/yose. The hearing-impaired can get information by calling 209-372-4726. For camping reservations, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.
In the park, the biggest visitor center is the Valley Visitor Center in Yosemite Village 209- 372-0200, which provides all sorts of information and offers daily ranger programs.
You can buy books and maps from the nonprofit Yosemite Association, 209-379-2646; www.yosemite.org. For information on much of the lodging within Yosemite National Park, contact DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite 559- 252-4848; www.yosemitepark.com.