The Wonders of Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles of terrain in central eastern California crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains. Over 3.5 million people visit the park each year. Yosemite was first designated as a protected area in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant to protect the Yosemite Valley from development. The Yosemite Valley is just seven square miles of the park, but it is the hub of tourism and lodging in the park. In the years since 1864, more of the surrounding area was included as a part of the protected park. Yosemite was the first national park in America and with it began the United States’ national park service. In 1984, the park was designated as a World Heritage Site.
The park is best known for its waterfalls, deep valleys and forests of giant sequoia trees. Ninety-five percent of the park is wilderness. The park has 7,000 species of plants and a whole host of wildlife, including both rare and non-native species. Some of the most popular attractions include El Capitan, a granite cliff over the Valley and a prime rock climbing location, the Tuolumne Meadows, the Pacific Crest Trail, Mariposa Grove with its 200 ancient sequoia trees, driving through Tioga Road, and Mount Lyell, the highest peak in the park and home to the largest glacier in Yosemite.
The Wawona and Ahwahnee hotels are national historic landmarks and offer to lodge for overnight guests of the park. Reservations are not needed to explore the park, but if you would like to stay at the campgrounds at Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, or Wawona or in one of the hotels in Yosemite, you will need a reservation. The other campgrounds, including Camp 4, are first come, first serve. The park offers a variety of seasonal activities from nature observation to rafting on the Merced River to downhill skiing from Badger Pass to Glacier Point.
Visiting the Park
Due to a large number of visitors, traffic in the park can get quite congested. There is also a $20 entrance fee for cars. The best ways to explore the park are to hike or bike. There are over 800 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of off-road paved biking trails available to visitors. The entrance fee is $10 and persons under 15 are free. There are also a few days a year in which entrance fees are waived. You can also take guided tours if you are worried about getting lost and would like to avoid the apocalyptic battle that is trying to find parking. The park’s prime feature is obviously its natural wonders, but it also has visitor centers that offer some insight into the culture and history of the park, such as the Yosemite Museum and the Nature Center at Happy Isles.