Yosemite National Park History


On June 30, 1864, amid the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act to protect Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. From the beginning, this act was a legacy for our nation. Plunging waterfalls, stark granite, alpine lakes, pristine meadows, giant sequoia trees, and raging rivers–you’ll find them all in Yosemite. From Yosemite Valley’s famous waterfalls–three of which are among the tallest in the world–to the towering granite domes and glistening meadows of Tioga Pass, Yosemite is a place that can only be described in superlatives. At 1,200 square miles and 750,000 acres, the park is nearly the size of Rhode Island, and one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

When to Go

Each month in Yosemite’s calendar has its own myriad charms. Spring is a wonderful time for visiting Yosemite Valley, when its famous waterfalls are at their peak flow. First-time visitors would do well to time their initial Yosemite trip for April or May, when the Valley is at its most photogenic, the waterfalls are shimmering whitewater cascades, and the summer crowds have not yet arrived. The summer months from June to October are the only time that the entire park, including the high country (Glacier Point and Tuolumne Meadows areas), is open and accessible. Road closures and openings vary from year to year depending on snow conditions, but in most years all park roads are open by early June. Summer is, not surprisingly, the busiest season in Yosemite. Autumn and winter are the most peaceful seasons in Yosemite, and many would argue that they are the best. Lowest visitation levels in the park are recorded from November to March, except for around the holidays. Fall colors on the Valley floor are often spectacular. Winter snow changes the character and mood of the park. And there is much to do in Yosemite in winter; click on our winter activities page for details. To check the weather for specific destinations and road closures in the park, go to Yosemite Weather Map and select you chosen location.

What to Bring

You can purchase almost anything you might need in Yosemite Valley or the nearby town of Groveland, but here are some personal items you should pack along for your Yosemite trip:

  • Hiking boots or sturdy shoes for walking. Even people who have never hiked a trail in their entire life are often inspired to take a walk in Yosemite. Wear shoes that are worthy of the trail-regular sneakers or athletic shoes are not sturdy enough for most people! A small day-pack. Fill it with a bottle of water, a snack, and your camera.
  • Even if you don’t go for a hike, you’ll probably wander around Yosemite Valley during your visit and these items will come in handy.
  • A variety of clothing for layering. Weather conditions change constantly in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s smart to pack rain gear, jackets, and a variety of clothes for both warm and cool weather, even though you may get lucky and spend your entire vacation in shorts and a T-shirt.

Entrance Fees

There is a $35 per vehicle entrance fee, ($30 per motorcycle) at Yosemite National Park, and it is good for seven days. Make sure you keep your receipt to show at the entrance stations every time you drive into or out of the park! If you plan to visit other U.S. national parks, or federal lands this year, save some money and buy a $80 National Parks and Federal Lands Annual Recreation pass. This pass is good at all U.S. national parks and federal lands across the country for one year from the date of purchase. You can also opt to buy a $70 Yosemite annual pass, which is good only at Yosemite for one year from the date of purchase. Finally, if you are 62 years of age or older, you can purchase a Golden Age pass for $80, which is good at all U.S. national parks for the rest of your life!

Planning Your Days in the Park

We advise all Yosemite visitors, and especially first-time Yosemite visitors, to get informed before they travel. Yosemite is a huge park with hundreds of possible visitor activities and attractions; it’s wise to have some idea of what you want to see and do before you arrive.

There are several ways to get information on the Park. First, visit www.yosemitehikes.com. This wonderful website gives detailed information and pictures on each trail and the amount of pedestrian traffic you are likely to encounter, as well as the ability to aerially zoom in on your area of interest. We also recommend Moon Handbooks: Yosemite by Ann Marie Brown. Small enough to fit in your day-pack or glove box, this unbiased guide tells all about Yosemite, from its natural and human history to where to locate an espresso stand, from hiking trail recommendations based on your fitness level to reviews of the park’s restaurants.

Rafting, fishing, art classes, bicycling, photography walks, rock climbing, touring by open-air tram, horseback riding, nature study…. all are possible in Yosemite, and this book details the “where, when, and how” of every possible visitor activity. Phone the Blackberry Inn to purchase a copy before your trip ($25 includes shipping in the United States; phone us for rates for international shipping). The book is also available at Amazon.com. Do you have a limited amount of time and need help on choosing what to see in Yosemite? Go to https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/placestogo.htm to help you decide. Of course, you can always phone the Innkeepers at the Blackberry Inn with any questions about trip planning!

Also, be sure to check out Yosemite Nature Notes a video podcast series that tells unique stories about the natural and human history of Yosemite National Park. Produced by the National Park Service, this series features park rangers, scientists, historians and park visitors as they discuss the diverse plants and animals that make Yosemite their home, as well as the towering cliffs, giant waterfalls and mountain peaks that are known throughout the world. This series is both informative and entertaining. We invite you to click on https://www.nps.gov/yose/photosmultimedia/ynn.htm and enjoy the show!