10 Impressive Facts About Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

M.Omair / Getty Images

Yosemite National Park set the precedent for all parks in the United States. The park was established in 1890, and although it is not the oldest national park, it paved the way for the National Park System.

In 1849, Yosemite Valley, located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, began to receive many settlers, miners, and tourists to the region because of the California Gold Rush. To prevent human-caused destruction to the area, conservationists urged President Abraham Lincoln to make Yosemite Valley a public trust of California. This was the first time that the U.S. government protected land with the purpose of allowing visitors to enjoy the land through recreational activities.

The park covers an area of 759,620 acres, and it has an elevation range from approximately 2,000 to 13,114 feet. Yosemite is known for its granite cliffs, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and streams. Almost 95% of the park is classified as wilderness and is home to a large variety of plants and animals. Here are more fascinating facts about this national park.

1. Yosemite Is Famous for Its Giant Sequoia Trees

Sequoia Trees

Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Yosemite is famous for its giant sequoia trees, which are estimated to be approximately 3,000 years old. They can grow to be about 30 feet in diameter and more than 250 feet tall. Giant sequoias are the third longest-lived tree species, with the oldest tree in the park being the Grizzly Giant, located in the Mariposa Grove. There are approximately 500 mature giant sequoias in this grove, and it is the easiest grove to access for park visitors. The Tuolumne and Merced Groves near Crane Flat are less visited because park visitors have to hike there before any sequoias are visible.

2. A Scottish Writer Established the Park

John Muir, a Scottish naturalist, writer, and advocate of forest conservation spearheaded the creation of Yosemite National Park. His letters, essays, books, and newspaper and magazine articles raised awareness of the unique beauty of the area, and this activism led to the creation of the park in 1890, which is why Muir is commonly known as the “father of national parks”.

3. Yosemite Experiences a Mediterranean Climate

Yosemite National Park experiences a Mediterranean climate, meaning that it is mild, warm, and temperate. In the winter months, rainfall in Yosemite Valley reaches a peak; the average precipitation in January, for example, is 7 inches. Summer is generally very sunny and dry, with the average precipitation in August being only 0.2 inches.

4. Yosemite Valley Was Formed by Glaciers

Yosemite Valley

Gomez David / Getty Images

Approximately one million years ago, glaciers reached a thickness of 4,000 feet. These glaciers were formed at high elevations and began to move down the river valleys. The downwards movement of these large pieces of ice cut the U-shaped Yosemite Valley. The interaction of the glaciers and the underlying granitic rocks are what created the unique landforms in the park. These include jagged peaks, rounded domes, lakes, waterfalls, moraines, and granite spires.

Additionally, about 10 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada was uplifted and then tilted, which resulted in the formation of the gentle western slope and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift also caused the riverbeds to become steeper, which formed deep, narrow canyons.

5. It Is Home to One of the Tallest Waterfalls in North America

Yosemite Falls

David Calvert / Getty Images

Yosemite is home to a countless number of magnificent waterfalls. The best time of the year to see these waterfalls is in spring (May and June) as this is when the snowmelt is at its peak. The waterfalls tend to run dry by August but are refreshed in fall by an increase in rainfall. Popular waterfalls in the park include Yosemite Falls, Ribbon Fall, Sentinel Falls, Horsetail Fall, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, and Chilnualna Falls. Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, reaching 2,425 feet.  

6. A Camping Trip Led to the Expansion of the Park

President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir took a camping trip in the park in 1903. During this camping trip, Muir convinced Roosevelt that the park needed to be expanded to include those lands that were still in the state’s possession. At the end of the camping trip, Roosevelt signed a law that brought the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove under the jurisdiction of the federal government, thus expanding the national park.

7. Hiking Is the Best Way to See the Park

Hiking in Yosemite

Alice Cahill / Getty Images

Hiking is one of the best ways to see Yosemite National Park, and there are hikes that are suitable for all levels of hikers. Yosemite Valley is open all year for hiking, and trails within the valley are usually very busy. One of the most popular hikes is the Half Dome Hike, which is best suited to the more adventurous hiker. It is a 12-hour, 14-mile roundtrip hike with huge elevation gain, cables, and exposed terrain. The hike starts on the Mist Trail, then to Vernal Fall, beyond Nevada Fall, and ending on the backside of Half Dome.

The Yosemite Falls Trail is another famous hike as it takes visitors to a spectacular lookout, where they can view the falls from above. It is approximately 7.2 miles roundtrip with a 2,700-foot elevation gain. Mirror Lake Trail is also frequently visited by park users as it is one of the easier hikes in the park. Mirror Lake is a great place to view the face of the Half Dome.

8. The Rock Formations in the Park Glow at Sunset

At sunset, the rock formations of El Capitan and Half Dome look as if they are on fire. Horsetail Fall also presents a fiery glow at sunset when the light is reflected onto it in mid-February. This phenomenon is known as “firefall,” and it could be mistaken for lava spilling from a volcano. Thousands of people flock to Yosemite to witness this phenomenon, which only lasts for a few minutes before the sun moves.

9. The Park Is Home to the Rare Sierra Nevada Red Fox

Sierra Nevada Red Fox

mlorenzphotography / Getty Images

Yosemite is a very biodiverse area that supports more than 400 species. Wildlife in the park include black bears, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, deer, bobcats, coyotes, and the rare Sierra Nevada red fox. The Sierra Nevada red fox is native to the Sierra Nevada of California, and it has genetic roots dating back to the last Ice Age.

10. Tourists Can Spot Moonbows in the Park

moonbow yosemite

Kartik Ramanathan / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Yosemite National Park is famous for the magnificent rainbows that appear in the park’s waterfalls. However, in late spring and early summer, lunar rainbows or moonbows appear in the waterfall’s mist. A moonbow is an optical phenomenon that is caused when the light from the moon refracts through water particles in the atmosphere. It is extremely rare to see a moonbow, as conditions must be perfect, and the sky must be clear. Photographers make the pilgrimage to the park every year to take one-of-a-kind shots of the moonbows.

View Article Sources
  1. "Yosemite National Park Celebrates 120th Birthday on October 1." National Park Service.

  2. "Park Statistics." National Park Service.

  3. "Giant Sequoias." National Park Service.

  4. "The Largest Trees in the World." National Park Service.

  5. "Sequoia Research." National Park Service.

  6. "NPS Geodiversity Atlas - Yosemite National Park." National Park Service.

  7. "Muir's Influences." National Park Service.

  8. "Horsetail Fall." National Park Service.

  9. "Animals." National Park Service.