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10+ (AMAZING) Yosemite National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

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Yosemite National Park Facts includes ten fascinating facts about one of America’s oldest national parks.

In 2020, Yosemite had 2.27 million visitors. Yosemite is not America’s oldest national park though it was first protected eight years before the creation of Yellowstone–America’s oldest national park. The park is best known for its waterfalls, but you can also find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.

In 1849, Yosemite Valley, located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, began to receive many tourists to the region. They came because of the California Gold Rush. As a consequence, conservationists appealed to President Abraham Lincoln to make Yosemite Valley a public trust of California.

us national parks ranked, yosemite, california
Yosemite National Park Facts

It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.

-John Muir

1. John Muir’s Time In Yosemite Changed Him Forever | Yosemite National Park Facts

tunnel view yosemite national park california
Tunnel view of the magnificent Yosemite Valley.

John Muir was a Scottish naturalist, writer, and conservationist who was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park. Muir’s newspaper and magazine articles raised public awareness of the unique beauty of the Yosemite Valley.

He first visited Yosemite in 1868. He was so impressed with his visit that he returned the following year Muir was a free spirit who found work as a ranch hand to support his “nature” habit . The following year, he gained employment as a shepherd for $30 per month.

While Muir guided his flock of sheep to the Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra, he studied the flora and fauna and sketched the mountain scenery. He later wrote about these experiences in My First Summer in the Sierra

Yosemite National Park Facts include the fact that Yosemite is one of America's oldest national parks.
Yosemite National Park Courtesy of Wikimedia.

The Sierra Club

Yosemite National Park Facts include that John Muir was instrumental in the creation of the park.
John Muir was instrumental in gaining support for the creation of the Yosemite National Park. Through his writings and political activism, he gained a wide public following and became a leader of the Conservation Movement. He became known as the “father of the national parks.” (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Muir Founded The Sierra Club

Sierra Club Bulletin (1906) | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Muir became a political activist and founded the Sierra Club in 1892. With his army of dedicated followers, he gained support in Congress for the creation of Yosemite and other national parks. Muir is commonly known as the “father of national parks”.

#2 Horace Greeley Went West And “Discovered” Yosemite | Yosemite National Park Facts

The man who immortalized the saying, “Go west, young man,” would himself go west to uncover the beauty of Yosemite National Park. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, visited Yosemite Valley in 1859 during a trip out west. Before John Muir sang the praises of this incredible land, Greeley did.

He sent an account of his travels to his newspaper writing that Yosemite was “the greatest marvel of the continent,” that the “grandeur and sublimity” of the wondrous chasm were “overwhelming,” and that it was to be hoped that California would immediately provide for the perpetual safety of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. (Source: The National Parks, Freeman Tilden)

Yosemite National Park Facts include that Horace Greeley visited the park and wrote of its wonders.
New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley wrote about the wonders of Yosemite long before John Muir discovered it. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

I know no single wonder of nature on earth which can claim superiority over the Yosemite. Just dream yourself for one hour in a chasm nearly ten miles long, with egress, save for birds and water, but at three points, up the face of precipices from three thousand to four thousand feet high, the chasm scarcely more than a mile wide at any point, and tapering to a mere gorge, or canyon, at either end, with walls of mainly naked and perpendicular white granite, from three thousand to five thousand feet high, so that looking up to the sky from it is like looking out of an unfathomable profound–and you will have some conception of the Yosemite.

An Overland Journey From New York to San Francisco by Horace Greeley

#3 Yosemite Is Our Nation’s Third National Park, But It Shaped The Idea Of The National Parks

After being urged by conservationists to take action, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant on June 30, 1864. This action extended protection to the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley.

Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two, where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure.

-Abraham Lincoln

Setting An Important Precedent

This was the first time the federal government acted to protect land because of its natural beauty. It established an important precedent that the government could do this.

Future presidents, beginning with Ulysses S. Grant eight years later, used Lincoln’s action to justify further moves to protect additional public lands.

So, while Yosemite was our nation’s third national park, the important precedent which it established formed the pattern for future park acquisitions.

Yosemite National Park facts include that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to protect a park though his action was taken on behalf of the state of California.
Abraham Lincoln established the precedent of setting aside land as a public trust with his decision to protect the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. This action established an important precedent for future presidents. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

America’s First National Park? Not So Fast…

Some would argue that Lincoln’s action made Yosemite the nation’s first national park, but, in fact, he made the lands a public trust of the state of California not the United States of America. The first time public lands were set aside as a “national” park would be in 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation creating Yellowstone National Park.

#4 Yosemite Is Famous For Its Giant Sequoia Trees | Yosemite National Park Facts

Yosemite National Park is perhaps best known for its giant sequoia trees which are believed to be approximately 3,000 years old.

These magnificent trees can grow to be about 30 feet wide and more than 250 feet tall.  Yosemite’s 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.

The park features approximately 500 mature giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove. If you’re looking to see these wonders then these are the easiest to access.

You can also find sequoias in the Tuolumne and Merced Groves near Crane Flat, but you will need to do some hiking to see them.

No trip to Yosemite is complete until you have seen the Grizzly Giant which is located in the Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

#5 Yosemite Valley Was Formed By Glaciers | Yosemite National Park Facts

Lyell Glacier is the largest remaining glacier in Yosemite. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Approximately one million years ago, glaciers reached a thickness of 4,000 feet. These glaciers were formed at high elevations.

From there, they began to move down the river valleys. It was the downwards movement of these large pieces of ice cut which formed the U-shaped Yosemite Valley.

Lyell Glacier was climbed by John Muir in 1871. It is on the north facing slopes of Mount Lyell, the highest peak in the national park at 13,114 feet. Lyell is the second largest glacier in the Sierra Nevada and the largest in Yosemite. 

Maclure is the second largest glacier in the Yosemite. It has an ice cave that allows hikers to actually look underneath the glacier.

#6 Yosemite’s Diverse Landscape Supports More Than 400 Species

tunnel view yosemite national park california
Yosemite National Park

If you enjoy watching wildlife then Yosemite is definitely worth a visit. The park supports more than 400 species including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The high diversity is a consequence of diverse habitats that are largely intact.

These range from thick foothill chaparral to conifer forests to expanses of alpine rock. Animals feel at home in each location.

#7 Yosemite Is Home To Some Of The Tallest Waterfalls In North America

Yosemite supports more than 400 species including the Yosemite Toad. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Yosemite is home to some of the most magnificent waterfalls on the planet. Of course, the best time of year to see these waterfalls is in the spring when the snowpack has melted. By August, the waterfalls turn to a trickle before they are restored by the fall rains.

Among the waterfalls you should check out are Sentinel Fall, which flows an impressive 2,000 feet, Bridalveil Fall across from El Capitan, which is simply stunning, Ribbon Fall, which is the highest single drop waterfall in North America at over 1,600 feet and Tueeulala Falls in the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley.

#8 Theodore Roosevelt’s Camping Trip With John Muir Forever Changed Yosemite

Birdalveil Fall at Yosemite National Park. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

It would become known as the camping trip that changed the nation. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, who was on a swing of western states. He left his official party to go camping with Conservationist John Muir.

Muir had fallen in love with Yosemite. He used his time with the President to argue that it would be an incalculable loss if these “temples of nature” were to be hunted, logged and mined into oblivion.

John Muir was preaching to the choir as Roosevelt was already a dedicated conservationist himself.

Roosevelt Expanded Yosemite National Park

This iconic photo was taken at Yosemite National Park as two of America’s greatest conservationists, Theodore Roosevelt & John Muir, spent time camping together. At the end of the 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. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Muir wanted Roosevelt’s promise that he would protect Yosemite. He got that and much more. At the end of the trip, Roosevelt signed a law bringing the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove under the jurisdiction of the federal government, thus expanding the national park.

Roosevelt then went on to sign into existence five more national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges and 150 national forests.

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

-John Muir

#9 Yosemite Is Prominently Featured In A Star Trek Film

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Captain Kirk (portrayed by the one and only William Shatner) boldly went where no Starfleet Captain had gone before. He spent his shore leave climbing on El Capitan and Inspiration Point at Yosemite National Park in California.

And, what made this cinematic experience so unique is that the filmmakers made no bones (did you trekkies get that not-so-subtle reference to Doctor McCoy?) about it.

They didn’t try to pretend that he was anywhere else. Why should they given the natural beauty of Yosemite. El Capitan is one of its favorite destinations for visitors.

RELATED: Look Familiar? 10+ CLASSIC Television Shows Filmed In The National Parks

You Can Make This “Trek” Too

Yosemite’s Inspiration Point figures prominently in the opening scenes of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

If you’re thinking of making this trek (oh boy, here I go again!) then consider the fact that it offers you a breathtaking view. Where else can you see the El Capitan / Half Dome bookend view of the majestic Yosemite Valley.

You never can be quite sure just how far folks will travel to visit Yosemite National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia

While the Star Wars franchise wins the battle of which science fiction enterprise (I’m sorry folks, I just can’t help myself!) made the most money, it was the Star Trek franchise which predicted more future technologies.

It’s truly amazing how many future technologies made their first appearance on Star Trek like an early version of the cell phone | Courtesy of Wikimedia

These include: tablets, tractor beams, tricorders, flip communicators, wearable badge communicators, cloaking devices and voice interface computers to name a few. I suppose you could say that they “boldly went where no science fiction television series had gone before.”

Oh Captain, My Captain. And, I Don’t Mean Chris Pine! (Courtesy Of Wikimedia)

RELATED: Look Familiar? 25+ CLASSIC Movies Filmed In The National Parks

# 10 Yosemite Is One Of The Best Places For Climbers & Hikers | Yosemite National Park Facts

Yosemite National Park has some incredible rock formations which makes it a magnet for climbers. Since John Muir scaled the summit of Cathedral Peak in 1869, climbers have found challenges ranging from easy to difficult.

In January of 2015, climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

This was after six years of planning and preparation. Their 19-day ascent of the Dawn Wall was considered by some as the hardest successful rock climb in history.

Climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in January of 2015.

A Great Park For Hikers | Yosemite National Park Facts

yosemite national park, cliff, person-918596.jpg

If climbing is a bit too extreme for your tastes then why not hike instead. It’s one of the best ways to see Yosemite and there are hiking trails for beginners, intermediate and advanced 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. It’s 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 finishes on the backside of Half Dome.

If you’re looking for a less strenuous hike, there’s Yosemite Falls Trail. It’s 7.2 miles roundtrip and features a spectacular lookout where you can see the falls. Want to learn more? Check out our guide to Yosemite and all of the national parks.

Now Here’s Fun Fact | Yosemite In The Movies

Monty Python & The Holy Grail | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So, who was the greatest King Arthur on the big screen? Richard Harris in Camelot? Sean Connery in First Knight? Well, if you were a World History teacher, like me, trying to interest a group of teenagers in the Middle Ages then it’s Graham Chapman from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

With knights who say “Ni,” a “Shrubber” named Roger, a killer rabbit and so much more, what’s not to love? As David Sims in the Atlantic Magazine wrote, “forty years (plus) after its release, the film remains the gold standard in subversive comedy.”

“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

– French knight to King Arthur, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

One Of The Greatest Comedies Of All Time

One of the greatest comedies of all time | Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It was originally released in 1975 as the second film by the British comedy group known as Monty Python. Monty Python and the Holy Grail grossed more than any British film shown in the U.S. that year.

To give you some idea of its enduring legacy, it was selected in 2011 as the second-best comedy of all time in ABC’s Best In Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time.

Which film finished in first place? Surely you can’t be serious. Why it was Airplane, of course!

Now Here’s Another Fun Fact

Pictured above are Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and John Cleese. Missing is Graham Chapman (a.k.a. King Arthur) who passed away in 1989. These are the men who were “Monty Python.” (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Now here’s a fun fact. The group didn’t have enough money to arrange for horses and this is where one of the funniest bits in the film comes into play.

Given their meager budget, they came up with the coconut idea from an old BBC radio practice of using coconut halves as sound effects for horses.

Now if you’re familiar with the film you know that most of it was filmed in the United Kingdom. So which part of it was filmed in America and where?

The Tale Of Sir Robin

Eric Idle portrayed Sir Robin in the film. The Tale of Sir Robin was filmed in Yosemite National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Do you remember the dark forest of Ewing where Sir Robin rides accompanied by his favorite minstrels? That scene was actually filmed at Yosemite National Park in California.

RELATED: Look Familiar? 25+ CLASSIC Movies Filmed In The National Parks

Ten Facts About Yosemite

  1. John Muir’s Time In Yosemite Changed Him Forever
  2. Horace Greeley Went West And Discovered Yosemite
  3. Yosemite Is Our Nation’s 3rd National Park, But It Shaped The Idea Of National Parks
  4. Yosemite Is Famous for Its Giant Sequoia Trees
  5. They Valley (Yosemite Valley) Was Formed by Glaciers
  6. Yosemite’s Diverse Landscape Supports More Than 400 Species
  7. Yosemite Is Home To Some Of The Tallest Waterfalls In North America
  8. Theodore Roosevelt’s Camping Trip With John Muir Forever Changed Yosemite
  9. Yosemite Is Prominently Featured In A Star Trek Film
  10. Yosemite Is One Of Be Best Places For Climbers & Hikers
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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