Yosemite National Park lies in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the northern portion of California. It covers an area of 1,168.68 square miles and it is famous for its granite cliffs, clear streams, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity. The national park was established on October 1, 1890, through an Act of Congress although the area was first protected in 1864. Further efforts to protect the park have seen more than 89% of its land become a designated wilderness area. Yosemite National Park is one of the World Heritage Sites since 1984. The park is the third oldest and one of the largest national parks in the United States.
The national park has many unique features ranging from landforms to animal and plant species. One of the most outstanding rock formations in the park is a giant granite dome known as the Half Dome because of its distinct shape. The dome rises to a height of about 4,700 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley. The El Capitan, another large rock formation situated in the park, is also a major attraction of Yosemite. The giant sequoias that grow in the park are the biggest trees on the planet. The tree is a symbol of the State of California. Yosemite National Park also boasts a high concentration of waterfalls due to its hanging valleys and glacial steps. The most prominent waterfalls in the park include Ribbon Falls, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Fall.
The park is home to more than 20% of California’s flora. Its varied habitats support more than 250 vertebrate species. Some of the most common animals found in the lower elevation areas of the park include black bears, deer, red and grey foxes, raccoons, coyotes, cougars, and spotted owls. The number of wildlife species decreases as the landscape rises. The vegetation of Yosemite National Park is well preserved unlike in the surrounding lands where natural tree cover has been destroyed by logging. The park has about 225,510 acres of old-growth forest. Besides the primary forest, the park also has an extensive cover of alpine meadows, woodlands, and chaparral.
The park is one of the primary attractions of California. It receives more than four million visitors annually, with the highest number of tourists recorded in 2016 when it received 5,028,868 visitors. Some of the activities available in the park include nature walks, hiking and rock climbing, rafting, stargazing, mule and horseback rides, skiing, bike rentals, and photography and art classes. Yosemite Valley remains open to visitors year-round, with summer being the peak season. The park operates a free shuttle bus system in the valley, and it is the most convenient means of transport for tourists particularly in summer due to traffic congestion. Other features of the park include two National Historic Landmarks and facilities like a museum and a visitor center.
Current threats facing Yosemite National Park include air pollution which causes tissue damage to the giant sequoia trees, exposing them to disease and insect infestation. Lack of natural fires in the park due to suppression is also an issue because the cones of the sequoia trees only germinate in fire-touched soil. Other challenges include habitat fragmentation and climate change which endangers the glaciers of the Sierra Nevada. Encroachment by exotic species is also an issue in Yosemite since the non-native species displace the native plant communities or alter them.