Tunnel View of Yosemite Valley
Your Adventure Guide To Yosemite National Park
Once, on a flight from San Diego to Seattle, I happened to glance out my starboard cabin window and notice an exceptional mountainscape, one unique even to the many wonders of the Intermountain West. Running a rough calculation in my mind, I deduced that the trough beneath could be only one thing: the Yosemite Valley. Sure enough, and without much effort, I then located the one landmark that could prove my hypothesis true, Half Dome, and felt the swell of national park fervor erupt in my heart like a California super bloom. This is the magic and mystique of Yosemite—the very feeling that makes the park one of the most iconic and visited in the system—and even at 30,000ft I felt it. The oil stain residue of my slack-jawed face pressed against the airplane window proved it.
View Of Half Dome From Plane
Yosemite’s Reputation For Outdoor Recreation
Like most, I first learned of Yosemite through pop culture, marketing, and social media. As a kid, the park’s name only held connotation to the Looney Toons character Yosemite Sam, a rambunctious stereotype of the Californian prospector/cowboy. After that came granite, specifically the ubiquitous outdoor images of both Half Dome and El Capitan (the largest piece of exposed granite on the planet). And with such granite, of course, comes rock climbing. The early aughts were a resurgence for the sport in the public eye, largely due to such pioneers as Lynn Hill, Peter Croft, and Dave Schultz, which ushered in the contemporary legends of Adam Ondra, Tommy Caldwell, and Alex Honnold.
It was a December 2002 issue of Outside magazine that introduced me to the marvels of big wall climbing, Dean Potter announced on the cover as climber of the year, with an accompanying article about his experimentations with free soloing and slacklines. A decade later I’d find myself both climbing and slacklining in the Valley. I’d also find out, while at the Epcot Center in Disney World, of Potter’s untimely death in the Valley, the man having taught me of both the joys and heartaches of the sport.
Tyler with Alex Honnold during his Free Solo press tour
Yosemite National Park Culture, Ecology, and Geology
After the cartoons and climbing came a deeper and holistic dive into the park—its culture, ecology, and geology. Through these studies, the scope of the already unimaginable expanded; I learned of the seven tribes of the Miwok, of J.M. Hutchings and John Muir, of the 1864 Yosemite Valley Grant Act signed by Abraham Lincoln during the bloodiest year of the Civil War, of the Buffalo Soldiers who were among the park’s first rangers. I learned of traffic jams on the Southside Drive, of controversial reservoirs on public lands, and visitation restrictions during a pandemic. The history is robust and ever-expanding.
On the Yosemite Falls Trail. Credit: Steve Witmer
GuideGap Knows Yosemite National Park
The park is now 748,000 acres in size. Most people know it for the 3,800 acres that encapsulate Yosemite Valley. But there is so much more: Tioga Pass, Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, Hetch Hetchy. With each section, habitat, and cultural touch point comes a lifetime’s worth of study. I invite you to embark on the research that interests you most and to use it to bolster your next visit to the park. Better yet, let GuideGap’s network of experts build a personalized itinerary for you that highlights hikes, climbing routes, campgrounds, and food stops. That way, if given the chance, when passing overhead and looking down on the landscape, you’ll see not only deep glacier-cut valleys and the granite domes that withstood their destruction, but you’ll also see the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples, a region instrumental in the development of the National Park Service, and clear evidence that nature still holds a healing power that we, as an urbanized species, deeply need in our lives.
Additional Reading On Yosemite National Park
Further reading and viewing: Uncertain Path by William C. Tweed follows one man’s meditative walk along the John Muir Trail as he reflects on his time as a park ranger and the challenges that Yosemite will face in the 21st century. Ranger Confidential by Andrea Lankford also recounts time as a ranger and has some compelling/harrowing tales of life in the Yosemite Valley. And, lastly, if you’re looking for a film that will have you clenching clammy hands throughout, watch the documentary Free Solo about Alex Honnold’s rope-less climb up El Capitan.
About The Author: Tyler
Tyler Dunning grew up in southwestern Montana, having developed a feral curiosity and reflective personality at a young age. This mindset has led him around the world, to nearly all of the U.S. national parks, and to the darker recesses of his own creativity. He’s dabbled in such occupations as professional wrestling, archaeology, social justice advocacy, and academia. At his core he is a writer. Check out Tyler’s website at: Tyler Dunning
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