In 1851, the first European American settlers set foot in Yosemite Valley. While there were earlier instances of other travelers exploring the area, it is James D. Savage who is recognized as having stumbled upon the land that would eventually become Yosemite National Park. However, it’s important to note that the region and valley have been inhabited for almost 4,000 years, with evidence suggesting that humans may have visited the area as far back as 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Yosemite played an instrumental role in the birth of the national park idea. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Galen Clark and other advocates, Yosemite Valley was spared from development and designated as federally preserved land through the Yosemite Grant of 1864, signed by President Abraham Lincoln. However, it wasn’t until 1890 that John Muir’s successful campaign led Congress to establish Yosemite Valley and its surrounding areas as a National Park, paving the way for the National Park System as we know it today. With approximately four million visitors annually, Yosemite remains a top destination for nature enthusiasts worldwide, with the majority of visitors flocking to the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley. In 2016, the park set a new visitation record, welcoming over five million visitors for the first time in its history. In response to the surge in visitors, the park implemented a reservation system for peak periods starting in 2020.