Thurgood Marshall, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site; Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; Caribbean dancers perform at the Annual Kingsley Heritage Celebration, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
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Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures
Explore their Stories in the National Park System


Yosemite Valley, California

Looking out from Glacier Point in Yosemite.
Looking out from Glacier Point in Yosemite.
S. Mif on Flickr's Creative Commons

As one of the most beloved parks in the National Park System, Yosemite National Park is a popular destination to explore the California wilderness through outdoor activities like camping, hiking, climbing, riding, fishing, birding, and skiing. The park also has many stories to tell about the diverse peoples who played a role in the history of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yosemite was the home for some of America’s first peoples for thousands of years before becoming a tourist destination. Seven contemporary American Indian tribes trace their roots to the lands of Yosemite. Today, visitors to the park can explore the natural and cultural history of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at a number of locations. Yosemite Valley Visitor Center provides an orientation to the park, a movie, and brochures to guide visitors through the Yosemite Cemetery, the final resting place of a number of people involved with the park. Next door to the visitor center, the Yosemite Museum offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the cultural history of the park, particularly about the Miwok and Paiute tribes.

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls
Ty Chay on Flickr's Creative Commons

The ancestors of today’s tribes arrived in the area roughly 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Here, they hunted, fished, and gathered plants, moving seasonally throughout the area, but also setting up permanent camps. The Ahwahneechees were another tribe that lived in the parklands, but very few were still alive by the mid-1800s. The Indian Village and Museum behind the Yosemite Museum offers exhibits and cultural demonstrations of Indian life and a short trail through a reconstructed Miwok-Paiute village. An art gallery displays selections from the museum’s art collection. LeConte Memorial Lodge, a National Historic Landmark, seasonally presents environmental programs for adults and children. The lodge was the first park visitor center; today, it is run by the Sierra Club.

Following the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s, many settlers came west into the area. Hikers in the park can visit a well-preserved silver mine active from 1879 to 1890, called Golden Crown, near Bloody Canyon. The first tourists arrived around 1855. Early visitors included soldiers, artists, writers, and sightseers. Early settlers helped as guides and protected the park, as did soldiers. Between 1891 and 1913, approximately 500 African American soldiers helped guard the park and improve access to it. These “Buffalo Soldiers” played an important role in the story of the American West. The park continued to have military connections, as many of its tourist facilities hosted recovering soldiers during World War II. The Ahwahnee Hotel served as a naval hospital.

Suzie McGowan, a Mono Lake Paiute, stands in a meadow near Yosemite Falls with her baby Sadie in a cradlebasket on her back.
Suzie McGowan, a Mono Lake Paiute, stands in a meadow near Yosemite Falls with her baby Sadie in a cradlebasket on her back.
National Park Service (Yosemite
National Park/Yosemite Research
Library, photo by J.T. Boysen)

A few of the early visitors to Yosemite also became some of this country’s greatest advocates for conservation. In the Tuolumne Meadows section of the park, visitors can hike to what might be called the “birthplace” of the park. A one-mile hike from either the Lembert Dome parking area or the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center leads to the spot John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson, a magazine editor, hatched the idea of creating the park. Visitors can learn more about Muir through summertime live performances by a costumed interpreter at the Yosemite Valley auditorium. The Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center provides additional information on the area and John Muir. While in Tuolumne Meadows, explore the Parsons Memorial Lodge or Soda Springs to learn about the cultural and natural history of the area.

At Wawona and near the Mariposa Grove, visitors can continue to discover the people and places that shaped Yosemite. At the Wawona Visitor Center, visitors can see artwork showing the park during the 19th century and receive information about the area. Nearby is the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of buildings and materials showing life in the park from roughly 1800 to 1900. Near the giant sequoias at Mariposa Gove is the Mariposa Grove Museum, housed in a replica of an early settler’s cabin. The museum has information about the trees.

From Hetch Hetchy to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite is a spectacular place that offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore a varied geography and to learn more about indigenous Americans and the other peoples who are part of the Yosemite story.

Plan your visit

Yosemite National Park, a unit of the National Park System and a World Heritage Site , includes more than 1,000 square miles in California. The main visitor center is located just north of California State Route 140 in the Yosemite Valley, CA. Additional visitor centers are located in Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne Meadows, and Wawona. Some of these are seasonal. Five historic places within the park have been designated National Historic Landmarks: LeConte Memorial Lodge, Parsons Memorial Lodge, the Rangers’ Club, the Ahwahnee, and the Wawona Hotel and Thomas Hill Studio. Click here to explore the more than 30 sites within Yosemite National Park listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There is a fee to visit the park, which is open all day, 365 days a year. For more information, visit the National Park Service Yosemite National Park website or call 209-372-0200.

Scores of sites within the park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record. Click to see sites for Mariposa County or Tuolumne County.

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