Scenic Vistas in Yosemite

Two views of Tunnel View before and after scenic vista clearing
From Yosemite's Tunnel View location, visitors can see El Capitan, on the left, Bridalveil Fall, on the right, and Half Dome, in the distance, when exiting the tunnel on Wawona Road. Capturing the awe of visitors for more than 75 years, the view became obscured by trees and brush. In October 2008, the Tunnel View Rehabilitation Project restored the expansive views of Yosemite Valley.
 

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Managing Scenic Vistas

Over four million visitors come to Yosemite National Park each year to see its natural wonders and scenic grandeur. The breathtaking scenery is a key reason Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were the first areas designated by the federal government to be preserved for public benefit in 1864. The Tunnel View Rehabilitation in 2008, pictured above, reestablished the expansive vista of Yosemite Valley that recalls what first inhabitants and early visitors saw.

 
Two photos showing El Capitan before and after scenic vista clearing
The two photographs above were taken in 1940 from Southside Drive, before and after
vista management.

Scenic Vista Management Plan

The Scenic Vista Management Plan was created because there was no consistent process to prioritize vistas for management, and the lack of a comprehensive effort had allowed many vistas to remain obscured. Past vista management has reestablished scenic vistas at a rate of about three vistas per decade. In addition, the 1980 Yosemite General Management Plan called for the creation of a vista management plan. The development of a framework for evaluating and prioritizing vista management actions will ensure that the natural and cultural resources and values of Yosemite National Park remain unimpaired.

The Scenic Vista Management Plan is being implemented to reestablish and maintain Yosemite National Park's iconic views, vistas, and discrete lines of sight that are obscured by vegetation growth. When the park was originally set aside, vegetation was much more open, with unblocked views and open meadows. American Indians burned Yosemite Valley meadows specifically to increase the productivity of native grasses, forbs, and woody plants for food, basketry, and other aesthetic and cultural purposes. Open oak woodlands allowed for easy viewing of granite walls and waterfalls in Yosemite Valley. Black oak acorn is still a vital food source to the traditionally associated tribes of Yosemite. The mix of meadows with low and high density forests throughout the park was maintained by anthropogenic (human-caused) and natural (unplanned ignition) wildfires that burned in mosaic patterns. Over time, with the cessation of regular burning when the park was established, the views filled in. While fire has returned to Yosemite Valley with aims of restoring meadows, oak woodlands, and vistas, fire is insufficient to fully restore many of the iconic views.

The Scenic Vista Management Plan provides a systematic program for documenting, protecting, and reestablishing Yosemite’s important vistas, consistent with the natural processes and human influences that created them. The goals of this plan are to:

  • Re-establish and maintain important historic views;

  • Develop an objective process for selecting and ranking vistas for treatment;

  • Develop target conditions and identify appropriate vegetation management actions to reestablish scenic vistas;

  • Reestablish scenic vistas, whenever practicable, by restoring natural species composition, structure, and function to systems, using traditional American Indian vegetation management practices, including hand pulling and fire.

This planning effort was initiated through a public scoping process in 2009 and through an evaluation of an environmental assessment was finalized in 2011 with a Finding of No Significant Impact.

 

Current Biomass Removal and Scenic Vista Clearing Projects (2022–2026)

Crews and contractors are working on projects in Yosemite Valley and other areas of the park to remove dead and down logs, as well as thin out other trees as part of a biomass removal project. The park will also be continuing implementation of Yosemite’s Scenic Vista Management Plan, which will result in larger trees being removed to restore scenic views in Yosemite Valley as well as along the Big Oak Flat and Wawona Roads.

Over the course of the next four years, a total of approximately 500 acres are expected to be treated in Yosemite Valley through these two projects. These projects will be highly visible and generate questions. At times, it will appear to people that logging is taking place (use of excavators and logging trucks), so it’s important to understand the goals of these projects and how the operations will work.

Learn more about where work will take place.

Tunnel View Overlook Rehabilitaton Project

The purpose of the Tunnel View Overlook Rehabilitation Project was to:

  • Remedy long-standing vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian safety issues
  • Correct drainage deficiencies and problems
  • Provide clear circulation patterns for pedestrians and vehicles
  • Enhance and maintain viewing opportunities for visitors
  • Provide accessibility to viewing areas
  • Correct safety problems associated with the Inspiration Point trailhead, and
  • Address sanitation issues, while maintaining the naturalistic, rustic character and integrity of this historic site.

Additional Information

  • Listen to a 24-minute podcast that discusses the inspiring scenery of Yosemite and brings to light the changing nature of what can be seen from various viewpoints. This episode further discusses some of the ideas brought forth during the development of a Scenic Vista Management Plan.

Last updated: April 19, 2022

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