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Yosemite National Park

Native Americans have inhabited this spectacularly rugged portion of the Sierra Nevada for thousands of years, but the first visitors didn't arrive until the late 1850s. They sketched and took photographs of the awe-inspiring geologic features. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed a congressional bill making both the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias designated public lands—the first time the nation's scenic riches were set aside solely for the enjoyment of its citizens.

Yosemite's greatest champion was Scottish-born naturalist, geologist and environmentalist John Muir. After Muir's first visits climbing mountain peaks and hiking old Indian trails he advocated federal park status for the valley and surrounding land as a means of protecting it from both human and animal (specifically, livestock) encroachment. His tireless conservation efforts were instrumental in establishing Yosemite as a national park in 1890. Theodore Roosevelt—who joined Muir on a backcountry camping trip in 1903—signed a bill 3 years later giving control of the parkland from California to the federal government, thus ensuring its preservation.

Several million people come here every year, but one of the nicest things about Yosemite is that despite the crowds, you can still find your own little corner to contemplate nature's majesty in solitude. It may take a bit of planning (winter and spring are less crowded than summer and fall) or an extra mile of hiking along a secluded trail, but once you've found that spot, we guarantee it's going to seem like heaven. What are you waiting for?

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