One of the most popular natural attractions in America was established on this day in 1890, when Congress voted to create Yosemite National Park. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite became the third park in the U.S. park system.

Native Americans had long been the main inhabitants of Yosemite Valley, which is at the heart of the park. When the California Gold Rush of 1849 brought new settlers to the region, it caused damage to the valley’s ecosystem. To protect the valley from further damage, President Abraham Lincoln designated it as protected wilderness in 1864. It was the first time in U.S. history that land was set aside for preservation.

An ice skater skates across Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park
Ice skating on Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park (Greg Epperson via Shutterstock)

A campaign for conservation

But that did not stop California’s booming livestock industry from overrunning the meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley. Famed conservationist John Muir, who fell in love with the area’s natural beauty on his first visit in 1868, wrote about the increasing damage from sheep grazing.

His writings raised awareness and support for the cause of conservation, and together with other naturalists, he campaigned to protect the greater Yosemite Valley with national park status. On October 1, 1890, Congress allotted more than 3,800 hectares encompassing the valley for the park.

A rock climber in Yosemite National Park
A rock climber in Yosemite National Park (Greg Epperson via Shutterstock)

Natural wonders for public enjoyment

Nearly 4 million people from around the world visit Yosemite annually. The park is best known for Yosemite Falls — at 739 meters, one of the highest waterfalls in North America — and the Half Dome rock formation. Each year, thousands of hikers make the 10- to 12-hour journey to the dome’s summit, which rises 2,682 meters above sea level. Yosemite also boasts over 1,207 kilometers of hiking trails, 500 ancient giant sequoia trees, 8,500 hectares of alpine meadows and hundreds of animal species.

The U.S. national park system began in 1872 with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, which inspired a worldwide national park movement. Today, there are 59 designated national parks. The system is managed by the National Park Service and includes recreational sites as well as monuments and historic battlefields.