The History Behind Northern California’s National Parks

Northern California is a treasure trove of natural wonders, boasting an array of national parks that stand as testament to the region’s breathtaking landscapes and ecological diversity. From the snow-capped peaks of Lassen Volcanic to the towering giants of Redwood National Park, and the iconic granite cliffs of Yosemite to the majestic groves of sequoias in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, each park holds a unique history and significance that has captured the hearts of adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and conservationists alike.

These parks have not only become emblematic of Northern California’s wild beauty but also serve as crucial sanctuaries for preserving the natural heritage of this remarkable region. Here’s a history of each National Park in NorCal.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park holds a captivating history shaped by the powerful forces of volcanic activity. Established as a national park in 1916, it stands as a testament to the efforts of conservationists who recognized its unique geothermal wonders and breathtaking landscapes.

The park is home to Lassen Peak, one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes, which erupted dramatically between 1914 and 1917, leaving behind a stark landscape of devastation and rebirth. Native American tribes like the Atsugewi and Yana have inhabited the region for centuries, and their cultural influence is still palpable in the park’s traditions and landmarks.

The legacy of early European settlers and explorers, including the discovery of thermal features by pioneer Peter Lassen, adds another layer to the park’s story. There’s also the infamous story of Kendall Bumpass, who lost his leg after discovering what is now called Bumpass Hell.

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National Park, situated on the northern coast of California, carries a rich history that intertwines the preservation of ancient giants and the conservation efforts of dedicated individuals.

Officially established in 1968, this park was born out of a merger of state and federal lands, creating a unified sanctuary for the magnificent coastal redwoods. These towering trees, some of the oldest and tallest on Earth, have long captured the imagination of all who encounter them. Native American communities, particularly the Yurok, Tolowa, and Karuk tribes, have cherished and revered the redwoods for countless generations, integrating them into their spiritual practices and daily lives.

The park’s modern history is also marked by the activism of concerned citizens who rallied to protect these awe-inspiring trees from commercial logging. Today, Redwood National Park stands as a testament to the dedication of conservationists and the enduring power of nature, offering visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in an ancient forest that serves as a living link to the past.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, boasts a captivating history that’s as diverse as its breathtaking landscapes. Its story begins long before its official designation as a national park in 1890.

The Ahwahneechee people, who inhabited the valley for centuries, considered it a sacred place. The arrival of European settlers in the mid-1800s brought new attention to Yosemite’s stunning beauty, with artists and writers like Albert Bierstadt and John Muir capturing its splendor. Muir’s tireless advocacy played a pivotal role in the park’s preservation, leading President Abraham Lincoln to sign a bill in 1864 granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the state of California for protection. This marked the first time the U.S. federal government set aside land specifically for preservation and public enjoyment.

In 1890, Yosemite was designated a national park, and since then, it has become a symbol of the American conservation movement, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a cherished destination that attracts millions of visitors each year.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park, established in 1890, holds a rich history deeply intertwined with the preservation of its awe-inspiring natural wonders. The park is renowned for its towering giant sequoia trees, some of which are among the largest and oldest living organisms on Earth.

The park’s history was shaped by the efforts of individuals like John Muir and the U.S. Cavalry’s Troop I, who worked to protect the giant sequoias from logging and destruction. One of its most iconic landmarks, the General Sherman Tree, stands as a testament to the park’s commitment to conservation. This tree, estimated to be around 2,200 years old, is celebrated as the largest tree on the planet by volume.

Sequoia National Park’s history reflects the enduring dedication to preserving natural wonders for future generations and offers a profound opportunity for visitors to connect with the majesty of the natural world.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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  3. You statement about Yosemite is wildly inaccurate. You wrote, “Muir’s tireless advocacy played a pivotal role in the park’s preservation, leading President Abraham Lincoln to sign a bill in 1864 granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the state of California for protection.” But John Muir had NOTHING to do with the setting aside in 1864 of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. At the time Muir was merely26 years old, living in Canada where he ws botanizing and working on mechanical inventions. Muir didn’t have anything to do with Yosemite until decades later when he wrote articles calling for the preservation of the surrounding high country – the mountains and watersheds ABOVE Yosemite Valley, and including the Tuolumne River Canyon including the “second Yosemite” Hetch Hetchy Valley. At the time, it was like a donut – the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were in state hands being mismanaged, allowing trampling of meadows by livestock, unbridled development of hotels and tourist facilities like bear feeding stations, etc. It took many more years of effort by John Muir and the early Sierra Club to get Yosemite Valley added to the national park, which did not happen until 1905. And then – 10 years later the “money changers” as Muir called them, succeeded in destroying his beloved “second Yosemite” Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Tuolumne River canyon, north of Yosemite Valley’s Merced River, by building a dam. It is time to restore Hetch Hetchy, so the effort to protect Yosemite National Park remains an ongoing effort today.

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