View of Yosemite's famous Half Dome peak at sunrise.
Yosemite Wilderness encompasses nearly 95 percent (704,624 acres) of Yosemite National Park. Designated as protected wilderness by the 1984 Congress, this pristine region protects Yosemite's ancient sequoia trees, endangered species like the California wolverine and Pacific fisher, miles of beloved hiking trails and the towering peaks of Half Dome and El Capitan. More than 700 miles of trails give access to the wilderness.
The Yosemite Wilderness is bordered by the Emigrant Wilderness to the north, the Hoover Wilderness to the east and the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the south. Yosemite's landmarks have become synonymous with outdoor splendor: El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall Tuolumne Meadows.
Fifty-four miles of the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River, one of the most exquisite mountain rivers on earth, flow through Yosemite Wilderness and Yosemite National Park. Seventy-eight miles of the Merced Wild and Scenic River also run in the region, dropping over some of the most fabulous waterfalls in America, and 22 miles of the Merced's Wild and Scenic South Fork flow through majestic canyon rapids.
Section of the Tuolumne River. Photo: Jim Bahn, flickr
Visitors should be aware that permits are required for all overnight trips in the Yosemite backcountry. They are not required for day use, except for the Half Dome. Permits may be reserved ahead of time or obtained free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis during peak season (usually May through Oct.). During winter months self registration permits are available at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and at the other park issuing stations.
Part of Yosemite Wilderness was recently consumed by the 2013 Yosemite Rim Fire. Now one of the 20 largest fires in California's history, the Yosemite wildfire reached the size of Chicago and threatened 4,500 human structures, forcing the evacuations of hundreds of homes.
Thanks to the act of wilderness designation (the highest form of protection the government can give to a public land), Yosemite Wilderness is free from roads, vehicles and permanent structures. Also prohibited are activities like logging or mining.
Wilderness is designated through wilderness bills and through local, on-the-ground campaigns. The revolutionary Wilderness Act, introduced in 1964, gives Congress the power to protect a public land with a wilderness designation. The Wilderness Society works with local grassroots coalitions on campaigns to build support for wilderness and other conservation designations, both on the local and congressional levels.
Giant sequoia. Photo: Randy LeMoine, flickr
Yosemite's El Capitan peak. Photo: Randy LeMoine, flickr