John Muir’s California
Follow in the footsteps of one of the United States’ most celebrated conservationists, authors and also one of Yosemite National Park’s founding fathers.
As a young boy, Scottish-born John Muir showed a great interest in the natural world, which would remain with him as his life took him from East Lothian to the United States, Canada and Cuba, finally settling in San Francisco, California. It was from here, in 1868, he embarked on his first trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and in particular Yosemite – a place that would claim his heart, as it does for the millions of those of us who visit the park today.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."
John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912
A year later Muir returned and spent a number of years living in a modest log cabin in the Yosemite Valley, working as a shepherd and at a sawmill, exploring the wilderness, guiding visitors and studying the region’s geology, flora and fauna. In the late 1890s, together celebrated magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson, he came up with the idea of creating Yosemite National Park in order to protect over 768,000 acres of land which were centred on the iconic valley. This finally came to be in 1906 and the rest, as they say, is history.
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks."
Your Muir-inspired journey can begin in the city of San Francisco and its surroundings which are scattered with attractions named in his honour, not least the beautiful redwood forest Muir Woods. This national monument is located to the north of the city (offering you the perfect excuse to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge) on the Marin Peninsula. To the east of the city, over the waters of the bay – a perfect detour if you are departing San Francisco for Yosemite itself – you will find John Muir National Historic Site, home to the naturalist’s Victorian mansion and 325 acres of nature reserve, grass and woodlands.
"The mountains are calling and I must go."
Then of course there is Yosemite National Park itself which is reached in approximately four hours from San Francisco. As you cross the central California plain the impressive Sierra Nevada Mountains rise in front of you – once a barrier to pioneers and prospectors heading west, now a year-round natural playground for the people of California and beyond – home to three national parks, the beautiful Lake Tahoe and mile-upon-mile of wilderness.
Begin your exploration in the Yosemite Valley visitor centre where you will come face-to-face with a statue of Muir, before continuing on to the various museums and nature centres to discover a little more of the human and natural history of the region. Then it’s time to head out into the great outdoors, perhaps starting with a wander along the easily accessible Yosemite Falls trail where if you keep a keen eye out you will spot the plaque marking the believed location of Muir’s log cabin. For active types there is the John Muir Trail – no, we are not suggesting you take on the entire 211 miles but there are sections you can enjoy as part of a day trek within the park! The most accessible part of the trail ascends trail from the Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, past the year round Vernal and Nevada waterfalls. We recommend an early start before the trail becomes quite busy.
However you plan on enjoying the natural spaces of California be sure to keep in mind the man whose life work it was to help protect these beautiful landscapes for the people of the world to enjoy for years to come.
This feature was published on 28 January 2015. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. Feature by Emma Tibbetts.