Mapping Yosemite

In addition to giving you a sense of place, early maps of Yosemite can also give you important historical clues about the changing cultural landscape. Click on the thumbnail images below for a look at three early maps of the valley. Printable versions are also available.

National Parks of California

Yosemite Valley Wheeler Map - 1883
Yosemite Valley 1868
Yosemite Valley Topographic Map - 1911

To Start You Thinking

1) Using the National Parks of California map , locate Yosemite and identify four other nearby national parks, recreation areas, or historic sites in California. In what California mountain range is Yosemite located?

2) Yosemite Valley, 1868 is from one of the first tourist guides to Yosemite Valley. One of its interesting features is the use of both native American and European place names. Find Tutucanula, Pohono Falls, and Tissayac. What are the names given these landmarks by white explorers and settlers?

3) The Yosemite Valley, Wheeler Map is significant in several ways. It is the result of one of the first major surveys of the western United States undertaken by the federal government. Led by Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, the survey resulted in beautifully detailed maps. A sense of the topography of the region is provided graphically by shading and many elevations are given numerically. You can also begin to see the cultural changes that were taking place in Yosemite by 1883. Click to get a printable copy of the map and look closely at the names and markings. What evidence of nonnative culture do you find indicated on this 1883 map?

4) Topographic maps allow you to judge elevation quickly by counting the contour lines. In the Yosemite Valley Topographic Map each major contour line represents 500 feet of elevation; the lighter lines, 100 feet. Estimate the height of El Capitan by counting contour lines from the valley floor.


maps from "California," National Park Service; "Yosemite Valley - 1868," in John S. Hittell, Yosemite: Its Wonders and Its Beauties, (San Francisco: H. H. Bancroft & Company, 1868); "Yosemite Valley, Wheeler Map - 1883," courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection, © 2000 by Cartography Associates; and "Yosemite Quadrangle - 1911," as found at Historic Topographic Maps of California, Earth Sciences and Map Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Last modified in June, 2019 by Rick Thomas