If you want to check a major destination off your list this summer, make your way to California's Yosemite National Park, where granite cliffs, pounding waterfalls and flower-carpeted meadows have served as muses for outdoor enthusiasts for decades. John Muir, one of Yosemite's most dedicated explorers, once called the park "by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter" [source: National Park Service].
In fact, Muir is one of the main reasons why the park even exists today. Muir was one of the U.S.'s greatest conservationists, and his dogged work -- including taking President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit camping in Yosemite -- was a major factor in the establishment of the National Parks program [source: Sierra Club].
Today, it's easy to see what dazzled Muir. Spanning almost 1,200 square miles (768,000 acres, or 310,800 hectares), the park is home to soaring mountains. They include Half Dome, a nearly 9,000-foot (2.74-kilometer) granite peak that towers over Yosemite Valley, crashing waterfalls and complex and colorful ecosystems [source: National Park Service].
While some campgrounds are open in spring and fall, summer campers will reap the benefits of temperate weather and hefty snowmelt with spectacular waterfalls and lush, blooming mountain meadows. With so much to see, many campers take advantage of guided tours, which can help streamline and enrich their visit.
Since it's such a popular destination, Yosemite is one trip that's difficult to execute properly on a whim. Permits are required for vehicles and campsites, and road closures can occur due to occupational hazards like falling rocks and slow-melting snow. Although the park isn't a particularly dry area, it's also a good idea to keep an eye out for fire warnings.
For the true zoologist, there's really only one place to go this summer. Read on to find out where you can see some of the most avidly studied animal populations in the U.S. -- and why you should bring a good pair of eyeshades when you go.