You are here

Tracking The Human Footprint in Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park is an incredibly beautiful and stunning place. It also attracts a lot of people, as this video shows.

Shot and produced by Steven M. Baumgardner, the video captures the beauty of Yosemite and, through time-lapse photography, the hustle and bustle of its visitors. Here's how Steven describes the video:

Yosemite is bigger than Rhode Island at almost 800,000 acres, but it receives about 3.5 million visitors each year, and most of them spend time in Yosemite Valley. This project was shot back in 2005 after purchasing a Sony Z1U. This was my first HD project (ok, fine, HDV) and I spent about a week in Yosemite during the busy month of July. The footage was all shot in real time, and then sped up in post. I chose busy places during busy days to show the effects of this mass of humanity. I could have just as easily pointed my camera in another direction and shown nothing but plants, animals and wilderness. Yosemite is popular, but it's also still a relatively wild place.

I’ve lived and worked in National Parks for almost 20 years, and as much as I love landscape photography, I also like looking at the human footprint and the human experience in our national parks. Some of this footage helped me get my current job in 2006, as a videoographer for the National Park Service and the photographer/editor/producer of the web video series "Yosemite Nature Notes" The music is from Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” (a.k.a. the soundtrack from Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”)

People in Yosemite: A TimeLapse Study from Steven M. Bumgardner on Vimeo.


I loved this video. Well done.

My most recent visit to Yosemite was on a cool, rainy spring day. Even then, it was really difficult to take pictures anywhere on the floor of Yosemite Valley without vehicles in the picture. From across the valley near the Merced river, the views of Yosemite Falls contained a long line of parked cars. It has simply become a reality that any beautiful spot that is accessible by car will be crowded at almost any time. Busses reduce the clutter of vehicles, but bring people 40 or 50 at a time to crowd the stopping points.

A visit to inspiration point parking area the same day had 5 or more tour busses arriving within 15 minutes. There's very little time for 'Inspiration' when that happens. Avoiding this frustration means trying to find the spots less traveled and there are many beautiful ones, but my age and health limit how far away from my vehicle I can get. Big crowds in popular places have become a reality and I just have to deal with that.

The vast majority of visitors to Yosemite congregate in Yosemite Valley and don't realize how much more there is to the park. The valley is less than one percent of the park. My favorite area is Tuolumne Meadows in the high eastern part of the park. If you hike or backpack you can easily get away from the crowds. The solution to crowding in Yosemite Valley is to ban private autos and transport people by public transportation.


But I loved the contrast of the peaceful scenery and the frenetic human surges. It certainly illustrates the stark contrast between the reasons parks exist and those who visit them huge hurries. Perhaps the message is simple. Just slow down and smell the peace of the mountains.

What would it take indeed to implement a mandatory shuttle system similar to the one that has completely transformed Zion? A lot, I'm sure. But wouldn't it be worth it?

I'd like to thank those who have watched the video! It's been interesting to watch the reactions, from awe to horror! I'd like to point out that obviously, time lapse photography creates an altered perception of reality. It's really not as crowded as it seems in my video! When the people are moving at normal speed, a very different impression is created.

Keep in mind that I shot this video at the busiest places I could find at the busiest times. Yes, the Mist Trail is very crowded at 10:30 am on a Saturday in July, but right now, there's not a soul on it, because it's closed for the winter. If you just pick your locations and times appropriately, it's very easy to have a peaceful Yosemite experience, even in the Valley in July. I have to consider the same things when I visit museums in cities. Don't go to the Monterey Aquarium the day after Thanksgiving if you want a peaceful experience!

In regards to mandatory shuttles, the big difference between Zion and Yosemite Valley is overnight accommodations. If you're staying at the hotel in Zion Canyon, you are allowed to drive in with your personal vehichle. Yosemite Valley has hundreds of campsites and hundreds of hotel rooms, as well as hundreds of permanent staff residents, most of whom work for the concessionaire. People tend to bring alot of stuff when they stay overnight, and shuttle systems aren't really set up to deal with luggage. I can't imagine a scenerio where you have overnight use and no personal vehichles, not unless you remove most of the infrastructure in the Valley. And that's a whole different discussion...

I'd also like to remind folks that there were numerous hotels, restaurants, churches, stables, orchards, lumber mills, dams, and ditches built over the 50 years of development that occured in Yosemite Valley before it became part of Yosemite National Park in 1906. Whether it's right or wrong, or we like it or not, there is a long tradition of overnight use that I don't see going away in my lifetime.


I'll start off by saying that I'm not a fan of making shuttles mandatory in Yosemite Valley. Right now there is a good deal that is done at night. Unless shuttles are run around the clock it may not be feasible. However - I could understand if those with reservations were allowed to use the valley roads in order to get to their hotels/campgrounds. Just show the reservation (with ID matching the name to prevent fraud) and issue a color-coded permit for each spot. At least at Zion if one gets a permit to drive in with a reservation at Zion Lodge, that only grants permission to park at the Lodge and not at other locations. I think anyone transporting someone with a disabled placard can have their vehicle parked anywhere. Same goes with the Grand Canyon and the Hermits Rest route, which is normally only open to shuttles.

I remember using the Zion Canyon shuttle to exit the park after seeing a "campfire" (i.e. no actual campfire) program at the Watchman Campground. I managed to take the last shuttle out of the park. If I had missed it I would have ended up walking to Springdale.

Wow. The contrast in this video between the foolish-looking hustle and bustle of human beings and the timeless grandeur of mountains and wilderness is amazing.

I understand that Steven "shot this video at the busiest places I could find at the busiest times." Still, there is the feeling that the best thing I can do for the parks is to stay away from them and not add to the crush of humanity that threatens to destroy them along with the rest of our world.

Sometimes I honestly wish I were born a hundred years ago. I'd even give up the Internet! Alas, now the Internet is probably the only way that I will ever witness most of these wonderful places because, like Jim, I could hardly be inspired at Inspiration Point with "5 or more tour busses arriving within 15 minutes."

Yes, Yosemite is crowded, and all those 3.5 million people do have an impact on the park: hundreds of animals struck by cars, streambank erosion, pollution and vehicle runoff into streams and lakes, disruption in the natural cycles of light and dark, silence and sound.

But compared to issues like invasive species, regional air quality, changed fire regimes, and the 500 pound gorilla of global climate change, crowds on the Mist Trail are pretty insignificant. I believe that the biggest impact of large crowds in Yosemite is that they effect our own experience, usually in a negative way.

Steven M. Bumgardner

As I watched the film a thought came to mind. And this too shall pass.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide