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Hiker at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Hiker at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Hiker at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Yosemite 1962
Campers make an early morning breakfast at their site in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Children walk on a spit of rocks at Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Tourists float on a raft in the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, 1962.
A horseback ride in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Hikers beneath a rainbow formed by mist from Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
"Firefall" -- burning hot embers spilled from the top of Glacier Point at Yosemite National Park -- was a nightly tourist attraction for years, until the Park Service ordered the owners of the Glacier Point Hotel to put a stop to the dramatic, but highly unnatural, proceedings.
Father and son (unwisely) feed a deer, Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Hiker at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.
Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Vintage Yosemite: Breathtaking Photos of a National Treasure from 1962

Jun 08, 2014

On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, establishing Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as America's "first protected wild land for all time," while also creating the very first California state park. The Yosemite National Park that we know and love today was not established until October 1890 -- but it's still remarkable to consider that, in the midst of a civil war that threatened to destroy the nation, Congress and Lincoln had the foresight, and the guts, to protect natural treasures, in perpetuity.

Here, LIFE.com presents a series of photos made in the park in 1962 by LIFE's Ralph Crane. Looking at these pictures, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with the famous assertion that, collectively, the national parks comprise "America's best idea."

LIFE Magazine LIFE Magazine
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