“Stop trampling vegetation” – how your hiking boots are changing Yosemite’s landscape

tuolumne meadows
Traffic from wayward hikers is encouraging pine tree growth, and blocking some of the park’s most famous views (Image credit: Ginny Huang / 500px)

In a social media post begging hikers to stick to designated trails, Yosemite National Park officials have revealed the dramatic impact that your hiking boots can have on the famous park’s landscape.

Hikers trampling through the undergrowth in Tuolumne Meadows, one of the largest subalpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada, is altering the ecosystem there and obscuring the famous views that have attracted visitors for generations – expansive views of the meandering Tuolumne River, glacially carved rock formations like Half Dome and rugged mountain peaks.

“Due to changing climatic conditions and human disturbances, lodgepole pine has been able to establish populations in the meadow, which is slowly converting more and more of the meadow into forest.”

In addition to new tree growth obscuring scenic vistas, lodgepole growth is threatening the area’s natural biodiversity, flood management and water quality and storage, according to the post.

Large pine at Yosemite Valley at Yosemite Nationalpark

Lodgepole growth is threatening the area’s natural biodiversity (Image credit: Andreas Selter)

To try to mitigate the damage caused by the park’s 3.5 million annual visitors, the park periodically removes lodgepole pine seedlings and saplings that have sprung up, which are then piled, chipped or scattered for compost. 

Wandering off trail to get a better look at a plant or view might seem harmless enough, but by following one simple rule, you can help to reduce these efforts and protect the landscape as well as the fauna and the flora that rely on it.

“Please help us preserve and protect the fragile ecosystem of Tuolumne Meadows by staying on designated trails and not trampling meadow vegetation.”

Staying on the trail and not cutting switchbacks when you are hiking, as well as using existing tent sites when camping in the backcountry, are ways of observing the principles of Leave No Trace, helping to ensure you leave the landscape as you found it for future generations. Bring binoculars with you on any hike to help you see further, and in more detail, without harming the terrain.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.