Written By: Ben Cosgrove

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 America’s 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.”

Hiker at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

A hiker at Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Yosemite 1962

Yosemite Valley, a crown jewel of scenic treasure, has been preserved largely because of a pioneer’s love. Naturalist John Muir fought for a Yosemite National Park so things like the great granite shoulder of El Capitan (left) and Bridalveil Falls could be held in public trust for future visitors.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Campers make an early morning breakfast at their site in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Campers made an early morning breakfast at their site in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Children walk on a spit of rocks at Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Children walked on a spit of rocks at Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tourists float on a raft in the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Tourists floated on a raft in the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A horseback ride in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

A horseback ride in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Hikers beneath a rainbow formed by mist from Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Hikers passed beneath a rainbow formed by mist from Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

"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.

“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.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Father and son (unwisely) feed a deer, Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Father and son (unwisely) fed a deer, Yosemite National Park, 1962.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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