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Tourists rediscover Yosemite, highest number since 1996

Yosemite National Park had more than 4 million visitors last year -- the highest total since 1996.

Federal officials announced the figure Thursday, saying they were not surprised. They said people often rediscover nature in tough economies, recognizing national parks are a bargain to visit.

"We've seen increased numbers of people from California and from around the world," said parks spokesman Scott Gediman. "People come here with extended families and enjoy nature."

The center of attention is Yosemite Valley, seven square miles surrounded by Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The small valley became congested at times last summer, but rangers were not forced to temporarily close the gates as they did in the mid-1990s.

Officials said the park now has better traffic management and a more detailed understanding of when and where crowds peak.

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