National Forest Foundation

Wilderness 101



Category: Wilderness
by Hannah Featherman

Today the National Wilderness Preservation System contains nearly 110 million acres of lands enjoyed by all Americans. These wilderness lands all exist within our National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges and Bureau of Land Management Lands.

The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System and immediately protected 54 areas. The Act designated 9.1 million acres in 13 states as Wilderness.

Photo by Damara Mullens

John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest

Included were some of our most iconic Wilderness areas:

Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System includes:

  • 758 Wilderness areas from coast-to-coast
  • 109,511,966 million acres of protected Wilderness
  • Wilderness areas in all but six U.S. states

General Wilderness Prohibitions

Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands designated as Wilderness. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing or aircraft including helicopters, unless provided for in specific legislation.

A few Wilderness facts

  • The U.S. Forest Service, of all the agencies, manages the most Wilderness areas—439 separate areas.
  • The Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness area is the largest contiguous Wilderness in the lower 48 states at approximately 2.3 million acres
  • The Wrangell–Saint Elias Wilderness area is the largest Wilderness area in the U.S. covering more than nine million acres of rugged Alaskan mountains and forests
  • The U.S. Forest Service, of all the agencies, manages the most Wilderness areas—439 separate areas covering 36,160,078 acres
  • The Appalachian Trail passes through 25 Wilderness areas
  • The Continental Divide Trail passes through 26 Wilderness areas
  • The Gila Wilderness was the world’s first Wilderness area, established on June 3, 1924
  • The Forest Service manages 33 percent of the acreage within the National Wilderness Preservation System

Check our our Wilderness timeline in "Your National Forests Summer-Fall 2014"

For more information about Wilderness, visit

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act this year.

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