Wilderness Areas

What Is Wilderness?

Many people use "wilderness" to describe any remote, rugged and undeveloped land. Since passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the word has been defined in very specific terms. Only federal land designated by Congress as wilderness, becomes part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. According to the Wilderness Act, federal lands must have certain special characteristics to be considered for wilderness preservation:

  1. They must be in a generally natural condition.
  2. They must have outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.
  3. They must be at least 5,000 acres or large enough to preserve and use as wilderness.
  4. They may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, scenic, or historical value.
Why Wilderness?
  • The purpose of wilderness is "to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness .... devoted to the public purposes of recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use." (from the Wilderness Act)
  • The existence of wilderness areas provides assurance that all wild lands will not disappear.
  • Wilderness areas help to maintain gene pools to provide a diversity of plant and animal life in our world.
  • Wilderness serves as a unique and irreplaceable "living laboratory" for medical and scientific research.

Wilderness areas are places of solitude where people can experience freedom from our fast-paced industrialized society. They are places where people can renew the human spirit through association with the natural world.  For all its uses, values, and scenic wonders, wilderness is a land heritage that is uniquely American. In the words of Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Wallace Stegner: "Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed."



Explore Wilderness Areas

Junior Ranger Activities & Adventures
(ages 8 - 18)

Purchase a California Wall Map

Rippled sand dunes rise above the desert floor and disappear into blue skies
North Algodones Dunes Wilderness

Ancient oaks stand atop a grassy hillside with Cache Creek in the distance
Cache Creek Wilderness