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Wilderness Study Areas

 Wilderness Study Areas

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." (John Muir)

Handies Peak WSA (Photo by Bob Wick)







 What is a wilderness study area and why do these areas exist?
As required by the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976, local BLM field offices identified relatively undeveloped areas with special ecological, geological, educational, historical, scientific, or scenic values that may be suitable for wilderness designation.

Until Congress makes a determination on an area's suitability, the agency is tasked with management of that boundaried area to a standard that will not impair its eligibility for wilderness designation.

Wilderness study areas have separate policy with specific management requirements that are different from lands designated to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Most WSAs are typically 5,000 acres or larger, a general criteria for reflecting manageable size for wilderness. Some WSAs are smaller than 5,000 acres because when they were identified, they were adjacent to other areas officially managed to protect wilderness characteristics. Still others exist as remainders, undesignated pieces of WSAs that were designated as Wilderness. Only Congress can release an area from its WSA status.

Additional Information:

Wilderness Act of 1964

Wilderness Study Area Inventory 1980

Wilderness Study Area Inventory 1991

Colorado River Valley

Bull Gulch (1)

Castle Peak (2)

Eagle Mountain (3)

Hack Lake (4)



North Sand Hills** (1)

Platte River Contiguous (2)

Troublesome (3)


San Luis Valley

Black Canyon (1)

Papa Keal (2)

San Luis Hills (3)


White River

Black Mountain (1)

Bull Canyon (2)

Oil Spring Mountain (3)

Skull Creek (4)

Willow Creek (5)

Windy Gulch (6)

Grand Junction

Black Ridge Canyons (1 & 2)

Demaree (3)

Dominguez Canyon (4)

Little Book Cliffs (5)

Sewemup* (6)

The Palisade (7)


Little Snake

Ant Hills (1)

Chew Winter Camp (2)

Cross Mountain (3)

Diamond Breaks (4)

Peterson Draw (5)

Vale of Tears (6)

West Cold Spring (7)


Tres Rios

Cahone Canyon (1)

Cross Canyon (2)

Dolores River Canyon* (3)

McKenna Peak (4)

Menefee Mountain (5)

Rare Lizard & Snake Natural Area** (6)

Squaw/Papoose Canyon (7)

Weber Mountain (8)


American Flats (1)

Bill Hare Gulch (2)

Handies Peak (3)

Larson Creek (4)

Powderhorn Primitive Area** (5)

Red Cloud Peak (6) 

Weminuche Contiguous (7)

Whitehead Gulch (8)


Royal Gorge

Beaver Creek (1)

Browns Canyon (2)

High Mesa Grassland RNA** (3)

Lower Grape Creek (4)

McIntyre Hills (5)

Upper Grape Creek (6)



Adobe Badlands (1)

Camel Back (2)

Needle Rock ISA** (3)

*One asterisk indicates that management of the wilderness study area is shared with another field office.
**Two asterisks indicate that the wilderness study area is an Instant Wilderness Study Area (ISA).

Three wilderness study areas are co-managed between two field offices. Each has been listed under its primary field office: the field office which manages the majority of its land.

Wilderness Study Area

Primary Field Office

Secondary Field Office

Dolores River Canyon

Tres Rios



Grand Junction


BLM Colorado State Office  |  (303) 239-3600  |  2850 Youngfield St., Lakewood, CO 80215

National Conservation Lands Program Lead  |  (303) 239-3752