A beautiful view of mountains, flowers, and a lake in Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area in Colorado. Photo by Bob Wick.

National Conservation Lands

The Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands epitomize the remarkable values that public lands have to offer. While the National Conservation Lands stretch from the Delta Wild and Scenic River in Alaska to Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area in Florida, they are also found all across the West. The National Conservation Lands represent the diversity of landscapes, cultures, and experiences that are the building blocks of the United States. 

The National Conservation Lands include about 36 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert. 

The National Conservation Lands are uniquely diverse. They encompass red-rock deserts and rugged ocean coastlines, deep river canyons and broad Alaskan tundra. Many areas are remote and wild, but others are surprisingly accessible. The National Conservation Lands also reveal and protect our cultural legacy. They safeguard American Indian cliff dwellings and cultural sites and preserve the remaining traces of our nation’s historic trails and pathways.  The mission of the National Conservation Lands is to conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that are recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values.

National Conservation Lands are part of an active, vibrant landscape where people live, work, and explore. They offer exceptional opportunities for recreation, solitude, wildlife viewing, history exploration, scientific research, and a wide range of traditional uses.

These are places that spark the imagination. Their spacious beauty has drawn people to the West for generations. The National Conservation Lands sustain for the future--and for everyone--these remarkable landscapes of the American spirit.

Learn more about the National Conservation Lands below:

National Monuments

The BLM’s National Conservation Lands include beautiful and diverse national monuments in nine western states.  The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the President authority to designate national monuments to protect “objects of historic or scientific interest.”  While the President establishes most national monuments, Congress occasionally establishes national monuments to protect certain natural or historic features.  Since 1906, Presidents and Congress have designated more than 122 national monuments, 27 of which are maintained by the BLM.  Other agencies that manage national monuments are the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Fish & Wildlife Service. The latest avalable summary managers report can be found here or on the Maps, Data, and Resources Page.

Browse the National Conservation Lands region pages and area site pages for more information about national monuments and other National Conservation Lands areas.

National Conservation Areas and Similar Designations

The BLM’s National Conservation Lands include National Conservation Areas and Similar Designations. Congress designates National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and similarly designated lands to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage the public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.  The BLM’s National Conservation Lands include 16 NCAs and five similarly designated lands in 10 states.  These lands offer exceptional scientific, cultural, ecological, historical, and recreational value.  They differ in landscape and size, varying from the coastal beauty of California's 18-acre Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area to the rugged desert vistas of Nevada's 1.2 million-acre Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails NCA. 

Congress also designates other areas similar to NCAs under three categories: Cooperative Management and Protection Areas, Outstanding Natural Areas, and Forest Reserves.  These public lands are managed similarly to NCAs and also offer exceptional natural and cultural values. The latest avalable information can be found here or on the Maps, Data and Resources Page.

Browse BLM's National Conservation Lands and Similar Designations by state or region.

National Scenic and Historic Trails

National Scenic and Historic Trails are signature components of the National Trails System, and protected by the BLM as a part of the National Conservation Lands.   Congress established the National Trails System in 1968 and designated the Appalachian and Pacific Crest as the first national trails. From that time on, the BLM engaged with other agencies and volunteers along the Pacific Crest, and on many other trails later enacted.

Today, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Act, there are 30 congressionally designated National Scenic and Historic Trails in the National Trails System. The BLM now protects nearly 6,000 miles of 18 designated trails in 15 States, and the BLM also manages thousands of miles of trails under study for potential designation. The BLM is a delegated trail administering agency for Iditarod, Old Spanish, and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trails. The BLM manages more miles of historic trails than any other agency. 

National Historic Trails are extended trails that closely follow a historic trail or route of travel that is of national significance. The BLM identifies and protects the historic routes, remnants, and artifacts for public use and enjoyment. 

National Scenic Trails are extended trails that pass through areas with national scenic, historic, natural, or cultural significance. They are managed by the BLM for outdoor recreation, conservation, and public enjoyment.

The BLM offers many ways to explore national trails, ranging from comfortable, accessible visitor center learning environments to wild and remote locations delivering authentic and vicarious experiences for hardy, well-prepared adventurers. Visit the Interagency Trails Map and the National Trails System Memorandum of Understanding to learn more about the National Trails System. 

Browse the National Scenic and Historic Trails managed by the BLM to learn more.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

The BLM’s National Conservation Lands include Wild and Scenic Rivers.  Signed in 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects more than 200 rivers in 40 states and Puerto Rico.  Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to preserve their free-flowing condition and to protect and enhance their outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, historic, cultural, and other similar values.  The Act provides three levels of river classification: wild, scenic, and recreational.

  • Wild rivers are free of dams, generally inaccessible except by trail, and represent vestiges of primitive America.
  • Scenic rivers are free of dams, with shorelines or watersheds that are still largely primitive and shorelines that are largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.  
  • Recreational rivers are readily accessible by road or railroad, may have some development along their shorelines, and may have been dammed in the past.

The BLM has the responsibility of managing 69 Wild and Scenic Rivers in seven states, including more than 2,400 river miles and more than 1 million acres (19 percent of the national system).  In addition to the 69 designated rivers, the BLM manages hundreds of wild and scenic study rivers across the country.  The BLM’s National Conservation Lands provide national-level management and policy guidance for these rivers and represent the agency on the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council. Find out more about Wild and Scenic Rivers by visiting Rivers.gov, the Interagency Rivers Story MapInteragency Rivers Map, or by visting the Maps, Data, and other Resources Page

Browse wild and scenic rivers managed by the BLM by state or region.

Wilderness Areas

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for 224 wilderness areas with over 8.7 million acres in 10 western States (3 percent of BLM's total acreage in the coterminous United States). Wilderness areas are special places where the earth and its community of life are essentially allowed to function without manipulation. They retain a primeval character, without permanent improvements and offer outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation.

In 1964, Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System through the Wilderness Act and since its establishment, has passed 150 additional laws adding wilderness areas the System.  Since 1964, every President has enacted bills passed by Congress to add additional areas to the NWPS.  The uniquely American idea of wilderness protects wild and natural landscapes ranging from alpine to desert, forest to grassland, beaches to swamps, and other environments of the United States. Wilderness protects the habitat of numerous wildlife species and serves as a biodiversity bank for many species of plants and animals. Wilderness is also a source of clean water. It has long been used for science and education, providing sites for field trips, study areas for student research, and serving as a source of instructional examples. The appeal of wilderness for recreation is strong, and wilderness areas are seeing steadily increasing use from people who wish to experience freedom from the nation’s fast-paced industrialized society.

For more information about BLM wilderness areas, please visit Wilderness.net, the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training CenterAldo Leopold Wilderness Research InstituteWilderness Forever Story Map, Wilderness 50th Anniversary Brochure, and the Maps, Data and Other Resources page

Browse BLM wilderness areas by state or region.

Wilderness Study Areas

The BLM manages 517 wilderness study areas (WSAs) containing about 12.6 million acres in the western States and Alaska.  WSAs are places that have wilderness characteristics; that is a minimum size, naturalness, and outstanding opportunities for recreation which make them eligible for designation as wilderness.

As early as 1926, the earliest advocates of wilderness preservation had acknowledged the beauty and important ecological values of the desert lands under the BLM’s administration as candidates for wilderness protection.  In 1976, Congress directed the BLM to evaluate all of its land for the presence of wilderness characteristics, and identified areas became WSAs.  The establishment of a WSA served to identify areas for Congress to consider for addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System.  Until Congress makes a decision to add a WSA, or ends consideration, the BLM manages WSAs to not impair their suitability for designation as wilderness.

Browse BLM wilderness study areas by state or region.

California Desert National Conservation Lands

Scientific Research

Make world-class discoveries on your public lands! National Conservation Lands comprise a natural scientific laboratory that attracts scientists from around the world.  Many units’ scientific values open the door for valuable research on topics ranging from geology, paleontology, archaeology, and history to biology, botany, and ecosystem studies.

Help Us Celebrate!

The National Scenic and Historic Trails 50th Anniversary Logo

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act 50th Anniversary Logo