6 Must-See Wilderness Areas

POSTED BY MICHAEL O'KEEFFE | FEB, 22 2019

Wilderness tends to mean different things to different people. For some, wilderness may just be a walk in the woods. For others, it may be nothing short of a trip into the Alaskan backcountry. In the United States, we have given a legal definition to wilderness. In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act which defined and designated wilderness in the U.S., forever changing how we look at public lands.

A wilderness area is land untouched by human hands, preserved in its natural state, providing opportunities for solitude with recreational, scientific, scenic, or historical value. To be considered a wilderness area, there must be virtually no human development. No roads, no logging, no mining, just pristine, unaltered land. The Wilderness Act protects against any future human development within these wilderness areas, including closure to mechanized vehicles (even bikes). Wilderness contains only trails for footprints. An alternative to national parks, there are currently 766 wilderness areas in the U.S, most of which are managed by the Forest Service and BLM. Many national parks even contain designated wilderness areas within them (Yosemite, Olympic, and Zion for example).

With so many wilderness areas in the U.S., it may be hard to know where to start. To help, I have narrowed it down to six must see wilderness areas!

THREE SISTERS WILDERNESS, OREGON

Located in Central Oregon just outside of the iconic mountain town of Bend lies a volcanic wonderland. The Three Sisters are a chain of stratovolcanoes in the heart of the Cascade Range that have a storied past. With activity as recently as 1000 years ago, this popular wilderness is one of the best spots in the country to see the effects of volcanism. Hikers can explore dozens of trails that take you past old growth forests, kaleidoscopic wildflower meadows, ancient lava flows, colorful cinder cones, expansive views, and even glaciers.

ANSEL ADAMS WILDERNESS, CALIFORNIA

Anyone who has ever paid a visit to the bustling adventure town of Mammoth Lakes in California’s eastern Sierra is familiar with the craggy skyline of the Minarets. A jagged range of peaks made of dark metavolcanic rock that also happens to be the heart of one of my favorite wilderness areas, the Ansel Adams. The Ansel Adams Wilderness is literally full of picture perfect vistas and alpine splendor named fittingly for the famous photographer. With both the PCT and John Muir Trail traversing this spectacular wilderness, it is a must see for any hiker, backpacker, photographer, or just anyone who appreciates big mountains.

GOAT ROCKS WILDERNESS, WASHINGTON

Skip the permits and crowds at Mount Rainier National Park with the neighboring Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. For expansive views and summer wildflowers, few spots in Washington are better than the Goat Rocks. Essentially an “island in the sky” this range of peaks is the remnants of an ancient volcano gone extinct a few million years ago. Today, it provides hikers with long approaches through classic old growth forests, wildflower filled alpine meadows, incredible night skies, and views that seem to go on forever. Oh and did I mention the in-your-face views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens!

SAWTOOTH WILDERNESS, IDAHO

If you imagine the granite splendor of the Sierra Nevada combined with the intimidating wildness of the Rocky Mountains, you get the jaw dropping Sawtooth Wilderness. Located in central Idaho, this impressive wilderness should be on every backpackers must do list! Miles and miles of trails criss-cross this granite wonderland of sparkling lakes and craggy peaks. There are many options for short overnights or long multi-day treks, and the area’s relatively remote location sees light traffic compared to nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton. A true wilderness classic!

ALPINE LAKES WILDERNESS, WASHINGTON

I couldn’t make a list about wilderness areas without including Washington’s Alpine Lakes. This enormous 400,000 acre Cascadian wonderland is my personal go-to for a quick wilderness fix. Being a short 45 minute drive from Seattle (if accessing the wilderness from Snoqualmie Pass) the combination of easy access and world class terrain make this a popular spot. Hundreds of miles of trails offer everything from family friendly day hikes to epic multi-day treks. With over 700 lakes, there is plenty of room to find solitude. Truly classic!

TRINITY ALPS WILDERNESS, CALIFORNIA

In a state full of mountains, one of the most underrated spots in northern California has to be the Trinity Alps Wilderness located in the heart of the Klamath Mountains. The Trinity Alps are a unique range due to their juxtaposition between three larger ranges (Cascades, Sierra, Coast) which allows for a diverse ecological and geological landscape. This imposing range features peaks rising to 9,000 feet, with dozens of lakes and one of the largest concentrations of conifer tree species in the world. Fortunately, almost the entirety of the range is protected within the 500,000 acre Trinity Alps Wilderness (California's second largest) making it a backpacker's paradise. Over 500 miles of trails grace these epic mountains. The range's unique ecology and remote location create a wilderness experience that is unmatched!

Michael O'Keeffe

Michael O’Keeffe is an adventure photographer based in Seattle, WA. Since moving out west four years ago he has spent much of his free time traveling all around the West, hiking and taking photos along the way. He hopes through his photography he can share his passion and love for these wild places to hopefully inspire people to get out and explore these beautiful landscapes as well.

6 Must-See Wilderness Areas

BY MICHAEL O'KEEFFE | 2.22.2019

Wilderness tends to mean different things to different people. For some, wilderness may just be a walk in the woods. For others, it may be nothing short of a trip into the Alaskan backcountry. In the United States, we have given a legal definition to wilderness. In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act which defined and designated wilderness in the U.S., forever changing how we look at public lands.

A wilderness area is land untouched by human hands, preserved in its natural state, providing opportunities for solitude with recreational, scientific, scenic, or historical value. To be considered a wilderness area, there must be virtually no human development. No roads, no logging, no mining, just pristine, unaltered land. The Wilderness Act protects against any future human development within these wilderness areas, including closure to mechanized vehicles (even bikes). Wilderness contains only trails for footprints. An alternative to national parks, there are currently 766 wilderness areas in the U.S, most of which are managed by the Forest Service and BLM. Many national parks even contain designated wilderness areas within them (Yosemite, Olympic, and Zion for example).

With so many wilderness areas in the U.S., it may be hard to know where to start. To help, I have narrowed it down to six must see wilderness areas!

THREE SISTERS WILDERNESS, OREGON

Located in Central Oregon just outside of the iconic mountain town of Bend lies a volcanic wonderland. The Three Sisters are a chain of stratovolcanoes in the heart of the Cascade Range that have a storied past. With activity as recently as 1000 years ago, this popular wilderness is one of the best spots in the country to see the effects of volcanism. Hikers can explore dozens of trails that take you past old growth forests, kaleidoscopic wildflower meadows, ancient lava flows, colorful cinder cones, expansive views, and even glaciers.

ANSEL ADAMS WILDERNESS, CALIFORNIA

Anyone who has ever paid a visit to the bustling adventure town of Mammoth Lakes in California’s eastern Sierra is familiar with the craggy skyline of the Minarets. A jagged range of peaks made of dark metavolcanic rock that also happens to be the heart of one of my favorite wilderness areas, the Ansel Adams. The Ansel Adams Wilderness is literally full of picture perfect vistas and alpine splendor named fittingly for the famous photographer. With both the PCT and John Muir Trail traversing this spectacular wilderness, it is a must see for any hiker, backpacker, photographer, or just anyone who appreciates big mountains.

GOAT ROCKS WILDERNESS, WASHINGTON

Skip the permits and crowds at Mount Rainier National Park with the neighboring Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. For expansive views and summer wildflowers, few spots in Washington are better than the Goat Rocks. Essentially an “island in the sky” this range of peaks is the remnants of an ancient volcano gone extinct a few million years ago. Today, it provides hikers with long approaches through classic old growth forests, wildflower filled alpine meadows, incredible night skies, and views that seem to go on forever. Oh and did I mention the in-your-face views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens!

SAWTOOTH WILDERNESS, IDAHO

If you imagine the granite splendor of the Sierra Nevada combined with the intimidating wildness of the Rocky Mountains, you get the jaw dropping Sawtooth Wilderness. Located in central Idaho, this impressive wilderness should be on every backpackers must do list! Miles and miles of trails criss-cross this granite wonderland of sparkling lakes and craggy peaks. There are many options for short overnights or long multi-day treks, and the area’s relatively remote location sees light traffic compared to nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton. A true wilderness classic!

ALPINE LAKES WILDERNESS, WASHINGTON

I couldn’t make a list about wilderness areas without including Washington’s Alpine Lakes. This enormous 400,000 acre Cascadian wonderland is my personal go-to for a quick wilderness fix. Being a short 45 minute drive from Seattle (if accessing the wilderness from Snoqualmie Pass) the combination of easy access and world class terrain make this a popular spot. Hundreds of miles of trails offer everything from family friendly day hikes to epic multi-day treks. With over 700 lakes, there is plenty of room to find solitude. Truly classic!

TRINITY ALPS WILDERNESS, CALIFORNIA

In a state full of mountains, one of the most underrated spots in northern California has to be the Trinity Alps Wilderness located in the heart of the Klamath Mountains. The Trinity Alps are a unique range due to their juxtaposition between three larger ranges (Cascades, Sierra, Coast) which allows for a diverse ecological and geological landscape. This imposing range features peaks rising to 9,000 feet, with dozens of lakes and one of the largest concentrations of conifer tree species in the world. Fortunately, almost the entirety of the range is protected within the 500,000 acre Trinity Alps Wilderness (California's second largest) making it a backpacker's paradise. Over 500 miles of trails grace these epic mountains. The range's unique ecology and remote location create a wilderness experience that is unmatched!

 

Michael O'Keeffe

Michael O’Keeffe is an adventure photographer based in Seattle, WA. Since moving out west four years ago he has spent much of his free time traveling all around the West, hiking and taking photos along the way. He hopes through his photography he can share his passion and love for these wild places to hopefully inspire people to get out and explore these beautiful landscapes as well.

Michael O'Keeffe

Michael O’Keeffe is an adventure photographer based in Seattle, WA. Since moving out west four years ago he has spent much of his free time traveling all around the West, hiking and taking photos along the way. He hopes through his photography he can share his passion and love for these wild places to hopefully inspire people to get out and explore these beautiful landscapes as well.

Comments 3

Robert Farrell on

Michael,
Your article is excellent! You seemed to have found your voice in your writing and photography. It is truly impressive! Good work!
Hope to catch up with you again in the future…

Ginny Villafranca on

Hi Michael, I love your work. Wish I was younger when I used to backpack every summer around Mt Shasta, CA and The Tetons. I would have checked out these areas for sure. Keep up the great work you are doing. I love it, Cuz

Kristen O'Keeffe on

So sweet!!

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