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7 Wilderness Areas That May Surprise You

Wilderness is dense forests and not seeing another person for days, right? Think again! As we celebrate National Wilderness Month and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the National Parks Conservation Association encourages you to pack up your hiking boots or snorkel gear to explore some of the incredible wilderness areas found in our national parks. With 44 million acres of wilderness in 47 of our 401 national park sites, there are plenty of options to choose your own adventure and go wild!

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1. New Wilderness: Sleeping Bear Dunes


Congress designated more than 32,000 acres of wilderness within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore earlier this year. The endeavor to establish wilderness in this iconic national park on Lake Michigan has been in the works since 1981.

2. Wilderness at Work: Everglades National Park


Wilderness in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness area of Everglades National Park includes marsh areas that help clean water before it seeps back into aquifers that provide fresh water for the surrounding area.

3. Joshua Tree Paradise Found: Mojave National Preserve

Kati Schmidt, National Parks Conservation Asssociation

Wilderness in our California desert national parks goes far beyond tumbleweeds and cactuses. Hike through the world’s most dense Joshua Tree forest and marvel at the views from atop Cima Dome in Mojave National Preserve.

4. All Hail the King of the Sonoran Wilderness: Saguaro National Park


While the saguaro cactus grows only a few feet in its first 30 years of life, by the time it turns 75, the cactus towers at 15-20 feet tall. These prickly monsters can weigh six to 10 tons, live for 150 years, and hold one ton of water. The National Park Service deems the plant, found in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, the King of the Sonoran Desert.

5. Gold Medal Wilderness: Congaree National Park


The Gold Medal standard of wilderness areas, Congaree National Park has it all! The park’s designated wilderness area is an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area, a National Natural Landmark and home to largest remaining old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the Southeastern states.

6. Marine Wilderness: A West Coast First at Point Reyes National Seashore

Photo © Robert Campbell/Chamois Moon

After more than 40 years of waiting, the National Park Service will soon rid this picturesque inlet within Point Reyes National Seashore of an industrial oyster company that has been violating resource protections within the seashore for years. Once the oyster company evacuates, nature will take over, restoring the ecological heart of the seashore and preserving the waters that Americans planned years ago to become the West Coast’s first marine wilderness area – less than two hours from San Francisco.

7. Wilderness in the Final Frontier: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve


Getting wild in our National Park System north of the Arctic Circle requires some backcountry savvy. Without roads, trails, or formal campgrounds, the park's 8.4 million acres are the ultimate wilderness. Gates and nearby Noatak Preserve together make up the largest area of unbroken wilderness at more than 12.7 million acres.