Recreational Opportunities in Wilderness
NPSWilderness Photo

Exploring wilderness does not necessarily mean high adventure mountain climbing. Wilderness areas offer many recreational opportunities, from sight seeing to expedition backpacking and from bird watching to white water rafting.

Some people believe that wilderness is a "lock-up" of land that keeps people out. In reality, more than 12 million people visit wilderness each year on their own or with a guide to climb mountains, ride horses, hunt game, fish blue-ribbon trout streams, ski snowcapped peaks, raft rivers, canoe lakes, watch birds, take pictures and stargaze. Many types of recreational uses are allowed in wilderness, except those needing mechanical transport or motorized equipment, such as motorboats, cars, trucks, off-road vehicles, bicycles and snowmobiles (exceptions include wheelchairs and uses for subsistence activities in Alaska wilderness areas).

Some wilderness areas, such as the areas in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, are easily viewed and accessed from cities and roads. Short strolls and dayhikes lead visitors through wilderness. Crossing the boundary into wilderness may not show any remarkable difference, yet wilderness does require a different mindset for both visiting and managing.

Wilderness offers opportunities for solitude, yet requires increased preparation and self-reliance. Recreation in wilderness requires awareness of and respect for oneself and the environment. In wilderness areas, people can have a greater sense of connection to the natural surroundings, which can evoke a sense of humility, a sense of being part of a larger community of life.

Even with awareness, respect, and the best of intentions, people must still learn and practice certain skills in order to not impact the natural environment. The Leave No Trace Skills and Ethics program educates visitors about the role they play as stewards of the nation’s public lands in order to preserve natural and cultural resources for future generations. For more information about how each person can preserve wild lands, explore the Leave No Trace Program.