Wilderness Areas bring a whole new element to backpacking with their undisturbed and scenic nature. Grab your outdoor compass and plan your next trip to these lesser-known public lands.
The United States has a plethora of public lands—from national parks, national monuments, national forests, state parks, reservations, to the Bureau of Land Management and more. While national parks get a majority of outdoor coverage, and with good reason, there are so many other public lands to explore in this country.
Wilderness areas are protected and managed by one of the following agencies: National Park System, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. These are undisturbed areas and scenery where human recreation is limited to non-motorized activities like hiking, backpacking, fishing, and horseback riding. Often, scientific research is also conducted throughout wilderness areas as the ecology is largely untouched.
Wild, undisturbed, scenic—wilderness areas are an ideal to explore and recreate with your outdoor compass in some solitude.
Check Out These Wilderness Areas With Your Outdoor Compass
There are wilderness areas all over the country, and within some of our prized national parks. Here are five beautiful scenic places you can enjoy through a backpacking, horse-packing, or hiking trip.
Wrangell–Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska
The Wrangell–Saint Elias Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the United States at about 10 million acres. This area is larger than the country of Belgium and boasts massive glaciers and roaring rivers. Wrangell is home to the most glaciers in the U.S. and possesses some of the largest peaks in the country. For those who love to catch a glimpse of wildlife—dall sheep, grizzlies, caribou, moose, and gray wolves call this area home. Wrangell–Saint Elias is a very remote area in the southeastern corner of Alaska, so if you decide to embark on a backpacking trip, be sure to plan ahead, be prepared for varying weather conditions, bring your outdoor compass, and let people know where you are located.
Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado
Lost Creek Wilderness is a hop, skip, and jump away from Denver, Colorado. With a drive that lasts about 45 minutes from a bustling city, you might expect this place to be overrun with tourists, but you can still find solitary solace in the wild thanks to the size of this wilderness area. With three different mountain ranges, this place is also a great place to visit for those who have an interest in geology because of the surprising granite domes and arches. And if you’re into rock climbing—even better—there’s plenty of climbing allowed on these unique rock formations.
Ellicott Rock Wilderness, Georgia
Bordering three states—Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina—this wilderness has plenty to see and explore. If you're into river fun, the Chattanooga River bisects Ellicott Rock Wilderness and provides some of the best white water rafting in the southeastern United States. This wilderness is also great for hiking and fishing trips. In the past, Ellicott Rock was heavily impacted by the logging industry, but a lot of the wilderness has been restored. Now, the area is worth exploring with your hiking boots and fishing rod.
Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, Maine
This wilderness gets its name from two mountains: Caribou Mountain which used to be home to a caribou population before it died out roughly 100 years ago, and Speckled Mountain which gets its name from the changing colors of foliage in the fall. If hiking is your favorite outdoor activity, then Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness is a place to add to your list. Mountain hikes and wildlife provide visitors with a truly wild experience. Try to plan your trip in the fall so you can catch the changing colors.
Charon Gardens Wilderness, Oklahoma
A wild wonder for hikers and climbers alike—Charon Gardens Wilderness Area is home to the Wichita Mountains where hikers can summit peaks and climbers can ascend granite walls. The granite formations within the area are roughly 500 million years old, so rock hounds and geologists will also find that there is plenty to explore here.