Fast Facts

The Beginnings of the National Wilderness Preservation System

When the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, 54 areas (9.1 million acres) in 13 states were designated as wilderness. This law established these areas as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Since 1964, the NWPS has grown almost every year and now includes 765 (2018) areas (109,127,689 acres (2018)) in 44 states and Puerto Rico. In 1980, the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) added over 56 million acres of wilderness to the system, the largest addition in a single year. 1984 marks the year when the most new wilderness areas were added.

Overall, however, only about 5% of the entire United States—an area slightly larger than the state of California— is protected as wilderness. Because Alaska contains just over half of America's wilderness, only about 2.7% of the contiguous United States—an area about the size of Minnesota—is protected as wilderness.

Think you know a lot about the NWPS? You can also test your knowledge by taking one of our quizzes.

Trivia at a Glance

111,687,310 acres

Pelican Island Wilderness, northern Florida (5.5 acres)

Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska (9,432,000 acres)

In this context, contiguous means wilderness land that is unbroken by any exempted corridors. In Alaska, the Noatak and Gates of the Arctic Wildernesses (about 13,000,000 acres) make up the largest area of unbroken wilderness. In the lower 48 states, the largest area of unbroken wilderness is found along the Sierra/Nevada crest in California. This area contains multiple wildernesses totaling over 2,400,000 acres.

California, Arizona, Nevada, Alaska, Oregon (2018)

Alaska, California, Arizona, Idaho, Washington (2018)

Yes. Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Rhode Island don't have any wilderness areas designated.

Forest Service

National Park Service

The 37 new wilderness areas in California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah designated on March 12, 2019 by the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.

The Pacific Crest Trail passes through 48 wilderness areas including six that are named for famous conservationists.

The Continental Divide Trail passes through 24 wilderness areas including the Gila, the first wilderness area administratively designated in 1924, and near the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness, the first wilderness area designated by Indian Tribes, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana.

The Appalachian Trail passes through 24 wilderness areas and borders another 4, including three designated in 1975 by the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act.

Learn more about how trails connect us to wilderness.

Every President since Lyndon B. Johnson (Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (both), Clinton, Obama, Trump) has added wilderness acres. President Carter's added the most acres by signing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act into law, which doubled the size of the wilderness system. President Trump has added the least number of acres of any President thus far.

Wilderness Area Database

Information about all of the 765 (2018) wildernesses that make up the National Wilderness Preservation System is available in a searchable format. Use the practitioner's data search to find Wilderness areas by name, agency, state, size or year of enacting legislation.

Current acreages above are the sum of acreage measurements reported by each administrative unit for each wilderness. Data are updated annually. Read data disclaimer.