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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 758 areas (109,504,348 acres) 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

Click on the questions below to reveal or hide the answers.
How many wilderness areas are there in the NWPS?
What is the total acreage of the NWPS?
109,504,348 acres
What's the smallest wilderness?
Pelican Island Wilderness, northern Florida (5.5 acres) (Note: Until recently the Rocks and Islands Wilderness in northern California was thought to be the smallest wilderness, however, recent Bureau of Land Management acreage measurements put it at 5.89 acres instead of 19 acres.)
What's the largest wilderness?
Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska (9,078,675 acres)
Where is the largest area of contiguous wilderness?
In this context, contiguous means wilderness land that is unbroken by any exempted corridors. In Alaska, the Noatak and Gates of the Arctic Wildernesses (12,743,329 acres) make up the largest area of unbroken wilderness. In the lower 48 states, the largest area of unbroken wilderness is found in Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (approximately 2,300,000 acres)
What states have the most wildernesses?
What states have the most wilderness acres?
Are there any states that don't have any wildernesses?
Yes. Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Rhode Island don't have any wilderness areas designated.
Which agency manages the most wildernesses?
Which agency manages the most wilderness acres?
What's the newest wilderness?
Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness, designed on March 13, 2014, is the newest wilderness to be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
How many wildernesses does the Appalachian National Scenic Trail traverse?
The ANST passes through 25 wilderness areas.
How many wildernesses does the Continental Divide Trail traverse?
The CDT passes through 26 wilderness areas including the Gila, the first wilderness area, and near the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness, the first wilderness area designated by a Tribal Group, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana.

Wilderness Area Database

Information about all of the 758 wildernesses that make up the National Wilderness Preservation System is available in a searchable format. Use the 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 last updated on 3/20/14 (Newly designated Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness added; Bureau of Land Management wilderness area acreages updated to be consistent with official data tables). - read data disclaimer.



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