The Beginnings of the National Wilderness Preservation SystemWhen 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 804 areas (111,374,138 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 GlanceClick 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?
What's the smallest wilderness?
Pelican Island Wilderness, northern Florida (5.5 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 along the Sierra/Nevada crest in California. This area contains multiple wildernesses totalling over 2,400,000 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?
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.
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 DatabaseInformation about all of the 804 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 2/20/19 (acreages updated to be consistent with the Forest Service 2018 Land Area Report). - read data disclaimer.