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Black Elk Wilderness

General Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws

Area Management

The Black Elk Wilderness is part of the 110 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude. You play an important role in helping to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting the Black Elk Wilderness to ensure protection of this unique area.

General Wilderness Prohibitions

Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands designated as wilderness. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters, unless provided for in specific legislation.

In a few areas some exceptions allowing the use of motorized equipment or mechanical transport are described in the special regulations in effect for a specific area. Contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more specific information.

These general prohibitions have been implemented for all national forest wildernesses in order to implement the provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Wilderness Act requires management of human-caused impacts and protection of the area's wilderness character to insure that it is "unimpaired for the future use and enjoyment as wilderness." Use of the equipment listed as prohibited in wilderness is inconsistent with the provision in the Wilderness Act which mandates opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation and that wilderness is a place that is in contrast with areas where people and their works are dominant.

Wilderness-Specific Regulations

Wilderness managers often need to take action to limit the impacts caused by visitor activities in order to protect the natural conditions of wilderness as required by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Managers typically implement 'indirect' types of actions such as information and education measures before selecting more restrictive measures. When regulations are necessary, they are implemented with the specific intent of balancing the need to preserve the character of the wilderness while providing for the use and enjoyment of wilderness.

The following wilderness regulations are in effect for this area. Not all regulations are in effect for every wilderness. Contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more specific information about the regulations listed.


-- Group size is limited to 25 heartbeats, including people and pack or saddle stock.

-- All visitors must obtain a Wilderness Use Visitor Permit before entering the Wilderness. Only one permit per group is required and there is no fee for the permits. The self-issue registration boxes are located at each trailhead.

-- Open fires are prohibited at all times.

-- Caching equipment, personal property, or supplies for longer than 72 hours is prohibited. This includes geo-caching.

-- Dogs must be under verbal control or leashed at all times.

-- Do not cut switchbacks. Doing so can cause severe erosion.

-- Human waste must be disposed of 100 feet from any water source. Pack out all toilet paper.

-- As with all designated Wilderness areas, mechanical transportation (including bicycles, strollers, wagons, game carts, or other vehicles) is prohibited.


-- Camping is prohibited within 1/4 mile of Black Elk Peak, within the Historic Harney Lookout Tower, and within 100 feet of any water source.


-- Possessing, storing, or transporting any hay, straw, and mulch which has not been certified as free of noxious weeds and seeds by a certified State or County Officer is prohibited.

-- No hitching, tethering, or tying pack and saddle stock within 100 feet of any water source.

-- No hitching, tethering, or tying pack and saddle stock to a live tree, except while loading or unloading.

Learn more about why regulations may be necessary in wilderness.

Wilderness Permit System

A wilderness permit system has been implemented for this wilderness. This involves a mandatory permit, which does not limit use. Wilderness permit systems are implemented to collect information on use levels and patterns and as an education and information tool. People interested in visiting the Black Elk Wilderness should contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed for more information about this permit system, which may vary by location or time of the year.