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White Mountains Wilderness

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A narrow rocky path traversing a slope of open rock dotted with green pine trees, similar hills stand nearby, on the far side of a ravine.
Library image #3303: High peaks and bristlecone pine groves


The United States Congress designated the White Mountains Wilderness (map) in 2009 and it now has a total of 229,953 acres. All of this wilderness is located in California and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.


The White Mountains Wilderness was designated through the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act on March 31, 2009. This 229,993 acre wilderness is jointly administered by the Inyo National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management Bishop and Ridgecrest Field Offices. This wilderness contains Cottonwood Creek, which was designated a Wild and Scenic River at the same time as the wilderness designation. The White Mountains are one of the largest and highest desert mountain ranges in North America. The range rises abruptly from the Owens and Chalfant Valleys along its western escarpment, with several peaks along the crest exceeding 13,000 feet in elevation. White Mountain, at 14, 246 ft., is the highest peak in the Great Basin. Much of the crest is comprised of plateaus, which contain the largest expanse of rare alpine tundra in the far western United States. The eastern flanks contain a number of steep drainages, their landforms affected by past periods of glaciation. Among the drainages is Cottonwood Creek, the only stream in the Great Basin protected from its alpine source to its desert terminus. The variety of steep terrain, rolling plateaus, and deep canyons makes for excellent habitat for desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and mule deer. The cold and dry climate, combined with abrupt elevation changes, make this wilderness a rare and fragile place. More than 1,000 native species and varieties of plants reside here in plant communities that range from desert scrub to alpine. The northern portion of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest - the earth's oldest living trees - is also within the wilderness. In this harsh environment, recovery from disturbance of plants or soils is slow, perhaps more than 100 years. Visitors to this wilderness should diligently practice Leave No Trace ethics. The White Mountains offer superb scenery and solitude in a challenging setting of deep canyons and harsh, windy plateaus. The White Mountain Road provides access to the high elevation country near the south end of the wilderness. A number of the drainages along the east side of the mountains have 4WD roads which end at the wilderness boundary. In the Cottonwood Creek, Leidy Creek and Indian Creek drainages, non-maintained trails extend into the wilderness beyond the end of the road.

Planning to Visit the White Mountains Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the White Mountains Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.