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San Rafael Wilderness

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A small river flowing through the base of a dense valley, covered with mixed forest trees along the slopes of the surrounding hills.
Library image #1495: Manzama Trail


The United States Congress designated the San Rafael Wilderness (map) in 1968 and it now has a total of 191,104 acres. All of this wilderness is located in California and is managed by the Forest Service.


After the initial preservation of land under the Wilderness Act of 1964, the original San Rafael Wilderness (1968) was the first Primitive area added to the NWPS's roster. Here in the chaparral-covered San Rafael Mountains, elevations range from 1,166 feet near the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River in the west to over 6,800 feet on Big Pine Mountain near the eastern boundary and Dick Smith Wilderness. Too rocky and shallow to entice river runners, except perhaps in spring high water, all but two of the Sisquoc's 33 Wild and Scenic miles are within the Wilderness, tumbling through pools and oak-shaded grasslands, over waterfalls and past archaeological sites. The region known as Hurricane Deck stretches for 17 miles of steep escarpments, grassy potreros, dry plateaus, and wind-carved sandstone formations. Wildflowers are abundant March through June. The Wilderness contains the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, and black bears and mountain lions also live here with numerous smaller animals. San Rafael Wilderness has over 125 relatively rugged miles of trails that receive moderate human use. A path follows the Sisquoc River east-west for about 26 miles, and campsites abound. Large portions of the Wilderness are closed during fire season (July through mid-November) because of extreme fire danger.

Planning to Visit the San Rafael 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 San Rafael 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.

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