8 Must-See California Wilderness Areas


“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

– Wilderness Act, September 3, 1964

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we have compiled a list of 8 Must-See California Wilderness Areas. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Please leave a comment and share your favorite California wilderness areas with us.

Yosemite Wilderness: Yosemite National Park



This one goes without saying. Almost 95% of the national park has been designated wilderness by Congress. That means, despite massive crowds in Yosemite Valley, solitude can be found. The deeper you travel, the fewer people you see. Find out about permits and regulations on the NPS website. Check back for a story of a hidden corner coming soon.

Dome Land Wilderness: Sequioa National Forest and BLM


The Domes

Wildflowers, seclusion, granite domes, and the Kern River are just a few of the wonders waiting for you in this wilderness. Accessible from several dirt roads, Dome Land does not get many visitors that venture more than a few miles from the trailheads. This semi-arid region is coolest during the spring and fall. Bring a good map and compass since many of the trails have been reclaimed by nature. More information here. Read about our trip into the Domeland Wilderness.

Death Valley Wilderness: Death Valley National Park


Little Ubehebe

With over 3 million acres of wilderness, 91% of the park is designated wilderness. Your adventures will be limited only by your imagination. From Telescope Peak to Badwater Basin, this wilderness offers a range of landscape, temperature, flaura, and wildlife. Water and knowledge is essential to survival in the desert. Learn more here. Overnight stays in the wilderness require a free permit, obtainable at any Ranger Station.

For trip ideas, visit one of our many trip reports in the park. Eureka DunesUbehebe CraterTelescope PeakRacetrack Valley and Ubehebe PeakTrucks, Trains, Mines, and Canyons.

Marble Mountain Wilderness: Klamath National Forest



Gorgeous alpine lakes, serene meadows, and barely-maintained trails; that’s the beauty of Marble Mountain Wilderness. Located at the Northern edge of California, no permit is needed to venture into these woods. However, a good topo map is highly recommended; be prepared to do some route finding. More info here.

Snow Mountain Wilderness: Mendocino National Forest



Interested in bagging the southernmost peak in the North Coast Range? Maybe you love cross-country travel? This might be the place for you! Snow Mountain Wilderness might not be as large as other areas but the view from the top sure is grand. Much of the area can only be reached by traveling off trail. Water can be scarce so carry plenty and fill up whenever possible. No permit required. More info here. Check out our trip report here.

Desolation Wilderness: Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit



Much of this busy wilderness may not offer solitude (it’s there if you look/hike hard enough) but it definitely makes up for it in beauty. Jagged granite peaks, glacier carved basins, waterfalls, and pristine alpine lakes. At Desolation you can have it all. Day hiking permits are required but can be obtained, self-issue, at trailheads. Backcountry permits are on a quota system; reservations are recommended. Check the forest service website for more information.

Mojave Wilderness: Mojave National Preserve



This amazing desert landscape in Southern California is managed by the National Park Service. Just established in 1994 under the California Desert Protection Act, this wilderness offer many challenging adventures. Dirt roads lead to or run alongside much of the wilderness so plan accordingly and check for road conditions before leaving home. Find more information here.

Lassen Volcanic Wilderness: Lassen Volcanic National Park


Painted Dunes

Geothermal forces played a large role in assembling California. Perhaps one of the best places to explore the volcanic history is Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. The National Park receives few visitors as it is, but hike a few miles from the trailheads in the Eastern section of the park and you’re bound to have the place to yourself. Link up with trails in the adjacent Caribou Wilderness for more miles. Information here. We’ve been working on the 2014 Reach Higher Trail Challenge so we have plenty of trip reports for inspiration. Butte Lake Area, Summit Lake to Cinder Cone, Mt. Harkness and Warner Valley, Bumpass Hell the long way, Caribou Wilderness.