The United States is fortunate to have some incredible wilderness areas. There are over 800 across the country, spread over one million acres of pristine forest, canyons, and waterways. Each area is preserved to provide wildlife habitat and conservation, and outstanding recreational opportunities.
Here are four favorites that would make incredible additions to your travels around the U.S.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Snowmass, CO
First off, picture a chain of rugged mountain peaks tower over 12,000 feet into the sky. Rainbows of wildflowers line trails in mid-summer, bringing life to the valleys far below. Crystal clear glacial lakes reflect the deep blue Colorado sky, while elk and deer graze nearby.
Welcome to Maroon Bells Wilderness Area, a 183,847 acre area that sits 10 miles from Aspen. It offers many different recreational activities, with 100 miles of hiking trails that vein through the land. Maroon Bells features six day hiking trails, from the easy 2.6-mile out-and-back Maroon Lake Scenic Trail to the very difficult 6.5-mile Willow Lake Trail.
Anglers will love trying their hand at casting a line at Maroon Lake. A Colorado license is required for any fishing activities.
In summer, spending a night under the stars is spectacular. You can camp at any of the wilderness area’s three campgrounds: Silver Bar, Silver Bell, and Silver Queen. Backcountry camping is also available. Reservations are required for the campgrounds and permits for backcountry camping.
Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Estes Park, CO
This park is described as a “living showcase of the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.” The Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Area is one of the largest in Colorado. And it’s one of the most geologically and biologically diverse in the entire park system.
The wilderness area paints a dramatic and breathtaking picture for visitors, from stunning views of lush wildflower laden meadows, turbulent rivers, and alpine tundra. And it’s all with a backdrop of towering weather ravaged mountain peaks. Some (such as Long’s Peak) reach over 14,000 feet tall.
Weather wise, temperatures are generally moderate in areas below the 9,000 foot elevation. Above that, it can be less so, with a chance of snowfall as early in July. The reason for this dramatic change is that the Continental Divide, a range of mountains that neatly splits the wilderness area in two and separates the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean watersheds.
Hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders will find days and days of adventure on one of the area’s 350-miles of trails. And it’s especially picturesque in the fall, when golden aspen glows. Anglers can try their hand at catching beautiful trout by casting their lines in the headwaters of one of four major river basins. Birders can add to their list with over 250 species of birds calling the region home. Also, visitors may catch glimpses of black bears, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and deer in the lush forests and grassy meadows while bald eagles soar high overhead.
For more information on planning a visit to Rocky Mountain and other recreational opportunities within the wilderness area, visit the National Forest Service’s dedicated website.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
In northeast Minnesota, near the town of Ely, sits the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). It’s one million acres of uninhabited land, that stretches some 150 miles along the border between Canada and the United States.
The area is touted as one of the country’s most beautiful remote areas. Massive glaciers once carved the region as they receded, gouging the rocks and leaving behind a land with mirrored lakes (over 1,100 of them) dotted with lush, forested islands and ringed by rugged cliffs and canyon walls.
The recreational opportunities at BWCAW seem endless. In winter, skiing, dog sledding, and ice fishing are popular activities. And in the other seasons, there are 18 trails to hike, and over 1,200 miles of canoe trails to explore. For campers, the options are plentiful, with 2200 campsites available.
Even though over 200,000 people visit the wilderness each year, you will not be fighting crowds here. That is due to entry being limited by a quota system from May 1 to September 30. No quota is in effect for the remainder of the year.
The US Forest Service has created a handy guidebook to BWCAW that provides all the information you need to know about your visit to Boundary Waters.
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Sipsey Wilderness, Mount Hope, AL
Within the 180,000-acre Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama, a 25,000-acre wilderness has been set aside to preserve the unique geology of the area. From sandstone bluffs that tower some 30 to 100 feet about the waters of the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River – a National Wild and Scenic River, the Sipsey Wilderness is a wonder.
Over the centuries, the action of the river, its tributaries, and runoff from rainfall has created a canyon here with a fascinating network of sinkholes, small caves, and scenic overlooks. And waterfalls. Lots of waterfalls. In fact, the Sipsey is known as the “Land of 1000 Waterfalls.” As you hike one of the 12 trails within the wilderness, it seems as if there is a waterfall around every bend.
Most of the scenic, regularly flowing waterfalls in the Sipsey are easily accessible, either as roadside falls or with a short hike. Three of the most popular include the roadside 25-foot wide, 15-foot tall Kinlock Falls, Fall Creek Falls which is accessible via an easy 2.5-mile out-and-back hike, and the 20-foot plunge falls of Turkey Creek Falls and its neighbor, the 20-foot wide Mize Mill Falls. The latter two are accessible via a short 0.8-mile out-and-back hike off of the country road.
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