On the western slopes of the small, granite Sandra Mountain range hikers may spy numerous birds of prey like raptors, golden eagles and various hawks. Four fourteeners are in the long and narrow Sanger de Cristo Wilderness, including the most challenging Crest one Needle.
Large aspen stands visible today are a result of heavy fires purposely set in the early 1900s to clear pasture land, expose minerals, and produce charcoal. Great Sand Dunes National Preserve is offers skiing in winter, splashing in sandy creeks in spring, and dark starry skies year-round.
Six insects protected here are found nowhere else on Earth, including the beautiful Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle. The area held religious significance to early Spanish settlers, thus the meaning of its name: “Blood of Christ”.
To access the heart of the area, visitor must drive the highest paved road on the continent, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. Forests of fir and hemlock trees greet visitors in the rugged, glacier-carved North Cascades, less than 50 miles from Seattle.
This wilderness area boasts over 700 mountain lakes, including Enchantment, Mason, Melania, Snoqualmie and more. One of the most popular outdoor destinations in its state, Alpine Lakes contains part of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as Cashmere Crags, one of the best rock-climbing locales in the West.
The area is named for its three major volcanoes, and includes other geologic features like Rock Mesa, Collier Cone, and Japan Crater as well as lava flows and tubes. The headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Which Creek invite brook and rainbow trout for fishers and hikers can trek a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
On the northern side of Mount Hood is an area just south of the Columbia River Gorge and near enough to Portland that it attracts many visitors. Mossy cliffs, forested plateaus and meadow ridges offer views of wildlife and majestic scenes of the Cascade Range.
Running along the crest of the Sierra Nevada's is a wilderness filled with snow-capped granite peaks and expansive meadows. The John Muir Wilderness was designated 50 years ago and is named after the revered advocate for wild lands.
It has the largest contiguous area above 10,000 feet in the continental U.S. Wildlife includes marmots, pikes, Clark's nutcrackers, Golden Trout and black bears. In the 80s it was renamed after Angel Adams, the famous photographer of the Sierra Nevada and a former council member of the Wilderness Society.
East of Angel Adams’ Ritter Range is the most visited section: the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, which contains Devils Postpile National Monument. In forests of aspen, conifers, oak and maple visitors may spy Rocky Mountain goats, mule deer, elk and moose.
Close to the greater Salt Lake City area, High Unitas is “loved to death” by hoards of avid rock climbers, fall hunters and hikers on Kings Peak. The Quinta Mountains, named for the Intact natives, are the highest peaks in the state and home to cougars, black bears, bighorn sheep, river otters and 75% of Utah's bird species.
“The Grand Canyon of North Carolina” is one of the most scenic river gorges in the eastern U.S. Its rough terrain prevented clear-cutting, so it remains one of only a few old growth forests in the Blue Ridge Mountains range. Visitors are drawn to rock climbing at Jonas Ridge, scenic viewing at Linville Falls as well as backpacking, hunting and fishing.
Those seeking more solitude are advised to explore the southern half of the wilderness or the rough northern section around Brush Ridge. Strewn with streams, its West Fork of Pigeon River runs to Cold Mountain, the namesake of a novel and film set during the Civil War.
Granite Peak, Montana's tallest, towers over the vast Bear tooth Plateau and alpine lakes are small but plentiful. The neighboring Baroda mountain range, named for what the Crow Indians called themselves, has dense forests and expansive meadows with trout-rich streams.
It extends to the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, offering over 700 miles of trails for ultimate backpacking adventures. This makes it ideal habitat for the plentiful Seaway elk herd, as well as recently reintroduced packs of the gray wolf.
The French Broad river flows right through the town, and you can also hop right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. An old railroad and livestock town, it now features arts and crafts galleries, atmospheric diners, and eccentric lodging options.
Wild is a description that applies to the entire region, but the main draw lies an hour down Highway 385 in Big Bend National Park for desert exploration and climbing. Outdoors shops, pizza joints, and pub life collide in the tiny village center, surrounded by parks, forest, and the sprawling SUMO campus.
It’s a quick drive from Monarch, one of the state’s best under-the-radar ski areas, and when the snow melts it pumps up the Arkansas, giving paddling and rafting options for the whole family. There are almost limitless camping and hiking options along the entire Arkansas from Saliva to Buena Vista.
Whether you’re gearing up for some epic fly-fishing or a trek through El Dorado National Forest, Truckee has everything you’ll need in a base of operations. Port Angeles is an interesting city as well, with wineries, art galleries, and good camping (Alpha River) as well as hostel accommodations.
With breathtaking panoramic views of the Cascade Range, its forests, meadows and subalpine lakes offer a popular destination for nearby Portland residents. Visitors can embark upon a range of delightful adventures, including fishing, horseback riding, camping, rafting, backpacking and wildlife watching.
This place is a wildlife paradise, offering opportunities to see almost every organism that lives in the Caribbean. The marsh water is filled with fish, bottle-nosed dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, manatees and alligators.
Boaters can access Florida Bay and the remarkable Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile marine trail that journeys through Everglades City, Ten A Thousand Islands and Flamingo. Spelunkers would be hard-pressed to find a better place to explore than Carlsbad Caverns.
Over 120 miles have been mapped to a depth of 1,600 feet, making it the deepest limestone cave in the nation. Joshua Tree's fascinating rock formations and colorful monoliths draw climbers from around the world.
There are also five fan-palm oases here, which come to life at night with tarantulas, rattlesnakes, coyotes, jackrabbits, bobcats, kangaroo rats and burrowing owls. With 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 18 hiking trails and nearly 2,200 campsites, there’s plenty of adventure as well as solitude to be found.
Unfortunately, there have been recent attempts to mine copper in sulfide-bearing ore nearby, which could contaminate Boundary Waters' lakes and rivers, harming fish and wildlife. It contains more than 350 miles of trails for hikers, backpackers and horseback riders to savor all year long.
Zion National Park is a geological masterpiece with high plateaus, towering cliffs and a labyrinth of sandstone canyons. Massive rock is shaped by the rare desert waters of the Virgin River, which carves a green ribbon of diverse plants and animals through the canyon oasis.
As one of the continent’s hottest and driest locations, Death Valley is surprisingly also an International Biosphere Reserve. Expansive fields of desert sand dunes and unique rock formations create stunning landscapes.
Death Valley is also an International Dark Sky Park, perfect for gazing at faraway galaxies. Narrow, serpentine slot canyons make Paris Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs an incredibly photographic landscape.
“The Wave” is the most famous for its picturesque forms, but it’s only one of many breathtaking sculpted walls streaked with desert colors. Visitors can also spy red rock amphitheaters, sandstone arches as well as hanging orchids.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has 150 miles of trails, most of which journey through its designated Wilderness areas. The Key'u Desert Trail, for example, winds past lava fields and cinder cones in the park's southwestern section, which also includes several miles of coastline.
This Wilderness area is replete with just about everything a nature lover could ask for: high peaks, deep canyons, rich meadows, serene lakes, wild rivers and, of course, enormous trees. Green forests, blue lakes and clear streams become white with frost in winter.
Iconic vistas, distinct bird populations and world-class rock-climbing opportunities attract millions to this gem in the heart of the Sierra Nevada each year. Washington's largest wilderness area has 48 miles of beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline.
The highest peak, Mount Olympus, has the third largest glacier system in the continental U.S. Strange rock formations of sandstone, shale, mud stone, coal and silt form mazes and hoodoos in an otherwise stark desert.
Deep valleys are filled with large trees and the fish-filled headwaters of several major rivers. Wildflowers peak in July and August, but beautiful scenery lasts all year.
Horseback riding and camping are popular ways to experience this wild heaven. With six peaks over 14,000 feet high, thousands of mountaineers seek its heights every year.
Hikers are drawn to its clear, blue skies, the hot springs at Conundrum Creek and a plethora of wildflowers in midsummer. The area was designated when the Wilderness Act passed fifty years ago, in 1964.
It is also one of the most extensive roadless areas in the eastern U.S., offering unlighted, sweeping panoramic views for visitors. Stretching down Alaska's Brooks Range are prime habitats for numerous Arctic animals: brown and black bears, moose, wolves, musk oxen, arctic foxes, polar bears, and caribou.
Whales and seals migrate through Arctic seas and birds traveling from as far away as Antarctica fly overhead. There is no place in America that is as pristine as the beloved Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which this Wilderness occupies 40% of.