Wilderness Use and Management

Two designated wildernesses occur in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Clifty Wilderness on the Cumberland Ranger District and Beaver Creek Wilderness on the Stearns Ranger District. The Forest Service is charged by Congress to manage these areas to protect and enhance the natural conditions and provide opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation.


Wilderness offers a place for quiet refuge away from modern civilization. You are free to explore and discover all that wilderness provides, including solitude, challenge, scenic beauty and natural ecosystems.

Hunting and fishing are permitted within the wilderness in accordance with regulations established by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

A wilderness is primitive in nature. Modern facilities such as toilets, piped water, shelters or campgrounds are unavailable. Wilderness entry is by foot or horseback.

Motorized vehicles and equipment, such as all-terrain vehicles and chainsaws, are prohibited in designated wilderness. Mechanized equipment, such as bicycles and wheeled carts, are also prohibited.

There are few, if any, signs to guide you inside the wilderness. You will be challenged to be self-sufficient and creative.

The Forest Service bears with great pride the stewardship of these unique lands. Both visitors and managers must take responsibility to ensure that the wilderness is an enduring resource. You can help by obeying the regulations that govern wilderness use and by practicing Leave No Trace land ethics during your visit.

Visiting a Wilderness

A visit to the wilderness is like a step back in time. Visitors will find no developed campsites, no roads and no electricity.

The Wilderness Act allows hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, skiing and grazing in these areas. Fires are allowed in most areas, but some areas are closed to open fires to protect resources.

Vehicles and mechanized equipment, including chainsaws and bicycles, are prohibited in wilderness.

Horses may be used, but overnight camping with stock is not allowed in specified locations. 

Visitors are asked to practice no-trace camping to minimize human impact and preserve wilderness characteristics for present and future generations.

Important Regulations

The maximum number of people allowed in each group is 20. No more that 25 stock animals are allowed in each group. Larger groups may be allowed by permit only in low-use areas as determined by the district ranger.

  • Permits are required for all commercial and organizational groups. No competitive events.
  • All trash must be packed out and disposed of properly. No trash may be buried.
  • Detergent use is prohibited in or near surface water.
  • Human waste must be buried at least 200 feet from surface water.
  • Cutting or defacing live trees is prohibited.
  • Short-cutting trail switchbacks is prohibited.
  • Construction of shelters or other permanent structures is prohibited.
  • Hay and straw are not permitted.
  • Select campsites and stock grazing areas at least 50 feet from stream banks and 200 feet from lake shores.
  • Motorized or mechanical equipment are not allowed.

Protect Our History!

The two wildernesses in the Daniel Boone National Forest hold many clues to the lifestyle of earlier residents and provide links to the past. Avoid disturbing the natural and cultural resources in these areas.

Removing or disturbing artifacts on national forest lands is illegal.

Leave No Trace

As more people seek to escape the mechanized world and experience nature on its own terms, the wilderness lands are becoming more impacted from frequent visits. To ensure that future visitors can have the same quality wilderness experience, each person must take responsibility to minimize impacts.

Some important things you can do:

  • Carry out everything you bring in.
  • Don't spoil the natural scenery by leaving trash.
  • Use a stove instead of building a fire.
  • If a campfire is necessary, keep it small and tend to it at all times.
  • Use small dead-and-down wood for fires.
  • Never cut or damage live trees.
  • Bury human waste at least 200 feet from water sources.
  • Refrain from taking rocks, wildflowers and other natural resources.

The protection of wilderness will never be gained simply by issuing a set of rules and regulations. It must come with love and understanding of the land.

The protection of wilderness is a personal ethic. Some mark is left in wilderness each time we visit, but each of us can make sure this mark is a small one. Minimum impact or no-trace camping should be considered common behavior in the wilderness.

Wilderness Camping

Designated camping facilities are not available, but wilderness visitors may camp overnight.

Most wilderness trailheads are undeveloped. No drinking water is provided. Water from creeks and streams should be treated before human consumption.

The Wilderness Act of 1964

"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."

An area of wilderness is further defined in this Act as an area of undeveloped Federal Land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.

This landmark conservation legislation established for the American people an enduring resource of wilderness. The Act defined wilderness as areas that:

  • Are affected primarily by the forces of nature.
  • Possess outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.
  • Are undeveloped, federally owned, and generally over 5,000 acres in size.
  • Are protected and managed to allow natural ecological processes to operate freely.
  • May contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
  • Are formally designated by Congress as wilderness.

The Wilderness Act, 1964

What is a Wilderness?

Wilderness is the America that was– wild land beyond the frontier that shaped the growth of the nation and the character of its people. Wagon trains, stagecoaches and then railroads crisscrossed the continent, inviting settlement and industry. The rush for lands and resources led to almost unchecked development. But after just 200 years, the American frontier (except for Alaska) had virtually disappeared.

The late 1800s marked a turning point in the management of America’s natural resources. Selected public lands were protected from uncontrolled development and reserved to benefit the nation as a whole. The establishment of the world’s first National Park at Yellowstone in 1872 exemplified this change.

The first allocation of public land specifically for protecting wilderness values was made in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico in 1924. Forty years later, the desire to protect the Nation’s wilderness resource was formalized with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Objectives of Wilderness Management

Management objectives for the National Wilderness Preservation System are drawn from the Wilderness Act. These objectives tell the Forest Service how to care for the land. These objectives include:

  • To perpetuate for present and future generations a long-lasting system of high-quality wilderness that represents natural ecosystems.
  • To provide opportunities for public use and enjoyment of the wilderness resource.
  • To allow plants and animals indigenous to the area to develop through natural processes.
  • To maintain watershed and airsheds in a healthy condition.
  • To protect threatened or endangered plant and animal species.
  • To maintain the primitive character of wilderness as a benchmark for ecological studies.

Why Manage Wilderness?

When the Wilderness Act was passed, many assumed that simply designating an area as wilderness would assure its preservation. Today, however, steadily increasing use and other human influences are impacting wilderness qualities. Preserving these qualities can best be ensured through the careful management of the wilderness resource. Managing a wilderness includes:

  • Providing public education on wilderness values and methods to minimize user impacts.
  • Favoring wilderness-dependent activities in management decisions.
  • Generally not allowing permanent structures, such as campgrounds, buildings, or radio antennas.
  • Managing visitor use to protect soil, water, and biological resources, and to distribute visitors.
  • Prohibiting the use of motor vehicles, mechanical transport, and motorized equipment.
  • Excluding timber harvesting.
  • Allowing fires to burn under preplanned prescribed conditions. This includes both naturally occurring fires and those ignited by wilderness managers.