Wilderness Information

Monongahela National Forest includes 115,000 acres of Wilderness designated under the National Wilderness Preservation System. Two Wilderness Areas were designated in 1975: Dolly Sods and Otter Creek. Three Wilderness Areas were added in 1983: Cranberry, Laurel Fork North and Laurel Fork South. Three additional Wilderness Areas were designated in 2009: Big Draft, Roaring Plains West and Spice Run while three existing areas were expanded: Cranberry, Dolly Sods and Otter Creek.


What is a Wilderness?

According to The Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed to preserve its natural conditions…”


Monongahela National Forest Wilderness Areas


Is Wilderness for You?

The Forest Service manages Wilderness Areas to offer visitors challenge, discovery and self-reliance, a true “wilderness experience.” Here are somethings you should keep in mind if you choose to enter a Wilderness Area:

  • Motorized and mechanical equipment, including but not limited to, chainsaws, mountain bikes and deer carts are not permitted within Wilderness Areas.
  • Horses and other stock are permitted, but most of the Wilderness trails are steep, have low hanging vegetation, rocky and/or boggy conditions and are not conducive to stock use. In some areas have been rerouted around obstacles creating narrow footpaths. We suggest hiking in the Wilderness Areas and riding in other places on the Forest.
  • Trails are signed at intersection and trailheads, but signage is kept to a minimum. Small rock cairns may mark areas where the trail is difficult to follow, but since some hikers put up or knock down cairns for their own reasons these are not always reliable. The trails don’t always stay in their traditional locations or where the maps indicate. Wildness is enhanced by stepping over, ducking under or walking around obstacles without creating unacceptable damage to the environment or reasonable risk to safety. This allows the Wilderness’s natural processes to continue with little impairment and creates a wilder, more natural appearance.
  • Plan ahead. Have a map before you come; they are not available at trailheads. Topographic maps are more useful than simple line-drawn maps. A compass, and the ability to use it, is necessary. Bridges at stream crossings are rare, existing only where they protect the stream bank from heavy use. Most of the time you will have to ford the streams.
  • Search and rescue is not initiated unless threat to life exists. In most cases, you will have to get yourself out of whatever predicament you get yourself into. Remember to plan your trip and make decisions during the trip that will make search and rescue unnecessary. Be smart; these areas seem small, but you can be injured or killed if you make poor decisions.


Minimizing your Impact

Leave No Trace hiking and camping ethics help protect the naturalness and solitude of these areas. For more information visit LNT.org.

Things you need to know in addition to the 7 Leave No Trace Principles:

  • Maximum group size of 10 for all Monongahela National Forest Wilderness Areas.
  • Camp at least 200 feet from trails to ensure solitude for yourself and other visitors.
  • Camp at least 200 feet from water sources to protect water quality and to not disturb wildlife movement.
  • Campfires are discouraged, though permitted in existing fire rings. No new rings should be built. Only dead wood that is down on the ground is appropriate for firewood. Please do not deface trees by breaking or chopping dead branches off them. You should plan on bringing a small backpacker-type stove for all your cooking needs.
  • All Wildernesses on Monongahela National Forest are at relatively high elevations. Weather is changeable and often severe. Properly preparing for changing conditions will eliminate the need for warming fires and will make your trip more comfortable.
  • Purify all water before drinking.
  • Hunting is permitted according to state regulations. All visitors should wear blaze orange hat and/or vest for their own safety during hunting season. Ensure you are aware of all applicable West Virginia State laws on use of your firearms. Sunday hunting is allowed on federal land. Know what is legal before you come. Target shooting, or any kind of firearms practice, is not appropriate in Wilderness Areas. Leave firearms at home if you are not hunting.


Additional Resources