Wilderness Areas in North Carolina

The Wilderness Act of 1964 designated portions of federally owned land as Wilderness. By law, these lands are affected primarily by the forces of nature, where natural biological and physical processes are allowed to proceed with little to no human intervention and humans are considered "visitors." National Forests in North Carolina manages over 102,000 acres of Wilderness across all four national forests. 

Visiting a Wilderness requires a high degree of self-reliance, as trails are minimally maintained with a limited number of signs, trail blazes, and footbridges.


Wilderness Regulations

Wilderness managers often need to take action to limit the impacts caused by visitor activities in order to protect the natural conditions of wilderness as required by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Managers typically implement 'indirect' types of actions such as information and education measures before selecting more restrictive measures. When regulations are necessary, they are implemented with the specific intent of balancing the need to preserve the character of the wilderness while providing for the use and enjoyment of wilderness. 

  • No motorized equipment or wheeled vehicles are allowed in Wilderness areas, with the exception of wheelchairs.
  • Group sizes are limited to 10.
  • Camping is not permitted within 100 feet of a water source.
  • Maximum length of stay is 14 days within a 30-day period.

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Why are Regulations Necessary in Wilderness Areas?

When the amount of visitor use is the cause of degradation to the social, biological, and/or physical resources, managers may choose to limit use and require visitors to obtain a permit before entering. Improper disposal of human waste can cause water pollution, harm wildlife and fish, and affect the wilderness experience of others. Improper food storage practices can attract bears and other wildlife into camps and create an unsafe situation for visitors and the bears. Bears that become habituated to human food often need to be destroyed.

The activities of large groups can affect the solitude of others and can increase impacts in and around campsites and near wate. Littering in wilderness affects the experiences of other visitors and the health of wildlife. 

The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as a place where "man is a visitor who does not remain." In some popular areas, managers may limit the number of nights camping in one campsite, one specific area, or in the wilderness as a whole, so that the wilderness experience can be available to others. 

Where visitors' use of the firewood supply exceeds what is available, significant and long term impacts can occur, such as removing limbs and stripping bark from live trees, and removing woody material used as habitat by wildlife. Evidence of campfires, such as blackening of rocks, is one of the longest lasting, most visible, human impacts to the wilderness resource.

In some cases, it may be necessary to temporarily or permanently close an area of wilderness to visitor use to help protect wilderness dependent plant or animal species, insure recovery of restoration areas, or reduce the risk from wildfire. This action is consistent with the need to provide for public safety and preserve wilderness character and natural conditions. 


Wilderness Areas in North Carolina

Croatan National Forest

Catfish Lake South Wilderness

Pocosin Wilderness

Pond Pine Wilderness

Sheep Ridge Wilderness

Pisgah National Forest

Linville Gorge Wilderness

Middle Prong Wilderness

Shining Rock Wilderness

Nantahala National Forest

Ellicott Rock Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness

Southern Nantahala Wilderness

Uwharrie National Forest

Birkhead Mountain Wilderness