Wilderness is an indispensable part of American history. Native Americans depended on the bounty of wildlands for survival and held Earth and its wild places as sacred. The great western explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were inspired by the untamed beauty of wild places that became the forge upon which our distinctive American national character was created. After just 200 years from the time of Lewis and Clark, the essential wildness of America had virtually disappeared. As Americans realized that the long-term health and welfare of the nation were at risk, a vision for conservation emerged.

In 1964 our nation's leaders formally acknowledged the immediate and lasting benefits of wild places to the human spirit and fabric of our nation. That year, in a nearly unanimous vote, Congress enacted landmark legislation that permanently protected some of the most natural and undisturbed places in America. The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System, the system of all America's wilderness areas, to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness."

The United States was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas through law. Subsequently, countries around the world have protected areas modeled after the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is part of our history and heritage and is passed as a legacy to future generations. Indispensable to the American past, the legacy that is wilderness will remain indispensable to the American future.



Wilderness FAQ's

Should I call ahead before visiting the Wilderness?

Yes -

Call the local Ranger Station to check on road / trail conditions and what type of permits may be needed.  "Know Before You Go"

During winter months some locations may be inaccessible due to snow or closed.

What is the Wilderness?

Wilderness is a federal land designated by Congress.  It is a place "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain....which is protected and managed to preserve its natural condition."  (Wilderness Act 1964) 

In the Wilderness, preservation of the land, its natural processes, native vegetation and wildlife is the first priority of management.  Human use is secondary.  All mechanized equipment and vehicles are prohibited (including mountain bikes).

Where are the Wilderness Areas?

The San Bernardino National Forest has eight designated Wilderness Areas covering 151,341 acres.  Click here for a map showing where these wilderness areas are. 

  • Big Horn Mountains Wilderness 11,800 acres -  Northeast of Big Bear lake on the Mountaintop Ranger District
  • Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness 5,585 acres - West of Anza on the San Jacinto Ranger District
  • Cucamonga Wilderness 8,581 acres* - East of Mt Baldy on the Front Country Ranger District
  • San Gorgonio Wilderness 56,722 acres* - East of Redlands on the Sand to Snow National Monument
  • San Jacinto Wilderness 32,248 acres* - East of Idyllwild on the San Jacinto Ranger District
  • Santa Rosa Wilderness 13,787 acres* -  South of Palm Desert on the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Sheep Mountain Wilderness 2,401 acres* - South of Wrightwood on the Front Country Ranger District
  • South Fork San Jacinto Wilderness 20,217 acres - East of Hemet on the San Jacinto Ranger District

      * San Bernardino National Forest System Lands only

Do I need a permit?

A free Wilderness Permit is recommended for for day hiking and camping in the Cucamonga, Sheep Mountains, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Wildernesses.  The Permits can be reserved up to 3 months in advance. 

Visitors to the San Gorgonio Wilderness can complete an on-line application

Visitors to the San Jacinto Wilderness can complete this on-line application

The number of people admitted to the Wilderness may be limited-on some summer weekends.  Wilderness areas fill to capacity well in advance.  The best advice is to plan ahead.  Some trailheads do require a Forest Adventure Pass.  Please contact the local Ranger Station for the area you plan to visit.

How many people can enter as a group?

Group size is limited to 12 people per permit; 8 stock per permit.

Can I have a fire or cook in the Wilderness?

Lightweight stoves are recommended.

Campfires are not allowed in the Wilderness Areas.

Can I take my dog into the Wilderness?

Yes, dogs are permitted.  Your dog must on a leash no longer than 6 feet and under your control at all times.

Dogs are prohibited in the San Jacinto State Park Wilderness.  

Are there any other Wilderness regulations I should be aware of?

Yes - follow the link to this handout which describes wilderness regulations, ethics, and etiquette.

Backcountry Safety Tips

We want you to have a safe and enjoyable backcountry experience - please follow the link to this handout on backcountry safety.

Interested in Lending a hand in the Wilderness?

The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association  The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association is a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and to serving the public visiting the forest. These services are provided through the generous donation of time by nearly 120 volunteers, who enjoy our National Forest and Wilderness areas and wish to help protect these precious resources for use by themselves and future generations. 

The Forest Service Volunteer Association in Idyllwild, helps patrol and maintain trails in the San Jacinto Wilderness.  They have a downloadable Wilderness Permit for mail-in applicants, camping and hiking information.

Front Country Recreation Volunteers in Lytle Creek provide information to the public, repair and maintain trails, pick up litter, and monitor resources across the Front Country Ranger District and Cucamonga Wilderness. Volunteers attend a two-day training workshop in April every year.

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Located as a backdrop to the desert communities of the Coachella Valley, the National Monument serves as a model for community based support. It reflects the vision of the local jurisdictions and national desires to ensure special landscapes within our country are protected as open space for current and future generations.