Wilderness Areas

Forest Wilderness Areas - General Information

Sierra National Forest now contains approximately 528,000 acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness. Almost 227,000 acres were added to the Sierra's existing system as a result of the California Wilderness Act of 1984.

The Sierra National Forest manages 527,000 acres of congressional designated wilderness. The Sierra National Forest is responsible for managing five wilderness areas including: Ansel Adams, Dinkey Lakes, John Muir, Kaiser and Monarch Wilderness areas.


Today, backpackers into wilderness areas are urged to use Leave No Trace ethics which encourages cooking on camp stoves and avoiding building campfires. Backpacking stoves are economical and lightweight and provide fast, clean cooking. In some heavily used areas, fires are not permitted. In fragile environments, such as alpine meadows, fires leave scars for many years and deplete wood supplies. Campfires are discouraged anywhere above 9,000 feet.


Burning small sticks gathered from the ground is the best source of wood. Use only down, dead wood. Never cut green trees or branches; they won't burn. Standing dead trees will burn, but are valuable for cavity-nesting birds and aesthetics so don't cut them. Small wood will burn completely, providing good coals for cooking. The remaining white ash is easier to dispose of than partially burned logs.


An innovative method for building a Leave No Trace fire is the portable fire pan (simply a metal tray with rigid sides at least three inches high). Fire pans were first used by river guides to minimize the impact of their fires, but they are becoming increasingly popular with backpackers and horse packers. Metal oil drain pans and the pans from backyard barbecue grills make effective and inexpensive fire pans, though a few outdoor companies are beginning to market lightweight versions.


  • Use a lightweight stove rather than building a fire.
  • Check local ranger stations for fire regulations
  • Use existing fire circles in heavy-use areas.
  • Build fires away from trees, shrubs, rocks and meadows.
  • Burn only small sticks.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Make sure that fire is DEAD OUT!
  • Scatter the ashes and naturalize the area.

Due to the scarcity of wood and small woody material the following restrictions apply to campfires in the wilderness:

Please contact our wilderness permit issuing offices for further details. Violations of regulations under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 36, may result in a citation and fine. Official orders authorizing regulation enforcement are available in the Forest and District Offices.


Domestic pets are allowed in wilderness areas. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. When camping in areas with other visitors, pets should be kept on a leash. Wilderness visitor’s who plan to travel into an adjacent National Park should be aware that National Parks do not permit pets.


Wilderness permits are required year-round on the Sierra National Forest for all overnight trips into the Kaiser, Dinkey Lakes, John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses. Day-use in wilderness does not require a permit. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee for each person for all trails. There is a $10 charge for any changes to a confirmed reservation. For trips exiting at Mt. Whitney there is a $15 fee. Reservations can be made up to one-year in advance. First come, first serve permits are free of charge and may be obtained in person 24 hours prior to the start of your trip.

Only everyone's effort will preserve the beauty and solitude of the Wilderness experience. Please do your part and abide by the following:

  • Maximum group size is 15 people.
  • Camp at least 100 feet from stream banks, and lakeshores.
  • Do not shortcut switchbacks.
  • Keep soaps and detergents (including biodegradable ones) out of lakes and streams.
  • Treat stream or lake water before using. Boil at least 5 minutes to remove harmful organisms.
  • Bury all human waste and toilet paper 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 100 feet from water where runoff won't carry contamination into lakes or streams.
  • Use gas stoves in the high country. Do not use wood from live or dead standing trees.
  • Pack out all your trash.

For further information on regulations, permits, and conditions for the John Muir, Ansel Adams, Dinkey, and Kaiser Wilderness areas contact:

High Sierra Ranger District
Post Office Box 559
Prather, CA 93651
(559) 855-5360 TDD (559) 855-5367

For information on permits, regulations and conditions in the Ansel Adams Wilderness area north of the San Joaquin River contact:

Bass Lake Ranger District
57003 Road 225
North Fork, CA 93643

Wilderness permits are also required for commercial services. Click here for more information.