Wilderness Areas

Area Status: Open
Silouette of a howling wolf with moon in background & Wilderness America's Enduring Resource

The seven wilderness areas offer primitive backcountry recreation in non-motorized areas of the forest. Totaling about 10% of the forest, or 30,000 acres, the wildernesses contain some of the most beautiful but rugged and remote areas of the forest. No permits are required to enter or camp in designated wilderness, but there are special restriction for these areas (see below).

Obtaining detailed trail maps is highly recommended before entering wilderness as well as proper planning and precautions before and during your visit. The information and links on this page will help make your wilderness visit a safe and fun experience.

Wilderness Area Vicinity Map

Wilderness Information

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Stock use closure is currently in effect for Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek and Bay Creek wildernesses. Dates and details of closure.
Operational Hours: Open year round wilderness areas offer opportunitites for exploration and discovering for visitors seeking a primitive and non-motorized recreation experience. Most wilderness offer small trailhead parking areas that allow overnight parking. 
Reservations: No reservations are required.
Rentals & Guides: Current list of permitted Outfitter/Guides
Area Amenities: Tent camping, Toilets
Permit Info: No permits are required.
  • Mechanical and motorized vehicles and equipment are prohibited within wilderness.
  • In popular areas, use existing, established camp areas away from trails, water and bluff tops to lessen your camping impacts.
  • Pack-it-in, pack-it-out. Don’t burn your trash. Bury solid human waste in a cathole 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from campsites, trails and water sources. 
  • Special Restrictions apply to Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek and Bay Creek wildernesses:
  • Group size limited to 10.
  • Riding or leading stock animals off designated trails.
  • Wet-weather stock us closure.
  • No camping with stock animals.
  • Riding, hitching, etc. of stock animals in designated closed areas or more than 25 feet off designated trails.
  • Opt not to build campfires and enjoy nature’s nighttime sights and sounds.
  • If you must build a campfire, lessen the impacts by using existing fire rings and only dead and down firewood.
  • Special restrictions apply within designated Natural Areas. Designated natural areas exist in five wildernesses. Natural area boundaries are marked on the ground with yellow posts.
Information Center: Forest Headquarters (618) 253-7114

General Information


See individual wilderness webpages for driving directions to wilderness trailheads. In the right side-bar click on Find An Area then Wilderness Areas.


Overnight parking allowed at wilderness trailheads. Most trailheads are gravel some are dirt surface. Some are large enough to accommodate stock trailers. Some trailheads have vault toilets. See individual wilderness webpages for more details and directions to the trailheads.

General Notes:

Camping in Designated Wilderness:  
Primitive camping is free and allowed ¼ mile outside campgrounds and picnic areas. Campers may camp up to 14-days continuous stay, but no permanent structures may be built. Camping is not allowed in the 80 designated natural areas or within 150 feet of lakes and streams or near trails. Equestrian camping is not allowed in designated Wilderness. No permit is required for camping in wilderness.

Primitive Camping Rules:

  • Don’t trespass on private land.
  • Do not cut down live trees, shrubs or other vegetation.
  • Camp at least 150 feet from any water source.
  • Pack out your garbage.
  • Burn dead and down trees only.
  • Make sure campfires are completely out.

Trail Maps:
Detailed trail maps for each side of the forest are sold through Friends of the Shawnee nonprofit. To order online go to the Friends of the Shawnee's Store.  You can also purchase the trail maps at one of our three offices located in Harrisburg, Vienna or Jonesboro. Click here for hours of operation.

Be aware wilderness areas are remote areas where you could face inherent risks of adverse weather conditions, isolation, physical hazards, and lack of rapid communications. Search and rescue may not be as rapid as expected. 
In case of emergency call 911.


Dispersed Camping

Areas for Dispersed Camping at Wilderness Areas

River and Stream Fishing

Areas for River and Stream Fishing at Wilderness Areas

Small Game Hunting

Areas for Small Game Hunting at Wilderness Areas

Viewing Wildlife

Areas for Viewing Wildlife at Wilderness Areas

Viewing Scenery

Areas for Viewing Scenery at Wilderness Areas


Toilets: Some trailheads have vault toilets

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities

Featured Events