Wilderness Information

We are proud that the Monongahela National Forest has eight Wildernesses totaling over 115,000 acres designated under the NWPS. Since these areas were once in private ownership and exploited for their timber resources at one time, it is our privilege to oversee their return to natural conditions. 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. In 2009, three new Wilderness Areas were designated and three existing areas were expanded. The new areas are Big Draft, Roaring Plains West, and Spice Run. Cranberry, Dolly Sods, and Otter Creek all were expanded.
 

WHAT IS A WILDERNESS?
 

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 so as to preserve its natural conditions…” The Wilderness Act, 1964.

IS WILDERNESS FOR YOU?

The Forest manages wilderness to offer visitors challenge, discovery, and self-reliance. We believe that these are the key to the “wilderness experience”. We therefore manage these areas for the protection of the resource, not for visitor comfort or convenience. This enables you to meet nature on its terms, not modify it to suit your own. If you choose to enter one of our Wilderness areas, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Motorized and mechanical equipment, including but not limited to chainsaws, mountain bikes, and deer carts, are not permitted within the wilderness.
  • Horses and other stock are permitted, but most of our wilderness trails are steep, rocky, and/or boggy and are not conducive to stock use. In some places, they are narrow footpaths, especially in areas that have rerouted around obstacles. In these conditions, heavy stock animals create a lot of damage to soft soils or can harm themselves on the rocks. They are difficult to maneuver in narrow places when meeting other visitors. There are also very few places that provide sufficient forage for stock. We suggest hiking in the Wilderness areas and riding in other places on the Forest.
  • Trails are not marked or blazed. 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. In order to enhance wildness, any obstacle that can be stepped over, ducked under, or walked around without unacceptable damage to the environment or reasonable risk to safety is left in place. This allows the natural processes of the wilderness to continue with little impairment and creates a wilder, more natural appearance. .Plan ahead. Have a map before you come; they are not stocked at trailheads. Topographic maps are more useful than simple line-drawn maps. A compass should be considered a necessity. 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

We strongly encourage Leave No Trace hiking and camping techniques. These will help protect the naturalness and solitude that these areas were designated for. Things you need to know in addition to the 7 Leave No Trace Principles are:

  • Maximum group size for all Monongahela National Forest Wilderness areas is 10 people.
  • 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. 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 of them. No new rings should be built. You should plan on bringing a small, backpacker-type stove for all your cooking needs.
  • All the wildernesses on the 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 (with the exception of bear hunting in Cranberry Wilderness). During these times, all visitors should wear blaze orange for their own protection. If you are hunting, please make sure you are aware of all applicable WV State laws on use of your firearms. Remember that hunting is not allowed on Sundays even during regular hunting seasons (except that raccoon hunting may occur until 5:00 am on Sunday during the appropriate season). Therefore carrying a rifle into the woods on Sunday is not permitted. Use of small firearms for hunting is also regulated; make sure you know what is legal before you come. Target shooting or any kind of firearms practice is not appropriate in Wilderness areas. We recommend leaving firearms at home if you are not hunting.

For more information on Monongahela National Forest Designated Wilderness Areas, click below on your area of interest.