Yosemite Wilderness

A man stands on a rocky landscape with several small lakes nearby and peaks in the distance
Map of Yosemite National Park showing 94% designated as wilderness, excluding part of Yosemite Valley and alongside roads

Wilderness in Yosemite is a special place. It is the feeling of humility amidst the grandeur of granite walls, the challenge of a trail through a red fir forest, the independence in route finding through an alpine lake basin, and the connection to your family, friends, and those who came before you camping under the stars. It is also the diverse wildlife, plants, water, geology, and cultural history that makes up a majority of Yosemite and its most protected areas. It is a protection of land to be celebrated and explored.

When many of us think of wilderness, we may think of anything wild, from our backyards to local parks. Here, we celebrate the importance of legally designated wilderness, which may evoke some of the same feelings as places close to home but also have extra protections to keep them forever wild. Though humans have existed here for thousands of years, our presence and impact are not immediately obvious; nature itself remains the dominant force. Those who venture into the Yosemite Wilderness won’t find roads, buildings, or modern conveniences. Instead, they are likely to find inspiration, deep connections, and meaningful challenges. Whether you are visiting the park for a few hours and gazing to the top of Half Dome or travelling for days far from cars and roads—you are seeing Yosemite Wilderness!

The Wilderness Act was passed by Congress in 1964 as a conscious decision to manage and act with restraint and let the natural world dominate in these special places. It is meant to be different! Wilderness areas are designated by an act of Congress and provide the highest level of protection for some of the most unique and least manipulated land in the United States. The Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964 with guidelines for future additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). Twenty years later, Congress established the Yosemite Wilderness, which currently includes 704,028 acres (or 1,100 square miles—over 94% of the park) and 1,012 acres of potential wilderness. These potential wilderness additions include areas that had already been developed before 1984 and were non-conforming to designated wilderness such as water utility systems, roads, and High Sierra Camps.

Wilderness acreage cited is based on current acreages informed by GIS mapping technology, which may differ from older sources.

Explore more about the categories of wilderness.

Wilderness is protected for its intangible and tangible qualities:

  1. It is a protection of natural processes like the unique animals and their habitats of Yosemite like great gray owls, Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs and whitebark pines, vibrant night skies and vistas from the high country, and water quality. It's a spectacular research location for studying flora and fauna that is less manipulated by humans, a reservoir of all natural things that would be lost through modern development. These processes are important to be protected not only for species that call Yosemite home, but to all of us at our other homes as well—it impacts the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada, an important water source for the Central Valley, an agricultural hotspot growing as much as 25% of the food we eat in the United States!

  2. It provides for solitude and opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation, which offer challenge, a sense of awe, and unplugging from the technological world. The Yosemite Wilderness is not an island—it is surrounded by other wilderness managed by the US Forest Service to our north, south and east. Which creates some unique opportunities for large areas of protection, and long adventures to take along the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. Explore our website to learn more about backpacking opportunities, permits, regulations and trailheads,

  3. Indigenous peoples, including the seven traditionally associated tribes of Yosemite, have historic and ongoing relationships with living, travelling, and stewarding this place. Yosemite Indians were some of the first protectors of the lands now designated as wilderness, and other people joined to continue to research, manage and protect these lands with them.

  4. Wilderness areas are places where a conscious decision has been made by the American people to let nature prevail, to be unhindered or—as worded in the law—“untrammeled.” In wilderness, natural processes are the primary force acting upon the land, and the developments of modern technological society are substantially unnoticeable. For expanses as large as the Yosemite Wilderness this may include allowing lightning fires to burn, moving trails out of meadows for hydrologic flow and floods or allowing the natural wildlife cycles of life and death to carry on with minimal interference.

  5. It is undeveloped by modern technologies and impact—including roads, buildings, structures or utilities. This lack of things provides for many, more places where we are awed and humbled by vast landscapes and powerful natural forces, places where we can connect—to the earth, to each other, and to ourselves.

The opportunities for exploring wilderness are as diverse as the landscapes these places protect. From hiking, backpacking, rock climbing and horseback riding to journaling, painting, and photography, there are ample ways for pleasure, inspiration, and adventure in Yosemite Wilderness. However you visit, it's important to be a steward and take of these special places. Familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace and start planning your next trip!

Wilderness is an enduring resource, and all our responsibility to learn about and protect. Take a deeper dive into the many other areas of National Park Service wilderness.


Last updated: July 8, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info



Contact Us