Public beaches can sometimes be crowded, noisy places. But beaches in wilderness areas can be incredibly peaceful.
Our list of America’s 15 best wild beaches includes a few surprises - an area very recently protected, one that is proposed to be, and even one that is in the middle of the continent! Read on to find out more about the spectacular beaches that some of our treasured wild lands boast.
This map shows the 15 best wild beaches described below:
1. Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
America’s most newly designated wilderness area was once named Good Morning America's “Most Beautiful Place in America.” With 65 miles of shoreline, Sleeping Bear’s towering dunes are what make it most noteworthy. Visitors can hike 3.5 miles up its sand bluffs to overlooks about 400 feet above Lake Michigan.
photo credit: Flickr, mic stolz.
2. Olympic Wilderness in Olympic National Park, Washington
It’s an easy 3-mile hike to Shi Shi Beach, where at low tide you can find some of the best tidepools on Earth. Neon pink and chartreuse sea anemones and bright orange seastars color the sand while the horizon is replete with sea stacks housed by seabirds. This is actually a popular place for camping in summer.
photo: seastar on Shi Shi Beach. credit: Flickr, Martin Bravenboer.
3. Phillip Burton Wilderness in Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Visitors to Point Reyes often venture to North Beach or Drakes Beach, but the grassy dunes at Limantour Beach lead to a quieter stretch of sand that extends to an estuary rich with birds and harbor seals.
photo: Alamere Falls at Point Reyes National Seashore. credit: Flickr, Andrew Mace.
4. Channel Islands Proposed Wilderness in Channel Islands National Park, California
In the hour it takes to cross the Santa Barbara Channel to Santa Cruz Island, you will forget all the chaos of the city. Scorpion Anchorage offers snorkeling through kelp forests, kayaking past dark cliffs and sea caves, and hiking to high bluffs with breathtaking ocean views at Delphine’s Grove. Please help us protect this paradise!
photo: Scorpion Anchorage. credit: Flickr, Betsy Dorsett.
5. Gaylord Nelson Wilderness in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s largest Wilderness makes up 80% of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Cliffs of colorful sandstone form sea caves, which become a winter wonderland of ice caves in the cold season. Diverse sandscapes are among the most pristine left in the Great Lakes region. It was named for Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day.
photo: view from inside an Apostle Islands ice cave. credit: Flickr, Sweet Alize.
6. Gulf Islands Wilderness in Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida and Mississippi
These fragile barrier islands stretch 150 miles from West Ship Island in Mississippi to Santa Rosa Island in Florida. Its white sand and maritime forest are home to shore birds, while the Atlantic bottle nose dolphin is visible in surrounding waters. Surf fishing is first-rate, and visitors also enjoy kayaking and sailing.
photo credit: Flickr, Steven Martin.
7. Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness in Fire Island National Seashore, New York
Mere miles from New York City, summer swimmers bask on white beaches bordering the Atlantic. The wilderness area does not include oceanfront beaches but visitors will find incredible scenic views, birds and fish in those on the mainland side of the island.
photo credit: Flickr, Andrew Mace.
8. Cumberland Island Wilderness in Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
Glistening white beaches with sand dunes, freshwater lakes and saltwater marshes fill this 16-mile-long island, the northern portion of which is designated Wilderness. Visitors can access the beach at designated dune crossings. Wildlife include alligators, loggerhead turtles and pelicans, as well as many fish that make this a prime place for surf fishing.
photo: Cumberland Island Salt Marsh. credit: Flickr, Trish Hartmann.
9. Beaver Basin Wilderness in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Towering 50 to 200 feet above Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks’ sandstone cliffs are streaked with colorful minerals. The North Country National Scenic Trail extends along Beaver Basin’s 13-mile lakeshore. Cobbled Miners Beach is a great place for steelhead fishing and Twelvemile Beach for long walks across the sand.
photo credit: Flickr, James Marvin Phelps.
10. Great Sand Dunes Wilderness in Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Those of you wondering how a place in Colorado made it onto this list are in for a surprise. What this Wilderness lacks in an ocean or lake it makes up for with mountain vistas and the tallest dunes in North America. In spring, snowmelt from neighboring peaks trickles down into the Great Sand Dunes' valley, forming a creek where visitors splash and skimboard.
photo credit: Flickr, NPS Photo.
11. Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, Michigan
Waves of water and time-sculpted sand can be found at Nordhouse Dunes, the only designated Wilderness on Michigan's Lower Peninsula. For the best views of its 140-foot dunes, hike the one-and-a-half-mile Nordhouse Dunes Trail.
photo credit: Flickr, heathzib.
12. Blackbeard Island Wilderness in Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
The Notorious "Blackbeard" may or may not have buried his wealth here, but one thing’s for certain - there’s a plethora of treasure at the island named for him. Fifty acres of white sandy beaches neighbor groves where lush Spanish moss hangs from trees. Sand dunes separate numerous ponds where waterfowl and migratory birds nest. The resident loggerhead turtle is only one of a handful of endangered and threatened species that call this beach home.
photo credit: Flickr, USFWS/Molly Martin.
13. King Range Wilderness and Rocks and Islands Wilderness, California
Two neighboring wild lands protect the wildest part of the California coast. King Range is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower 48 states, and the California Coastal Trail traverses its full length. In 2000, offshore Rocks and Islands was designated as California Coast National Monument, among the most viewed but least recognized of our national monuments. A diverse ecosystem is home to many species at risk, including California brown pelicans, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, northern spotted owls, Steller sea lions and elephant seals.
photo credit: Mason Cummings.
14. Cape Romain Wilderness in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina
Cape Romain protects 22 miles of open water, sandy beaches, and saltwater marshes. It hosts tens of thousands of colorful sea birds as well as red wolves, one of the most endangered animals in the world today. At night, Loggerhead sea turtles lay eggs on these beaches - more than anywhere else in the state. Although overnight camping isn’t allowed, sea kayaking is an ideal way to make the most of your visit. You may also collect a small bag of incredible shells.
photo credit: Flickr, Frank Kehren.
15. Monomoy Wilderness in Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts
Migratory birds find sanctuary on Monomoy’s islands, most of which is designated Wilderness. Ten miles of sand dunes can reach up to 100 feet in height on the eastern shore. In summer, boaters and fishers arrive in large numbers, and in winter hundreds of gray and harbor seals find refuge on a much quieter coast.
photo: seals at Monomoy. credit: Flickr, SUESS.