Does your vacation include wilderness? Our tips for great wild areas near 17 major U.S. cities

Los Angeles is only a half hour drive from the wild San Gabriel Mountains

flickr, USFS Region 5

Planning a vacation this summer? Be sure to pen in some time for Wilderness during your travels!

Whether you intend to visit a major city, or you live in one and are looking for a quick weekend trip, a visit to Wilderness is often nearby.

Here are some wild destinations that are just a short drive from some of America's major cities. When visiting these places, don't forget to take care of the places you see by using leave no trace principles

1. Atlanta: Blood Mountain Wilderness (2 hours drive)

Photo: UGArdenerflickr

Named for battles waged between Creek and Cherokee Indians, this mountainous area also boasts waterfalls in its Desoto Falls Scenic Area. It contains the most heavily used section of the Appalachian Trail and part of The Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail. Be sure to take proper precautions as black bears are very common in the area.

2. Boston: Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (2 hours drive)


Photo: USFWS-Northeastflickr

A perfect habitat for migrating birds, this area features sand dunes, salt marshes and mudflats. In additiono birds like herons, swans and the endangered piping plover, hundreds of gray and harbor seals call this place home for part of the year. Although camping is not permitted, boating is a popular way to explore these islands.

Watch a video on tern restoration at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge:

3. Denver: Mount Evans Wilderness (1.5 to 2 hours drive)

Photo: wallygflickr

Mount Evans is Denver's nearest fourteener - a peaks over 14,000 feet high - and the most popular. Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the highest paved road on the continent, crosses through the center of this Wilderness. In addition to glacial lakes, it contains regions of arctic tundra ecosystems, which are rare south of the Arctic Circle. 

4. Houston: Little Lake Creek Wilderness (1 to 1.5 hours)


Photo: bgv23flickr

Despite a history of logging, hardwood pines shade this region of the Sam Houston National Forest. While hunters enjoy deer sightings, and some can spot the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, campers should be aware that ticks and mosquitoes are also prevalent.      

5. Las Vegas: La Madre Mountain Wilderness or Rainbow Mountain Wilderness (1 hours drive)

Photo: ChrisBarnsflickr

La Madre Mountain Wilderness' geology is one of a kind: sandstone formations (pictured above), gray limestone cliffs, steep canyons and mountain peaks. The neighboring Rainbow Mountain Wilderness is smaller but just as stunning, with diverse plants and animals. Vegas may be world-renowed for its entertainment, but these wild places boasts a geological formation internationally recognized as the finest example of a thrust fault.                                             

6. Los Angeles: San Gabriel Wilderness (.5 to 1 hour drive)


Photo: RennettStoweflickr

It may come as a pleasant surprise that this bustling metropolis is so close to the wild wonders of the San Gabriel Mountains. Due to year-round risk of fire, wood fires are prohibited in this area, but you can use backpacking stove to fry up any fish you catch in its wild waters.

Watch author Cornelia Funke describe what this wilderness means to her:


7. Miami: Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness (1.5 hours drive)

Photo: MiguelVieiraflickr

This destination in Everglades National Park is a haven for water and wildlife lovers. Rent a boat to float along the Wilderness Waterway and view a variety of Caribbean wildlife, including alligators, fish, bottle-nosed dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, manatees, flamingos and hundreds of other colorful birds. This fragile landscape can also be explored via one of the foot trails perfect for a quick day hike.

8. New Orleans: Breton Wilderness (.5 to 1 hour drive)

Photo: USFWS-Southeastflickr

Part of Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge's long chain of barrier islands, these two islands are located off the delta of the great Mississippi River, creating a maze of ponds and saltwater marshes on the sandy beaches of the Gulf. Many seabirds, including endangered brown pelicans (pictured above), use these islands as nesting and wintering habitat. While bird watching and surf fishing are popular, camping is not allowed.

9. New York City: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness (.5 to 1 hour drive)

Photo: Billtacular (1)flickr

The southern tip of the prehistoric Wisconsin glacier lies in northern New Jersey, where extensive wetlands provide habitat for otters, foxes, white-tailed deer. hundreds of migratory birds, rare bog turtles, blue-spotted salamanders, and more. Escape from the nearby city for a few hours to explore trails by day, but don't plan on picnicking or camping. 

10. Orlando: Lake Woodruff Wilderness and Alexander Springs Wilderness (1 to 1.5 hours drive)

Photo: Lance Kochflickr

Lake Woodruff Wilderness, part of a National Wildlife Refuge, is a migratory bird habitat with timbered swamps, freshwater marshes, lakes, and streams, and abundant wildlife, including black bears, armadillos, otters, unusually long alligators and manatees (in May and June). Visitors can walk along several levees but there are no roads or trails so most access by boat and many fish. The Alexander Springs Wilderness lies just across the river, another place for easy paddling through subtropical swamp. You can rent a canoe at Alexander Springs Recreation Area and paddle back upstream. There are no roads or trails here either but you may encounter motorboats.

11. Philadelphia: Brigantine Wilderness (.5 hours drive)

Photo: USFWSflickr

While you will have to wait until mid-July to access this trailless area through the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, it will be worth the wait if you are a bird lover. One of the most active flyways for migratory waterbirds on the continent, almost  300 species have been spotted here. The refuge is open during daylight hours, but there are prohibitions on camping, fires, horses, kite flying, swimming and even flower picking, so be mindful of regulations.

12. Phoenix: Superstition Wilderness (2 hours drive)

Photo: deborah.solteszflickr

This Wilderness may be one of the hottest in summer, but if you pack plenty of water you can take in breathtaking views of canyons, mountains and semidesert. While the Peralta Trail is one of the most heavily used in Arizona, the others are usually unoccupied. With a total of 180 miles of trails to venture upon, you may want to plan to stay overnight (but you can't stay longer than two weeks).

13. Portland: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness (1 to 1.5 hours drive)

Photo: James Perkins / OpalMirrorflickr

The Salmon River draws fishermen from all over the area to this dense rain forest of firs, cedar, and hemlock. The Salmon River National Recreation Trail also connects this Wilderness to a trail system of about 70 miles. The easily accessible Wildcat Mountain Trail is a five mile climb with panoramic views. You can expect solitude here despite its proximity to the popular Mt.Hood Wilderness (viewable above).

14. San Diego: Hauser Wilderness or Pine Creek Wilderness (1.5 to 2 hours drive)

Photo: ww_whistflickr

Hauser Wilderness(pictured above) hosts numerous birds including owls and golden eagles, as well as horned lizards, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. Beware mosquitoes, ticks and deerflies in summer. Other than the transecting Pacific Crest Trail, Hauser Creek Trail is the only route, following Hauser Canyon for four miles. Campfires are not permitted here, nor in nearby Pine Creek Wilderness, where most of the streams dry up in summer. Pine Creek is home to rainbow trout and bass, and on land you may coyotes, gray foxes or hawks. The mile-long Horsethief Trail travels down Horsethief Canyon to the waters of Pine Creek, one of several lightly used trails.

15. San Francisco: Phillip Burton Wilderness (1 hour drive)

Photo: BillIngersollflickr

About one-third of the Point Reyes National Seashore's rock-lined beaches have been designated as Phillip Burton Wilderness, a popular destination that remains cool in summer. More than 140 miles of trails by its tall cliffs and forested ridges offer chances to see more than 450 species of birds and 72 species of mammals, including seals. Be sure to stay on trails - away from stinging nettle and poison oak - and crumbling cliff edges. Ocean riptides can be dangerous as well, but you can find beaches for swimming in the chilly water in places not far from here. Overnight camping is allowed at four hike-in campgrounds.

Watch a video about this unique place:


16. Seattle: Alpine Lakes Wilderness (1 to 2 hours drive)

Photo: towoodyflickr

With over 700 lakes and mountain ponds (Eight Mile Lake is pictured above), it's no wonder this place can get crowded in summer, and that there is proposed legislation to expand this cherished area. The Cashmere Crags have some of the best rock-climbing sites in the western U.S. and 67 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) crosses through. You may need a permit to access some regions between June 15 and October 15. Dogs and campfires above 5,000 feet are prohibited. 

Watch a short video of a trail runner in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness:

Run and Play: The Alpine Lakes Wilderness from Luna Sandals on Vimeo.


17. Washington, D.C.: Shenandoah Wilderness (2 hours drive)

Photo: John F. Mitchellflickr

Almost half of Shenandoah National Park ​has been designated as Wilderness. About 175 miles of trails cross through, including a large section of the legendary Appalachian Trail. If you are looking for a true adventure, you can also camp here, or if you desire something more laid back, consider driving a portion of Skyline Drive for an afternoon.

For other areas not mentioned above, you can navigate this map to locate Wilderness areas across the country:

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