An Urbanite’s Guide to Going Wild!

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

flickr, USFS Region 5

The number of Americans now living in or around cities has reached an all-time high.

Over 250 million, 75% of the total population, are residing in areas where wild spaces just don't exist.

At the same time, our individual and societal need for wilderness has never been greater. So how do those of us who are accustomed to traffic, noise and bright lights manage to escape into our shared, wide open places? Whether you have only a few hours to spare or several days, it is a worthwhile journey to visit one of the many inviting landscapes that The Wilderness Society works to protect for you. Not only will you benefit physically, emotionally, and socially, but you will also be supporting a valuable economic resource as well.

Here are some ideas on how to locate all the adventures that are available in your area:

  1. Open Spaces. While we all enjoy a picnic in the park, you may be unaware that you can take it a step further by seeking out “open space” near your city which can also be visited free of cost. Contact your local parks and recreation office to learn about those in your area.
  2. State Parks. There may also be state parks within driving distance. These are great places to enjoy numerous recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, camping, fishing, boating, horseback riding or swimming.
  3. National Forests. If recreation is what you are seeking, you should also look into national forests in your area (note that some areas charge fees for cabin rentals or hunting permits, for example). If you are a water lover, you may also want to know about wild and scenic rivers nearby. And perhaps you can take a National Scenic Byway on your way out of town.
  4. National Parks. We’ve all seen breathtaking photos of American gems like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, but did you know there are almost 400 areas in the national park system covering every state and U.S. province (except Delaware)? These areas include parks as well as monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, and scenic rivers and trails. In many ways these are our legacies, so you deserve to participate in them.
  5. Wildlife Refuges. If you are an animal lover, you may also wish to visit a wildlife refuge. These are great places to get some amazing photographs while contributing to the conservation of species. There is a wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major cities and at least one in every state.
  6. National Landscape Conservation System. If you happen to live in a western state, you are probably already aware that you are fortunate to be near awe-inspiring landscapes. But you may not know of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System, which includes millions of acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands.  These deserts, coasts, canyons, and cultural sites are part of what make these states such wonderful places for all Americans to visit, so if you are a local, take advantage of your proximity to these treasures!
  7. Local Resources. In your search for more journeys into wilderness, be sure to utilize local resources as well: visitor’s centers, libraries, and retail stores that specialize in outdoor equipment. It is likely that experts in your city already know of the spots that are the most convenient, the least crowded and the most rewarding.