Big Bend view
Approximately 2/3 of Big Bend National Park is recommended Wilderness.

Defining Federal Wilderness

The 1964 Wilderness Act passed Congress overwhelmingly. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson of Texas, it is one of the most eloquent laws ever written, lyrically defining wilderness and why it is crucial to protect it

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The land must be free of modern developments, retain its primeval character, and have outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation. Such areas are to be “devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.”

We hear sometimes that wilderness “locks up” public land. Not so. The law requires that the land will be for the “use and enjoyment of the American people.”

Motorized vehicles and mechanical equipment are prohibited in wilderness, but trails, primitive campsites, and human-powered, non-mechanized travel are allowed.


Protecting Wilderness at Big Bend Remains Unfinished Business

In 1978 the National Park Service completed a multi-year Big Bend wilderness study which resulted in a recommendation to Congress that 538,250 acres of the park be designated as wilderness and 44,750 acres be identified as potential wilderness. Congress has yet to act on the recommendation, and only Congress can make those protections permanent.

Today, approximately 2/3 of Big Bend National Park is recommended, potential, or eligible for wilderness designation. Pursuant to the Wilderness Act of 1964, and in accordance with National Park Service Management Policies those lands are managed as wilderness, so as to preserve their wilderness character.


Wilderness Designation at Big Bend Would Assure Things Remain As They Are Today

All existing developments and public roads, and the entire Rio Grande, are outside of the recommended wilderness areas, assuring that Big Bend visitors will still be able to drive the roads, stay overnight at the Lodge, or a drive-in campsite, and float the Rio Grande as they do today. Park management is committed to maintaining and improving infrastructure in the already developed areas. Trails and primitive campsites are important parts of Wilderness. Border security operations would also not be affected.

Since 1964, every president has signed laws creating new wilderness areas. National parks such as Death Valley, Everglades, Yosemite, and even Guadalupe Mountains here in Texas have substantial acreage protected as federal wilderness. Why not Big Bend?


NPS Policy Links

To support the mandates of the Wilderness Act, the NPS developed specific policy to address wilderness management and stewardship. NPS Management Policies 2006, Chapter 6 and Director's Order 41 (2013), which are updated on a periodic basis, help managers understand why wilderness is important and how they can manage these areas most effectively.

Reference Manual 41 expands on this wilderness policy by listing relevant legislation, regulations, other instructions or requirements issued through policy, as well as examples, illustrations, recommended practices, forms, etc. This dynamic list of guidance documents is added to and updated as needed.

Big Bend Superintendent's Order #31: Wilderness Management



Wilderness Eligibility for the North Rosillos area of Big Bend

North Rosillos Found Elibible for Wilderness Designation
NPS News Release 2/3/23

North Rosillos Wilderness Eligibility Assessment
July, 2022


Discover Big Bend's Wild Places

Last updated: January 23, 2024

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PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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