A hiker overlooking a rocky desert landscape

Established by the Wilderness Act of 1964, federally-designated wilderness is the highest level of legal protection for public lands. By law, wilderness is free from roads, buildings, mechanized equipment, and permanent human occupation. It is preserved for its wealth of values: ecological, scientific, recreational, historic, and cultural. These places are meant to be truly wild. A space reserved for wildlife to roam free. For nature to thrive on its own terms. For humans to unplug from civilization and experience solitude and connection to the natural world. Wilderness serves as a refuge to all.

Joshua Tree Wilderness

Visitors come to experience the many joys of wilderness. Taking a quiet walk through a woodland of Joshua trees. Looking out into a sea of granite boulders, cliffs, canyons, and domes, millions of years in the making. Hearing the cascading melody of a canyon wren. Smelling the creosote after a summer monsoon storm. Gazing into the dark night skies and seeing the milky way and deep space for the first time.

Experiences in wilderness provide us with inspiration, relaxation, adventure, and self-discovery. They link us to our roots in the natural world and help us understand the world around us. Humans have roamed these lands for thousands of years. The Serrano, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla, and Mohave Tribes were original stewards of the land on which Joshua Tree National Park now sits. They formed deep connections with the land and still do today. To learn more, visit the Traditionally Associated Tribes webpage or stop by the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms and explore the "universal threads" exhibits.

Wilderness Character

The NPS’s primary mandate for managing wilderness is the same across all federal lands: to preserve wilderness character. The holistic concept of wilderness character protects the biophysical environment, personal experiences, and the symbolic meanings of humility, restraint, and respect. The many benefits of wilderness are rooted in its character preservation. Wilderness areas should have five tangible qualities:

Two hikers traveling through a rocky desert environment

Natural: Ecological systems are substantially free from the effects of modern civilization and managed to preserve it's natural conditions.

Untrammeled: Ecological systems are unhindered and free from the intentional actions of modern human control or manipulation.

Undeveloped: Wilderness retains its primeval character and influence and is essentially without permanent improvements or human habitation.

Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation: Wilderness provides opportunities for visitors to find solitude and to challenge themselves with a primitive and unconfined type of recreation

Other Features of Value: Wilderness may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

Managing Wilderness

Joshua Tree National Park manages a total of 795,155 acres, or 1,242 square miles. Of the total area, nearly 84% is managed as wilderness. This includes 595,364 acres of "designated wilderness", 70,538 of "potential wilderness", and 402 acres of "proposed wilderness." Designated wilderness is managed in accordance with federal law and is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. For land to become designated wilderness, a Congressional act must signed into law by the President of the United States. Potential wilderness and proposed wilderness are managed to preserve their wilderness character according to NPS policy rather than federal law.

a map showing the wilderness areas of Joshua Tree National Park


1964 - The Wilderness Act becomes law, establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System.
1976 - Public Law 94-567 designated wilderness lands in 13 national parks and monuments. Joshua Tree National Monument had 429,690 acres (about 80% of the park) of wilderness created by this act.
1994 - The California Desert Protection Act changed Joshua Tree from a national monument to a national park. It also added 163,800 acres of designated wilderness and proposed wilderness.
2009 - The Omnibus Public Land Management Act (Pub.L. 111-11) granted the wilderness designation to approximately 36,700 acres of land that had previously been identified as potential wilderness.
2013 - Director's Order #41 supplements Management Policies 2006, Chapter 6, Wilderness Preservation and Management. Together with Reference Manual 41 (RM 41), this Order supersedes and replaces any conflicting guidance issued previously.


Experience Joshua Tree Wilderness


Learn More about Wilderness

  • Two people walking across white sand dunes
    America's Wilderness

    From Alaska to Florida, wilderness can be found in arid deserts, cypress swamps, alpine meadows, sandy beaches, and rocky crags.

  • a complex canyon system with clouds and blue sky in the background
    Wilderness Character

    The term "wilderness character" was first referenced in the 1964 Wilderness Act. Learn more about its characteristics.

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1 minute, 25 seconds

Wilderness Hiking at Joshua Tree National Park Video: NPS / Renata Harrison

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Wilderness Rock Climbing at Joshua Tree National Park NPS / Renata Harrison

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1 minute, 50 seconds

Wilderness Backpacking at Joshua Tree National Park Video: NPS / Renata Harrison


Last updated: April 1, 2024

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74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597


760 367-5500

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