The wilderness of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks protects one of America's most superlative scenic landscapes. An extraordinary continuum of ecosystems is arrayed along the greatest vertical relief (1,370 to 14,505 feet in elevation) of any protected area in the lower 48 states. Magnificent glacial canyons, broad lake basins, lush meadows, and sheer granite peaks--hallmarks of the most rugged portion of the High Sierra--form the core of the largest expanse of contiguous wilderness in California, which is visited and valued by people from around the world.
In September of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which made the preservation and protection of wild places a national priority. As a result of that act and subsequent state and federal legislation, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks currently protect over 808,000 acres of designated wilderness in addition to 29,500 acres of proposed wilderness.
What is Wilderness?
Wilderness is untrammeled.
The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as those lands where "...the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." A trammel is a shackle, or net, used to restrain and restrict movement. Land that is untrammeled, as described by the act, is unhindered, free from the manipulation of humankind.
Wilderness is natural.
Wilderness retains its "...primeval character and influence...[and is] protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions," according to the act. From the oak woodlands of the foothills to the stark granite of the Sierra Crest, the park wilderness is managed to maintain its natural ecology. The vast glacial canyons you see today are much the same as they were hundreds of years ago.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks conduct some projects in wilderness to restore the natural environment in areas where it has been negatively affected by human activities. Currently, the parks are involved in projects to eradicate invasive plant species, restore the endangered yellow-legged frog, and preserve the population of the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, among others.
Wilderness is undeveloped.
Wilderness is further defined as "...an area of undeveloped Federal land...without permanent improvements or human habitation." In the wilderness of these parks you will find large tracts of land where even rudimentary trails are nonexistent and the only evidence of humans is the occasional boot print or arrowhead.
However, some developments are necessary for park operations, visitor enjoyment, and safety. Hike along the John Muir Trail and you will find well-established trails, signs, and bridges. You might come across one of our ranger stations, which house our wilderness rangers during the busy summer season.
Wilderness offers outstanding opportunities for solitude.
Wilderness "...has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation." There are many ways to experience the parks' wilderness. Some visitors enjoy the social aspects of a more populated trail such as the High Sierrra Trail or the Rae Lakes Loop. Others seek a more solitary experience, one where they don't see or hear another person for days at a time.
The Wilderness Act does more than establish protected lands. In what is perhaps the act's most vital accomplishment, it articulates a philosophy of wilderness that emphasizes not only a responsibility for environmental preservation, but also the importance of wilderness to the well-being of our nation's citizens.
Wilderness is a balancing act.
The park manages wilderness with two priorities in mind: the use and enjoyment of the American people, and the preservation of the natural environment. In order to steward the diverse ecosystem of the Sierra Nevada, the parks seek to preserve wilderness character, which is a combination of the four qualities mentioned above: Wilderness is untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, and offers outstanding opportunities for solitude.
Park stewards face a difficult task. They must consider all four qualities of wilderness character when making decisions about park operations in wilderness. In an effort to enhance one aspect of wilderness character, they may impact another. For example, a project that enhances the 'natural' aspect of the wilderness, such as eradication of invasive plant species, also affects its 'untrammeled' quality; while the project restores the natural ecosystem, it also manipulates the existing environment.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks published their Wilderness Stewardship Plan in May of 2015. It describes management policies and priorities for the parks and, in its 1,500 pages, gives excellent examples of the complexities of wilderness stewardship.
The Wilderness Legacy
Wilderness is here to stay.
The wilderness of these parks is part of a national legacy of wilderness stewardship. These lands belong to each of us, and are preserved an protected to ensure their presence in perpetuity for our descendants. They are our refuge, our privilege, and most importantly, our responsibility.
CONTACT THE PARK WILDERNESS OFFICE
Phone (559) 565-3766 or e-mail us
BECOME A WILDERNESS STEWARD
Learn more about wilderness stewardship from the National Park Service and partnering organizations.
EXPLORE ONLINE, MAKE YOUR OWN MAPS
Looking for detailed maps? Use the Sequoia & Kings Canyon Park Atlas to create custom maps based on GIS data. Start with basemaps that show topography and trails, then choose layers to add. Layers for backpackers include popular routes, food-storage boxes, ranger stations, and designated campsites. When you're done, print a paper copy or save a digital copy.
Last updated: September 29, 2020