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Wilderness Overview

The Indian Peaks Wilderness and James Peak Wilderness areas span the Continental Divide with rugged granite peaks, glacially carved valleys and glistening alpine lakes.

The Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness Areas are located in the Front Range, a short 45 minute drive from Boulder and Denver, Colorado. Popular among locals and visitors alike, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and James Peak Wilderness areas are among the most heavily used wilderness areas in the U.S., seeing over 150,000 visitors each season. 


The Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas are situated within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests with elevation ranges from 8,400 to over 13,500 feet, which includes montane, sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems.

Quick links

Indian Peaks Wilderness Info Button
James Peak Wilderness Info button

What is Wilderness?

Wilderness is a type of protection (as defined in the 1964 Wilderness Act) given to the most pristine wildlands - areas within national parks, forests, recreation areas and other wildlands - where there are no roads or development.  


It is important to acknowledge that lands included in what is now designated as wilderness and public lands are the ancestral home of Native Americans who were massacred or forcibly removed. Please see our Native Land Acknowledgment page for more information. 

  • The U.S. was the first country in the world to designate wilderness through law.

  • With the signing of the Wilderness Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964, the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) was established to “…secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

  • Since then, Congress has designated nearly 110 million acres of official wilderness. Less than 3% of the land in the continental U.S. is designated wilderness. 

  • A designated wilderness area receives the government’s highest level of land protection.

To learn more, visit the WildernessConnect website and read the full 1964 Wilderness Act

Wilderness in the Context of Public Lands

What are Public Lands?

Public land in the U.S. refers to the local, state and federal lands managed for the people.​​ 

  • There are currently 623 million acres of public lands, including some of the most stunning places on Earth – Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and our own Rocky Mountains!

  • The agencies that oversee our public lands do not own these places – they are managers and stewards responsible to the American people – including those not yet born. Four federal agencies manage public lands:

    • Bureau of Land Management

    • National Park Service

    • Fish & Wildlife Service

    • Forest Service

  • In Colorado, nearly 68% of Forests are managed by the Federal Government. USFS manages 47% or 11.3 million acres, BLM manages 17% or 4.2 million acres. Nearly 30% of Colorado Forests owned by private land owners.

  • Each year, we celebrate National Public Lands Day (mid September) and Colorado Public Lands Day (mid May). To learn more about Public Lands, What makes "Public Lands" public? Check out the REI article Your Guide to Understanding Public Lands

  • How does wilderness fit into Public Lands?

    A designated wilderness area receives the government’s highest level of land protection and becomes part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). The Wilderness Act created National Wilderness Preservation System and established the criteria and process for permanently protecting undeveloped areas in our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, which may be managed across agencies.


    • No road, dams, other permanent structures

    • No timber cutting

    • No use of motorized equipment, motor vehicles, or other forms of mechanical transport


    • Approved by Congress

    • Generally started as a local grass roots effort (including both Congressman and Senators)

    USFS Wilderness Management​

    Map of U.S. Forest Service Region 2 Rocky Mountain Region states.

    The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manages the Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas. The USFS also manages national forests and wilderness areas across the entire country. The USFS divides the country into 9 specific regions.  Colorado is located within Region 2.


    The Rocky Mountain Region (Region 2) is the home of:

    • 11 National Forest and Grassland units

    • 40 million acres

    • 48 wilderness areas

    • 5.8 million acres of wilderness

    • 4,500 miles of trail in wilderness

    Colorado Wilderness Areas


    There are over 3.5 million acres of federally protected wilderness contained within 41 separate wilderness areas in Colorado. The Weminuche Wilderness in southwest Colorado is the largest wilderness area in the state at ~ 480,000 acres. The Platte River Wilderness is the  smallest wilderness in the state at ~ 750 acres. The Indian Peaks Wilderness is 73,391 acres, while the James Peak Wilderness is 17,084 acres. For comparison, a football field is about 1.3 acres in size. 

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