Mention Officially Designated Wilderness, and How Many Folks Think of Shenandoah National Park?

Forty percent of Shenandoah National Park is officially designated wilderness. NPS photo from Big Run Overlook.

When talk turns to officially designated wilderness, how much of the conversation swings on eastern parks such as Shenandoah National Park?

Surprisingly, in light of the park's setting so close to Washington, D.C., 40 percent of the park's 197,439 acres are officially designated wilderness! You can help the park celebrate that wilderness during its 9th annual Wilderness Weekend come October 17 - 18. This year marks the 33rd anniversary of Shenandoah’s wilderness designation. You can enjoy that wilderness by viewing it from Skyline Drive, hiking a wilderness trail, joining a ranger program, completing the new Wilderness Explorer Ranger Activity Guide, or exploring a visitor center exhibit.

Wilderness Weekend is a partnership between Shenandoah National Park, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and the Shenandoah National Park Association. PATC volunteers will be at several overlooks along Skyline Drive to share information about Shenandoah’s wilderness with visitors enjoying the park’s fall foliage.

Two special events will take place at Byrd Visitor Center, milepost 51 on Skyline Drive. The first event will be a traditional tool display and demonstration from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day. Shenandoah National Park Trail Crews and PATC volunteers will share their expertise in the traditional tools used to maintain trails in wilderness. Visitors will be able to try their hands at using these tools and gain insight on the important role trail maintenance plays in protecting wilderness for future generations. The second event will be 20-minute ranger programs held at 11:30 and 2:30 each day. These programs will explore the history and values of Shenandoah’s wilderness.

Junior Rangers of all ages are invited to explore wilderness using the recently published Wilderness Explorer Ranger Activity Guide, The Wild Side of Shenandoah. This activity guide, part of an advanced Junior Ranger series, leads visitors through a series of activities that explore the meaning and significance of Shenandoah’s wilderness. One activity puts the participant in the role of a wilderness ranger to decide how to protect wilderness while keeping trails open for hikers. Activity guides are available for free at Byrd Visitor Center (milepost 51) and Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6).

Visitors are encouraged to stop by park visitor centers for more opportunities to learn about Shenandoah’s wilderness through exhibits and films. The highly interactive exhibit at Byrd Visitor Center, Within a Day’s Drive of Millions, tells the story of Shenandoah’s establishment and touches on the significance of wilderness designation. Visitors can explore the history and meaning of wilderness through a computer touch screen exhibit, The Spirit of Wilderness. A newly released film narrated by Christopher Reeves, American Values: American Wilderness, will be available for viewing on request.

Shenandoah’s wilderness was designated by Congress in October 1976. Those nearly 80,000 acres represent one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States. Areas preserved as wilderness provide sanctuaries for human recreation, habitat for wildlife, sites for research, and reservoirs for clean, free-flowing water. Today more than 109 million acres of public land are protected in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

For more information on Wilderness Weekend, contact Shenandoah National Park’s Education Office at 540-999-3500 ext. 3489. You also can find information about Shenandoah National Park and wilderness at the park’s website,


Fire Island National Seashore remains the only park in the northeast U.S. with wilderness. And, it's the only federal wilderness in the entire state of New York. Who would have thunk it!