California State Wildernesses

Henry W. Coe State Wilderness, Henry W. Coe State Park

Imagine a place of wonder and inspiration with no roads or vehicles for miles, where the sights, sounds and scents of nature reign. You might think of the word “wilderness” to describe such a place. In California State Parks, many of these special places are protected as California State Wildernesses.

Cuyamaca Mountain State Wilderness, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Sinkyone State Wilderness, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

The federal Wilderness Act defined wilderness 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.” Following the passage of the national Wilderness Act in 1964 to protect federal lands, some states passed their own legislation to protect state wild lands. The California Wilderness Preservation Act was passed in 1974.

Redwood Heritage State Wilderness, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

The California act created two initial state wilderness areas—the Santa Rosa Mountains State Wilderness in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness in Mount San Jacinto State Park. It allowed for creation of future State Wilderness areas either by the legislature or by the State Park and Recreation Commission.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Wilderness, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The California Wilderness Act begins with the following language: “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas on state-owned lands within California, leaving no areas designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the State of California to secure for present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”


Prairie Creek
Murrelet State Wilderness, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Today, there are twelve California State Wildernesses within state parks. They protect a diversity of landscapes from one end of the state to the other, including desert, mountain, forest, grassland, and rugged coastline—a total of almost 750 square miles.

California State Parks is proud to be part of this effort to preserve the wonder and inspiration of wilderness for now and for the future. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the federal Wilderness Act, which started it all. To learn more, visit