NCOAE And The 20 Wilderness Areas You Have to See Before You Die

Office Admin

July 21, 2014

The Wilderness Society — which is way up there near the top of the list for conservation organizations working to protect our nation’s shared wildlands — recently released its list of 20 wilderness areas to see before you die.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the nation’s Wilderness Act, which protects more than 750 wildland areas for public enjoyment, the Wilderness Society came up with its own countdown of Top 20 wilderness areas that everyone should visit before they die.


(Joshua Tree National Park. credit: Flickr, The City Project)

And after reviewing this impressive bucket list of wilderness destinations, some of us here at the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) did the math and discovered that five of these wildland destinations just happen to be “classrooms” where we often operate some of our wilderness expeditions. That’s a whopping quarter of the list — 25 percent to be exact!

Below, we’ve listed the Wilderness Society’s 20 prime destinations and we’ve placed asterisks next to the locations where we operate our own wildland programs:

  • Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, Oregon
  • Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness, Florida
  • Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness, New Mexico
  • Joshua Tree Wilderness, California *
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Colorado
  • Zion Wilderness, Utah
  • Death Valley Wilderness, California
  • Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona
  • Hawaii Volcanoes Wilderness, Hawaii *
  • Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness, California *
  • Yosemite Wilderness, California
  • Olympic Wilderness, Washington
  • Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico
  • Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho
  • Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
  • Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado
  • Teton Wilderness, Wyoming *
  • Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
  • Mollie Beattie Wilderness, Alaska *

Lists are nice and orderly, but what we’d like to do here is present a pretty picture of our particular prime pristine public parkland properties:

Joshua Tree Wilderness, California: We’re running a custom course for a private California-based school’s 7th and 8th graders in Joshua Tree in October. What these youngsters can expect is an area of fascinating rock formations in an area that is the convergence of Colorado and the Mojave deserts where the Joshua tree thrives. Joshua Tree is also the hometown of five palm-shrouded oases that attract tarantulas, rattlesnakes, coyotes, jackrabbits, bobcats, kangaroo rats and burrowing owls. And at night, you can’t beat the stars.

Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness, California: We’re currently planning a fall 2015 course in this wilderness area, which runs the gamut of outdoor natural formations, ranging from high peaks to deep canyons, rich meadows to serene lakes, and wild rivers to its enormous namesake trees. Within its expansive boundaries are a pair of beloved trails — 101 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and 97 miles of the John Muir Trail.

Teton Wilderness, Wyoming: Our 17-day Wyoming Teen Adventure Course for Grades 10-12 travels through this wilderness area, which lies between Yellowstone and the Grand Teton national parks. The mountains and national forest present the perfect stage for our activities, whether we’re fishing, camping, hiking, climbing or backpacking. The Bighorn Range is a Wyoming landmark, visible from many parts of the wilderness area, and it is the centerpiece of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. On the east, its giant face features the largest glacier in the mountain range. This area’s residents include swans, cranes, grizzly bears, grey wolves, moose, golden and bald eagles, porcupines and otters.


(The Tetons. credit: Flickr, Trey Ratcliff)

Mollie Beattie Wilderness, Alaska: Participants of NCOAE’s three-week Alaska Teen Adventure Course for Grades 10-12 travel though the Keani Wilderness, which borders the Mollie Beattie Wilderness area. Our Alaska adventurers are on the lookout for brown and black bears, moose, wolves, musk oxen, arctic foxes, polar bears and caribou. Whales and seals migrate through Arctic seas and birds traveling from as far away as Antarctica fly overhead. Our course participants travel both on and off the trail, over alpine terrain and thick brush — and even attempt to summit a peak. A good portion of this 21-day trip is river rafting, with a run through the rapids, some lazy sightseeing and a kayak trip exploring the glacier tidewaters from Kenai Lake.

Hawaii Volcanoes Wilderness, Hawaii: Our Hawaii Teen Adventure Course for Grades 10-12 visits Maui — which is near the Big Island — and explores the dormant volcano at Haleakala State Park, offering breathtaking views of the sunrise and the island and ocean below. Our students visit famous beaches on Maui, learn the rudiments of surfing, and explore this beautiful island’s mountain areas. Hikes will encompass trails that are 10,000 feet above sea level, and there are tours of jungle tree tops via zip line. Did we mention swimming under 300-foot-tall waterfalls?

When it comes to the best places to visit before you die, our friends at the Wilderness Society don’t have a patent on the planet. But we’re more than happy to know we share at least some of the same favorite destinations with this group of wilderness enthusiasts.

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