Wilderness in Oregon

Wild, pristine wilderness areas are a precious — and unfortunately, endangered — part of Oregon's natural heritage.

Wilderness may be an intact forest ecosystem. It may be a vast landscape of desert sagebrush and lava rock, or a marshy wetland vital to the life cycle and survival of numerous plants and animal.

Wilderness is simply an area where nature is left to find its own path, without interference from logging, roads and dams.

Oregon's pristine forest wilderness areas provide the purest habitat for salmon and are home to many rare and endangered animal and plant species.

  • Mount Jefferson
    The sun radiates from Mount Jefferson's wildflower-filled valleys.
  • Eagle Cap
    The stars come out in the Eagle Cap Wilderness - Oregon's largest protected area.
  • Strawberry Mountain
    Enjoying the solitude in eastern Oregon's Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.
  • Steens Mountain
    The stunning view from the top of Wildhorse Canyon in the Steens Mountain Wilderness.

On September 3rd, 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act to protect the unspoiled character of these wild areas in Oregon and across the United States. Wilderness designation preserves the public's ability to enjoy activities such as hiking, camping, whitewater boating, horseback riding, hunting and fishing in these natural areas, while protecting land and the plants and animals that live there from destructive logging, mining, road building and other forms of development.

These areas serve as a critical anchor for biological diversity and are the source of clean drinking water for many Oregonians. When protected, they also offer an enduring legacy of wilderness recreational activities and adventure.

Despite the values Wilderness provides to all Oregonians, our state lags far behind its neighbors in protecting natural areas. Only 4 percent of Oregon is protected wilderness, compared to 10 percent in Washington, 15 percent in California, and even 10% of Idaho. Jewels such as Crater Lake, Hardesty Mountain, half of the Wild Rogue, and thousands of acres of Ponderosa forests in eastern Oregon are just a few examples of our stunning, yet unprotected wild lands.

Recent Wilderness Protections in Oregon

2019: The Devil's Staircase Wilderness in the Oregon Coast Range was protected. This area is one of the only large intact stands of old-growth forest in the coast range mountains. 

2009: 202,000 acres of Wilderness were designated in Oregon, including 127,000 acres around Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. Also included in the national package for Oregon was the Copper Salmon, Soda Mountain, Spring Basin, and Badlands areas. 

Future potential:  Hard as it may be to believe, only four percent of Oregon is currently protected as Wilderness. Approximately five million additional acres of forested roadless natural areas remain suitable for wilderness designation, but are currently unprotected from logging, road-building, mining, and other human development. Oregon Wild believes Congress should designate these remaining areas as Wilderness.

Photos by: Mount Jefferson (Jeremy Cram); Eagle Cap (Brad Goldpaint); Strawberry Mountain (Eli Boschetto); Steens Mountain (Greg Lief).