As cities continue to pop up all over the globe and human beings stretch further and further out, it might seem as though there is no wilderness left. Thankfully, to ensure this didn’t actually happen, The Wilderness Act of 1964, provided federal protection to designated wild areas across the country. To date, there are 758 designated wilderness areas across 44 states in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, which translates into 109 million acres or 5 percent of U.S. land.

The act celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 3rd, 2014 and to celebrate, The Smithsonian is hosting a juried photography exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit, entitled Wilderness 50, showcases photos sent in from designated wilderness areas around the country. Selections were chosen from over 5000 entries and represent some of the best and most awe-inspiring shots of America’s remaining untouched locations.


You can vote here for your favorite and each photo with the most votes will be featured as the photo of the month for the duration of the exhibit. There are so many beautiful pictures on the site that it’s next to impossible to choose a favorite! We went through and selected a few to give you a taste of the gorgeous landscapes and incredible destinations this exhibit has to offer. Hopefully you’re as inspired by them as we were to not only enjoy their incredible natural wonder, but to spread the word about the conservation and preservation of places like these both here and around the world.


Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona. Consisting of 112,500 acres, it boasts one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the world.

Richard Ansley

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in New Mexico. A badland region, its name is derived from the Navajo Bisti, meaning “A large area of shale hills” and De-Na-Zin, meaning “Cranes.”

Samuel Féron


John Muir Wilderness in California. Covering 650,000 acres, Mt. Whitney is located within which boasts the highest peak in the lower 48 states (14,495 feet).

Nolan Nitschke

Sangre de Cristo Wilderness in Colorado. Designated in 1993, black bear, mountain lions, elk and big horn sheep call many parts of these sprawling 220,803 acres home.

Kimo Boeche


Mount Hood Wilderness in Oregon. Mount Hood, a dormant volcano covered with 11 glaciers, lies at the heart of this breathtaking wilderness area.

Jarrod Castaing

Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon. With over 260 miles of trails, visitors can see an abundance of Ponderosa pine, Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock trees, just to name a few.

Thomas Goebel


Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. Part of the Monongahela National Forest, it contains protected bog and heath type eco-systems.

Kenneth Greenwood

Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness in Alaska. Sprawling across 653,179 acres, approximately one-fifth of the area is covered in permanent ice.

Irene Owsley

Olympic Wilderness in Washington. One of the most diverse of all the designated wilderness areas. The Olympic Mountains are contained within this space, along with stunning rainforest regions and valleys.

Joe LeFevre

Lava Beds Wilderness in California. Produced by a million years of volcanic activity, more wintering bald eagles can be found here than any place outside of Alaska.

David E. Bunnell


Gaylord Nelson Wilderness in Wisconsin. Named after the former Wisconsin Governor and founder of Earth Day, the area contains 22 previously logged islands that have been allowed to return to their wild, pre-human roots.

Jeff Rennicke


Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. The oldest national forest in the southern United States, it covers nearly 1.8 million acres.

Laura Vu

Lead Image Credit: William Patino