The Wilderness Act in Rocky Mountain National Park

Learn about the steps Rocky Mountain National Park has taken to ensure that the majority of the park remains untouched by human development and how that plays out today.

In 2009 the United States Congress agreed to set aside 94 percent of Rocky Mountain National Park as designated wilderness. This act was the result of a thirty-five-year process. The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), of which most of Rocky is now a part, receives much greater protection than other national lands but also has to adhere to much higher standards. In these lands mining, logging, mechanized vehicles, road building, etc., are not allowed, while noninvasive activities such as hiking, skiing, fishing, climbing, and snowshoeing are permitted. These areas operate under a Leave No Trace policy. The NWPS describes 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." It is further defined as "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions." The hope is that by treating these areas as true wilderness, the various ecosystems within it will be able to thrive for thousands of years with little damage by people.

Summer Dream
Summer in a remote area of Rocky Mountain National Park

Because of this status, the Park Service greatly limits its own activity in the wilderness areas. You will not find park employees driving snowmobiles or ATVs into the backcountry to patrol or conduct rescues. You will not see emergency phones or radios. You will find signage to be at a bare minimum, requiring you to be your own navigator. There are no handrails on steep trails. You will also notice that trail crews are using manual tools to do the backbreaking work of trail repair rather than noisier modern power tools, thereby keeping the forest a peaceful place so that the creatures who live there can flourish. The NPS takes great effort to keep the wilderness truly wild and not to tame it. They understand the value of having lands where nature can thrive without the impact of humankind. Those who venture into the backcountry need to realize that it is true wilderness with all of the beauty and dangers that come with it.