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Most Remote Spots in USA Wilderness Complexes

18.76 miles. You can drive this distance in 15 minutes on a freeway. But it is also the furthest away you can get in the "Lower 48" US states from roads, machines, and motors. The Wilderness Act of 1964 sets aside areas of federal land, mostly in the mountains, where nature reigns supreme and no powered travel is permitted. The largest of these areas are the best places to "get away from it all" and experience a pre-civilization world.

The table below lists the 50 or so largest chunks of wilderness in the contiguous United States, together with the most remote central point for each one. These points are the most isolated, wild, and hard-to-reach in the USA without venturing to Alaska.

To make this list, all the officially designated wilderness in the USA—federal , quasi-federal, state, and tribal—was grouped into large contiguous “complexes” of wild land. Then, the largest possible inscribed circle was calculated for each area, and the center of this circle is then the most remote spot for each wilderness complex. The radius in miles shows how large a circle can be fit into each area, and how remote each point is.

Clicking on the name of each wilderness complex will show a map of the complex boundaries, the inscribed circle of pure wilderness, and the most remote spot. For more information about the methodology for this project and notes about the results, scroll to below the table.

Wilderness ComplexStateRadius-MiArea- Sq MiCenter LocationCenterLatitudeCenterLongitude
ThorofareWY18.762616.76West Thorofare Plateau44.0915-110.0164
Frank Church (no Inholdings)ID17.163613.83Cabin Creek-Peak 728845.1846-114.9418
Selway-BitterrootID-MT15.712102.81Trout Creek Drainage46.1306-114.8618
Bob MarshallMT15.622406.81Woodfir Creek-Peak 732247.6153-113.2577
OlympicWA13.581445.78Queets Glacier47.7711-123.601
North AbsarokaWY13.071186.16Willow Creek-Lamar River44.6829-110.0979
Sierra NevadaCA12.533710.26Tunemah Peak36.9945-118.6735
Wind RiverWY12.161415.74Base of Gooseneck Ridge43.1773-109.6499
EvergladesFL12.142101.26North Harney River25.4373-80.9978
Frank ChurchID11.283603.47Elkhorn Creek45.4604-114.8959
Cabeza PrietaAZ11.24864.413Mohawk Valley32.2551-113.4049
GilaNM10.9874.326McKenna Park33.25-108.469
Boundary WatersMN10.521434.94Panhandle Lake47.9896-91.0631
Southwest YellowstoneWY-MT10.3682.252Three River Junction44.2818-110.8903
Absaroka-BeartoothMT-WY10.161690.93Buffalo Butte45.0695-110.3311
PasaytenWA9.76826.897Dot Mountain48.8587-120.5423
Mount BakerWA9.65665.378Whatcom Peak48.861-121.3716
Glacier PeakWA9.551707.62Base of Cool-Chocolate Ridge48.1221-121.0557
South Glacier ParkMT9.5629.096Mt. Stimson-north slopes48.5279-113.6002
High UintasUT9.31708.56South Kings Peak40.7645-110.3925
North Glacier ParkMT9.18814.345Grace Lake48.7796-113.9997
Death Valley-OwlsheadCA9.1526.394Owlshead Mountains35.809-116.7779
North YosemiteCA8.8604.206Rodgers Meadow37.9778-119.5194
Northwest YellowstoneWY-MT8.32488.328Maple Creek44.7833-110.9156
SawtoothID7.92339.518Smith Falls44.0005-115.0523
Sheephole ValleyCA7.9305.302T2N R13E Sec 2534.2265-115.5686
OkefenokeeGA7.85569.703Floyds Island Prairie30.9137-82.2709
Black Rock DesertNV7.79491.459Battle Creek41.2029-118.7908
Marble MountainCA7.41351.146Big Meadows Creek41.4871-123.215
WeminucheCO7.06749.508Rincon la Osa37.6451-107.3868
MazatzalAZ7.06391.06Meteor Tank34.2001-111.6061
Eagle CapOR6.97555.015Glacier Lake45.163-117.2834
Death Valley-CottonwoodCA6.88772.259Niter Beds36.7434-117.3046
Gros VentreWY6.87446.458The Six Lakes43.4623-110.3801
Death Valley-SalineCA6.76429.064Saline Range36.951-117.7959
Trinity AlpsCA6.64843.049Devils Canyon40.9777-122.9771
PecosNM6.49346.574Cerrito del Padre35.9355-105.6027
Aldo LeopoldNM6.43318.169Burnt/Bonner Canyons33.2165-107.894
Rocky Mtn NP-Indian PeaksCO6.15347.616Isolation Peak40.2007-105.6843
Three SistersOR6.14499.997Nash Lake44.0556-121.8953
Baxter-KatahdinME5.9217.7Wassataquoik Mountain45.9981-68.94482
Alpine LakesWA5.75611.785La Bohn Gap-Lake Rowena47.5605-121.2216
Grand Teton-Jed SmithWY5.72415.923Elk Mountain43.9627-110.8165
Flat TopsCO5.57361.113Marvine Creek39.931-107.3319
SespeCA5.56343.4Topatopa Peak34.5443-119.0033
Death Valley-Last ChanceCA5.54444.73Last Chance Range36.8306-117.6098
Mount RainierWA5.5319.196Liberty Ridge46.8825-121.7734
Gospel-HumpID4.67320.58Elk Butte45.5353-115.7869
Adirondack High PeaksNY4.65310.77Cold River-Mt. Emmons44.1221-74.2063
Death Valley-BlackCA4.12336.837Epaulet Peak35.9926-116.5248
White MountainsCA4.05345.606McAfee Creek37.6201-118.1624
Death Valley-PanamintCA4.02391.766Bennett Benchmark36.1486-116.9452

Methodology

Four categories of Wilderness area were considered for this analysis:

  • Federal Wilderness Areas, designated by the 1964 Wilderness Act and subsequent congressional action. These are by far the best known and most numerous of the wilderness areas in the USA—there are about 750 of them, preserving federal land managed by the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.
  • “De-facto” Wilderness Areas in National Parks: In most large National Parks (e.g. Olympic, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain), the bulk of the park’s backcountry has been officially designated as wilderness area. However, three large parks—Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier—have large undeveloped tracts that are managed by park staff as wilderness despite lack of official designation. For this analysis, the large primitive areas of these parks have been included, since park regulations in these areas are essentially the same as in officially-designated areas.
  • State Wilderness Areas: In New York state (Adirondacks and Catskills) and Maine (Baxter State Park on Katahdin), large wilderness areas are managed by the State government. Large parts of these parks have been designated as official state wilderness areas and are managed in a similar fashion to federal wilderness.
  • Tribal Wilderness: Finally, a handful of large Indian Reservations have designated large areas as Tribal wilderness. Perhaps the two most notable are adjacent to federal wilderness in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the Mission Mountains of Montana. These are included in the overall wilderness areas.

For all these areas, polygons corresponding to their geographic area were assembled. Then, Wilderness Areas composed of separate chunks of land were disaggregated into single polygons—for example, the Death Valley wilderness area is made up of over 40 separate areas separated by roads. Next, adjacent Wilderness Areas were combined into larger polygons, eliminating administrative boundaries. Each aggregated polygon is considered a “Wilderness Complex”. For example, the Bridger, Fitzpatrick, and Popo Agie wildernesses in Wyoming, plus the Wind River Tribal Wilderness, together form one large contiguous unit, termed the “Wind River Wilderness Complex”.

Once this was done, the complexes were sorted by area, yielding about 50 Wilderness Complexes of over 300 square miles. For each of these, the largest possible inscribed circle was calculated. Each inscribed circle is defined by three points on the wilderness complex boundary, and the center of the circle is the most remote place from civilization, machines, and motors within that polygon. The radius of the circle is the minimum distance that must be travelled by human power to reach one of these spots.

A big thank you to mathematician Edward Earl, who wrote an efficient algorithm for finding inscribed circles in complex polygons. This was a big help for this project.

Notes

  • The Thorofare region of Wyoming is well-documented in several places as the area of the contiguous USA furthest from roads. The most remote point shown here, based on wilderness boundaries, considers all motorized travel, including the legal use of motorboats on portions of Yellowstone Lake. So the remote Thorofare location and radius shown here will not match values calculated purely from the road network.
  • The Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho has many small private inholdings, many with airstrips. So two entries for this area are shown—one for the wilderness area with the inholdings constraining the inscribed circle, and one based only on the external boundaries of the area, ignoring the inholdings. For the first case, the inholding that constrains the circle is the Root Ranch and airstrip.
  • Note that the Thorofare area, with the largest radius, is only the third largest wilderness complex by area. But its shape is more rounded, allowing a larger inscribed circle. The huge Sierra Nevada Complex, running from Tioga Pass to south of Mount Whitney, is the largest by area but has a smaller radius (ranked 7th) due to its linear shape.
  • Alaska is excluded from this analysis, since the scale and character of wilderness there is simply very different than in the “Lower 48”. If Alaska wilderness areas were part of this project, the most remote spot would be in the middle of the Mollie Beattie Wilderness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern Brooks Range, with an inscribed circle radius of 42.75 miles. Ironically, however, rules for wilderness in Alaska are different, and airplane landings are permitted in most areas. So in some ways you are more remote in the Thorfare area of Wyoming.
  • There are certainly a few wilderness complexes of less than 300 square miles and an inscribed radius of more than 4 miles, so note that this list does not necessarily show the top 50 complexes by biggest radius. The top 30-40, though, are very likely present in this list.
  • The High Peaks State Wilderness Area in New York’s Adirondacks is the largest wilderness area in the Northeast. However, due to its convoluted shape, the most remote spot in the Northeast is in Baxter State Park in Maine. So even though Baxter is below the 300 square mile total threshold, it is included here so that the table shows the most remote wilderness spot in the Appalachians.
  • The Center Location shows a nearby feature, such as a brook, peak, or lake. Most of these center points are literally in "the middle of nowhere" with no named feature nearby, so these location should be considered just a very general guide only.
  • Wilderness areas in Canada are not taken into account.  There is no Canadian national wilderness designation program like there in the USA, and determining the boundaries of land with wilderness character in the various parks would be difficult.  Three US wilderness complexes have inscribed circles constrained by the border with Canada, and a glance at aerial maps for the areas north of the Mount Baker and Pasyaten wilderness areas show what looks like roads and clear-cuts over the border.  However, the Boundary Waters wilderness is next to the vast Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, which appears to be mostly primeval.  So the radius for Boundary Waters could be as high as 13.6 miles if allowed to go over the border.

Definition of Wilderness Complexes

The Wilderness Complexes that are made up of more than a single component area are listed below, with their constituent parts (all adjacent):

Wilderness ComplexComponents
Absaroka-BeartoothAbsaroka-Beartooth, North Yellowstone NP
Bob MarshallBob Marshall, Great Bear, Scapegoat
Glacier PeakGlacier Peak, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Stephen Mather/North Cascades (south section), Henry Jackson, Wild Sky (portion)
Grand Teton-Jed SmithGrand Teton NP, Jedediah Smith
Mount BakerStephen Mather/North Cascades (north section), Mount Baker, Noisy-Diobsud
Mount RainierMount Rainer NP, Clearwater, Glacier View
North AbsarokaNortheast Yellowsone NP, North Absaroka
North YosemiteYosemite NP (north section)
OlympicOlympic NP, Buckhorn, Brothers, Mount Skokomish, Wonder Mountain, Colonel Bob
Rocky Mtn NP-Indian PeaksRocky Mountain NP (south section), Indian Peaks
ThorofareSoutheast Yellowstone NP, Teton, Washakie, Two Ocean Lake
Three SistersThree Sisters, Waldo Lake
Sierra NevadaYosemite NP (south section), Ansel Adams, Owens River Headwaters, John Muir, Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP, Monarch, Jennie Lakes, Golden Trout, South Sierra, John Krebs
Wind RiverBridger, Fitzpatrick, Popo Agie, Wind River Roadess Area (tribal)



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