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Wild & Scenic Rivers

“Our own children and grandchildren will come to know and come to love the great forests and the wild rivers that we have protected and left to them.”

- President Lyndon Johnson 
On signing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act
October 2, 1968

Cache la Poudre Wild and Scenic River - Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, Colorado. Photo by Tim Palmer.

Waterfall Trail on Fossil Creek Coconino National Forest, Arizona. Photo by Deborah Lee Soltesz.

Zigzag Wild and Scenic River – Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon. Photo by Tim Palmer.

Rio de la Mina Wild and Scenic River - El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico. Photo by Tim Palmer.

White Salmon Wild and Scenic River, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Photo by Tim Palmer.

Wilson Creek Gorge - North Carolina National Forest, North Carolina. Photo by Tim Palmer.

What are wild and scenic rivers?

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects more than 12,700 miles of rivers and streams in the U.S. The Forest Service is involved in managing nearly 5,000 of those wild and scenic rivers miles.

Designation as a wild and scenic river is our nation’s strongest form of protection for free-flowing rivers and streams. They have remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic or other similar values that led Congress to add these waterways to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Are wild and scenic rivers off limits to the public?

Not at all! Wild and scenic rivers are for your pleasure, enjoyment, and stewardship. These rivers are important for countless reasons, but many visitors are interested in the world class recreational adventure they offer.

Many of the wild and scenic rivers under Forest Service management offer an incredible spectrum of recreational opportunities that range from fly fishing to whitewater boating to places where you can simply cool off and sit in quiet. These rivers are not managed to prohibit their use and enjoyment by people.

The Forest Service works with the public to ensure that the free flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values of these rivers are protected from overuse, instream developments, and other impacts that do not enhance these values.

A photo of a kayaker on the Chetco River - Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Chetco River - Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Photo credit: Tim Palmer

A photo of Wilson creek, text that says “The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” Luna Leopold

Wilson Creek - North Carolina National Forests, North Carolina. Photo by Tim Palmer.

What does river stewardship mean?

Protecting these rivers takes more than just words in a law. On the ground, volunteers and partners provide thousands of hours annually helping the Forest Service accomplish some of its work. They assist and lead projects involving tasks like planting vegetation to stabilize streambanks and provide shade to cool water temperatures, monitoring the river corridor for invasive species, cleaning up trash, or teaching visitors about Leave No Trace principles!

Find out how you or your organization can become volunteers.

How do I find the locations of wild and scenic rivers?

There are several ways to find great wild and scenic river destinations:

  • Rivers.gov: This interagency website provides information about all 208 wild and scenic rivers that make up the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
  • Recreation.gov: Some wild and scenic rivers have permit systems that limit the number of visitors on the river at any one time in order to protect the important river values. If you are looking to book a permit to visit one of these rivers, you can find it here!
  • NationalRiversProject.com: This partner website from River Management Society compiles and shares geospatial information about river recreation opportunities across the country, including on many of the Forest Service’s wild and scenic rivers.
  • Forest Service Interactive Visitor Map
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