Seattle Is Closer to More Wilderness Areas Than Any Large U.S. City

This month's Editor's Note from Rachel Hart

By Rachel Hart May 22, 2018


This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the June 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

You might have noticed we’re big fans of lists that tout all the great things about our city, so when we come across one we haven’t heard of, we get pretty excited. Last summer, my friend Tom Uniack, executive director of the statewide nonprofit conservation group Washington Wild, shared a cool statistic with me: Seattle ranks first among the 25 largest cities in the U.S. for having the most designated wilderness areas (3.6 million acres to be exact) within a 100-mile radius.

The mission of Washington Wild is to defend, protect and restore wild public lands and waters in Washington state through advocacy, education and civic engagement. Seattle magazine’s mission is to get people more engaged with their city and the region, and take them along for the ride as we show them how to get the best out of living here. Thus, a story idea was born.

But before you think we’re going to send you out into the middle of nowhere, here is a primer. When it comes to defining wilderness, Uniack speaks in terms of “Big W” and “little w” (the latter is probably the way most of us use the term, as in “getting out in nature”). Big W designated wilderness spaces are federal public lands and waters with the highest level of protection. This designation prohibits logging, new mining or use of motorized vehicles, and there are no roads on the land. However, you can hunt, fish, hike, camp, paddle, raft and kayak, ride horses, climb and forage on these lands. Sort of in the same way we have named American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) for Washington wine-grape-growing regions, there are 31 wilderness areas in our state (and 10 designated wild and scenic rivers), most of them named after iconic conservationists, such as Daniel J. Evans and William O. Douglas.

We live in a time when efforts are being made to threaten these spaces, so it’s more important than ever to protect what we have. Washington Wild and the many other excellent local conservation groups also understand that the lands and water for which they advocate are a huge reason why so many of us choose to live and work here. Access to the outdoors, Uniack emphasizes, is one of the top attractions local employers such as Amazon, Alaska Airlines and others promote in their efforts to recruit top talent. 

Washington Wild is also really good at connecting the dots to how this trickles down to everyday living. The organization’s Brewshed Alliance—brewers, consumers and environmental advocates—shines the spotlight on the importance of protecting the sources of clean waters for the beer industry. (This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects free-flowing rivers that provide water for recreation, critical habitat for salmon and other fish and wildlife, and clean water for farms, drinking—and making beer!) Taste for yourself at their annual Brewshed Beer Festival on June 9 (tickets: or all summer long at 

Whether you’re looking to hike to an alpine lake (June 2 is National Trails Day!) or camp under the stars, we’ve spotlighted a curated selection of the many ways you can get out and enjoy the natural beauty we have in abundance. Our story, culled from the experiences of our venerable team of travel writers, presents a choose-your-own-adventure style of outdoor fun and thrill-seeking activities within (or close to) a 100-mile range of the city; a handful are set in the designated “Big W” wilderness spaces. Yet even if your only engagement with the outdoors is to bask in the glorious silhouettes of the mountains from your deck, raise a glass to the organizations and individuals who dedicate their time to preserving our green spaces.

Read more about what Washington Wild is doing to protect and enhance access to recreation areas in designated wilderness areas at

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