50 Wilderness Sites Across America
Saint Elias Range (© Terry A. Parker/All Canada Photos/Corbis)
Karner blue butterflies may soon be regionally extinct at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (Bookguy / iStock)
An ice pool in Bagley Ice Field, near Saint Elias Mountains (© David Muench/Corbis)
THIS IS A PLACEHOLDER (© Matthias Breiter/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
A Northern hawk owl nesting in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (© 167/Michael S. Quinton/Ocean/Corbis)
Peaking through the trees at Saint Elias National Park (© 167/Michael S. Quinton/Ocean/Corbis)

Wrangell – Saint Elias Wilderness

Caribou, glaciers, World Heritage Site

smithsonian.com

Location: Alaska
Size: 9,078,675 acres
Year Designated: 1980
Fast Fact: At almost 10 million acres, the Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness is larger than Belgium.

Comprising 9,078,675 acres of glaciers, valleys and rivers, the Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness is the largest Wilderness Area in the United States. The Wilderness areas are located within the larger Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve, which is also the largest park and preserve area managed by the National Park Service.

Because of its isolated location in Alaska’s southeastern corner, the Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness is home to a vast array of species, from Dall sheep to caribou, which often trek high into the area’s mountains in summer months to find any remaining snow, which helps them avoid insect bites. The northern end of the Wilderness area is dotted with glaciered-peaks; the entire park and preserve boasts the most glaciated area in the United States (with over 100 glaciers) and nine of North America’s 16 highest peaks. In 1979, the Elias park area (including the wilderness areas) was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Along with wildlife, the wilderness supports a vast array of environments, from glaciers to tundras and boreal forests. The Bagley Icefield, located inside the wilderness area, is the largest nonpolar icefield in North America. The wilderness area (and the park and preserve) takes its name from two mountains—the Wrangell range and the Saint Elias mountains. Mt. Saint Elias, part of the Saint Elias mountains, is the second tallest mountain in both the United States and Canada.

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