Government of Nova Scotia Government of Nova Scotia Nova Scotia, Canada


Protected Areas

Wilderness Areas FAQs

The following are questions and answers relevant to designated wilderness areas.


Q: What are designated wilderness areas?

A: Wilderness areas are significant natural areas designated under Nova Scotia's Wilderness Areas Protection Act (the Act). These areas protect the natural environment while providing opportunities for education, research, wilderness recreation, camping, sport fishing, hunting and community stewardship. Most wilderness areas are remote with limited access.

Q: Does the Wilderness Areas Protection Act apply now?

A: Yes. The Act has been law since 1998.

Q: How are Nova Scotia's wilderness areas selected?

A: Nova Scotia's original 31 wilderness areas were selected through a 7-year planning and public consultation process which started in 1990. The areas were selected based on numerous factors including how well they represent natural landscapes, the presence of outstanding natural sites or features, and the potential for wilderness recreation.

New wilderness areas are similarly identified through a science-based process, and are designated through consultation with the public and interested groups.

Q: How much of the province is protected in designated wilderness areas?

A: Nova Scotia currently has 40 designated wilderness areas, protecting almost 355,000 hectares or more than 6.4% of the province. The total area legally protected in all land categories (provincial, federal and private) is about 9.3% of Nova Scotia.

The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act commits the province to legally protect 12% of its total land mass by the year 2015.

Q: Where are these areas?

A: Wilderness areas are distributed across Nova Scotia, and may be seen on the Nova Scotia Protected Areas Program map.

More detailed maps showing wilderness area boundaries can be viewed at local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) offices. You can also purchase maps of individual wilderness areas through the DNR library.

Q: Who takes care of these areas?

A: Nova Scotia's wilderness areas managed by the Protected Areas and Wetlands Branch of Nova Scotia Environment. Enforcement and field services are provided by Department of Natural Resources. Specific responsibilities, like managing hiking trails, may also be carried out by trail or local community groups through management agreements with Nova Scotia Environment.

Q: What activities are restricted in wilderness areas?

A: Commercial resource development, such as forestry and road development, is not permitted. Other activities, such as mining, vehicle use, building structures or trails, and damaging or removing plants are also prohibited, except in certain circumstances as outlined in the Wilderness Areas Protection Act.

Protection and Stewardship

Q: Why is protection of these areas important?

A: Nova Scotia's wilderness areas are a core component of our province's contribution to a worldwide effort to protect wild places. Protected natural spaces provide essential services, such as conserving biological diversity, protecting important habitat, improving air quality, creating and protecting soils, storing carbon, and providing clean water. Wilderness areas act as natural laboratories for monitoring the natural world and learning how ecosystems function and respond to stresses.

Nova Scotia's wilderness areas also provide high quality wilderness recreation opportunities, foster healthy lifestyles, and offer places for spiritual renewal and inspiration in an increasingly busy and crowded world.

Q: What can I do to support wilderness area protection?

A: Public involvement plays an important role in developing effective plans and enhancing stewardship of wilderness areas. If you or your community group is interested in becoming involved in stewardship of a specific wilderness area, please contact Nova Scotia Environment.

Q: Is forest harvesting permitted?

A: No. Forest harvesting is not permitted within designated wilderness areas. However, protected wild spaces are considered important elements of responsible forest management. Canada’s National Forest Strategy (2003-2008) supports completion of protected area systems across Canada.

Q: Is mining permitted?

A: Mining is not permitted in designated wilderness areas except where pre-existing mineral rights exist. In such cases, activities associated with mineral exploration and/or development must be conducted in a way that does not degrade the wilderness area, under the terms of a licence issued by the Minister of Environment.

Q: Is scientific research permitted?

A: Yes. Scientific research is encouraged; however, research activities must not degrade the wilderness area. A permit or letter of approval is required from Nova Scotia Environment for all scientific research.

Q: Can I build a hiking trail or develop a site for camping?

A: All construction and site clearing must be approved by Nova Scotia Environment. Groups interested in developing hiking trails should contact a Regional Protected Areas Coordinator to discuss the management agreement process.

Q: Can I take shed antlers, harvest berries, or collect other natural materials?

A: Natural materials are protected from removal. To keep human impact to a minimum, users are encouraged to leave natural items as they are. They are important to the ecosystems which are protected in wilderness areas and add to people's wilderness experience. If you choose to pick berries for personal consumption, please keep your harvest modest, and limit picking to areas of abundance.

Q: Can I access my private land that is surrounded by a wilderness area?

A: When requested, the Minister of Environment must provide landowners a license for access to their private land inholdings. This license may be subject to conditions.


Q: How do I access a wilderness area?

A: Most wilderness areas are difficult to access. A growing number of developed hiking trails have directional signs, as do some canoe routes. Many "traditional" (non-maintained) access routes exist, and can be found on maps or by talking to local residents or users of wilderness areas.

Q: Do I need to register or get a permit to visit a wilderness area?

A: No. Registration or permission is not required to visit a wilderness area.

Q: Are there any special rules I need to know before going to a wilderness area?

A: Yes. There are standards and guidelines for recreational users outlined in the brochure Keep It Wild - A Guide For Low Impact Recreation In Nova Scotia's Wilderness AreasPDF Download Link (PDF:4mb). If you choose to explore a wilderness area, please recognize that you are on your own, and accept responsibility for your personal health and safety.

Q: Are there any hiking trails in wilderness areas?

A: Yes. There are currently five managed hiking trails in wilderness areas and others are being developed:

There are also numerous traditionally used routes for hiking, canoeing and coastal kayaking. Please check locally or with someone who knows the area when considering travel along any of these routes.

Q: Can I camp in a wilderness area?

A: Yes. There are no campgrounds or facilities in wilderness areas, but overnight camping is generally permitted as long as you follow low-impact standards and guidelines outlined in the Keep It Wild - A Guide For Low Impact Recreation In Nova Scotia's Wilderness AreasPDF Download Link (PDF:4mb) and Keep It Wild - Wilderness Area StandardsPDF Download Link (PDF:749k). Camping along the Kenomee Canyon Trail, at Economy River Wilderness Area is restricted to designated sites to minimize environmental impacts. On other developed trails, you should camp well off the trail, following the above standards and guidelines.

Q: Can I have a campfire?

A: Campfires are permitted in existing campfire rings, or by using a fire box or pan. For details on the standards for camping and campfires, please refer to the Keep It Wild brochure, or the Order on Camping and Lighting of Fires issued by the Minister of Environment.

Q: Is sport fishing, hunting and trapping permitted?

A: Yes. Nova Scotians made it clear that they value these natural areas for hunting and angling. Hunting, trapping, and sport fishing are generally permitted under the same rules that apply on other public lands. The only current exceptions are that bear baiting for hunting is not permitted in wilderness areas, and the use of bait for deer hunting is not permitted in Tobeatic Wilderness Area.

Q: Can I use a vehicle, bicycle, snowmobile, or motorboat in a wilderness area?

To help protect the environment and wilderness experience, vehicle and bicycle use is generally prohibited in wilderness areas.

Specific snowmobile routes that connect to the broader provincial snowmobile network have been designated for winter use by members of the Snowmobilers Association of Nova Scotia (SANS) at: Economy River, Gully Lake, Eigg Mountain-James River and Jim Campbells Barren wilderness areas.

Specific routes have also been designated for use by members of the All-terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia (ATVANS) and Nova Scotia Off-road Riders Association (NSORRA) at: Economy River, Gully Lake and Jim Campbells Barren (April – November); and at Bonnet Lake Barrens and Five Bridge Lakes (year-round use permitted) wilderness areas.

Additional off-highway vehicle use may be authorized on specific, designated and managed routes in newer wilderness areas (not the original 31). With recent amendments to the Wilderness Areas Protection Act, this also applies to new additions to any existing wilderness area.

Limited vehicle access may be licensed for maintenance of campsite leases, for research, or for maintaining legal interests such as power lines.

Motorboats may be used in all wilderness areas, except Tobeatic Wilderness Area, for the purpose of sport fishing during fishing season by individuals with a valid fishing license.

Q: Are there any guided trips in wilderness areas?

A: Yes. Annual outings in selected wilderness areas and nature reserves are led by Protected Areas staff and other organizations. These are promoted on Nova Scotia Environment's website and through Department of Natural Resources’ Parks Events program.

Several guides and outfitters also lead trips into wilderness areas. Check locally or in tourism publications for additional information.

Q: Where can I get more information about provincial wilderness areas?

A: You can visit the protected areas website at, email, or call (902) 424-2117.