In this excellent answer, LBell quotes the U.S. definition of wilderness:

(1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

Is there any place in Europe that meets these requirements?

  • The far north of Europe, e.g. Lapland or Nordkalotten, is quite sparsely populated and large. It certainly has solitude and in the land pictures below, one can hike for weeks without meeting humans. However, the Sami people have done reindeer husbandry for centuries, in the modern time using snowmobiles and helicopters. Most visitors won't notice the effects on vegetation (but biologists certainly do). Other effects are a lack of predators. The most visible and annoying effect are probably the tracks from the quads the Sami use in their reindeer herding:

Quad tracks

Tundra with quad-tracks in the far north of Sweden, in Torneträsk-Soppero Fjällurskog Naturreservat

  • In Scotland, the forests have been cut centuries ago. Same in most of the rest of Britain, most notably the uplands, where the National Trust in some cases actively combats reforestation.

  • In many European countries, protected nature areas appear to be mainly where men has previously tried but failed to exploit the land. The Swedish Muddus national park is an example of that, as is the Dutch nature reserve Naardermeer.

  • The Polish-Belarusian Białowieża Forest is a remnant of a previously vast primeval forest, but has an eventful history, and I'm not sure if it would fit the aforementioned definition.

I think, if there is wilderness anywhere in Europe (not counting Arctic islands such as Svalbard), it's likely to be in far north--eastern Europe, where there exist vast areas with very few people. For example, Komi is 415,900 km², roughly the size of California or Sweden, with less than a million people concentrated in a handful of cities. That's probably a wilderness area. Are there any others that are less peripheral?

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    I am not sure about the exact definition and classification, but as far as I know, lot of areas that are called "wilderness" in the US have vehicle tracks and paths in them, forest service access roads, fire access roads etc. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 2:27
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    @Jan: No, Wilderness Areas (upper case, not lower case) in the US explicitly do NOT have roads. Some may have remnants of old roads from before they were legally designatd wilderness areas, but these are now only trails (not for motorized vehicles). Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 16:11
  • @OlinLathrop What about snowmobile trails?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 17:10
  • @gerrit: I don't know specifically about snow mobiles. Generally motorized vehicles are prohibited except for emergency situations. However, a lot of places (not Wilderness Areas) that have a motorized vehicle ban do allow snow mobiles during part of the year or when there is some minimum snow depth. I don't know if there is one unified rule for Wilderness or if it's up to each one. My guess is that snow mobiles are not allowed. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:12
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    See also the very similar question on travel.SE, Where to find wilderness in Europe?, and if you're interested, my ideas about such crossover questions on meta.SO, Build and strengthen the Stack Exchange community with “crossover questions” between sites Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 6:22

5 Answers 5


Yes, Europe has an international accepted definition of Wilderness. These European Wilderness Quality Standards are continuously updated and are available on the Website of the European Wilderness Society (http://wilderness-society.org).

During the last years the society identified close to one million hectares in Europe that meet at least the bronze standard. These areas are ex glacial,areas in Austria, forest in Georgia, Aquamarine areas in Scandinavia and mountainous areas in Portugal and Italy. Ukraine, Bulgaria and even Albania and most notably Romania (Retezat) are now in the process of certification. Scandinavia has few remaining pristine wilderness due to logging and herding, Oulanka being an exception. Belarus and Poland has some areas.

Little remaking Wilderness at this point in time has been found in France and the UK. Here restoring is the top priority. Ireland has just designated the first area with 10.000 hectares. The Netherlands are working on an Aquamarine Wilderness area.

Large Herbivores and Carnivores are essential to the Wilderness Ecosystem. We helped reintroduce Bison in Romania and similar projects are underway in Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Slovakia.

The Wolf is coming back in almost every European country with large numbers in Romania, Spain, Bulgaria and now even in Germany with 18 Wolf Packs roaming the country side. The Lynx is also coming back as can be seen in Austria. The number of bears is increasing in Italy and The Balkans and Carpathians.

Basically the four different levels of Wilderness start of with small areas with subsistence remaining human intervention and go up to large areas of 20.000 hectares with no human intervention nor extraction like fishing, hunting or logging. Even roads are in the top level being taken out and any use of mechanical vehicles is off limits. Austria has for example changed its forestry laws that do require a forest fire to be extinguished anymore since fires are part of the wilderness continuum (NP Kalkalpen)

The European Wilderness Society has an extensive website and blog where Wilderness Advocates can inform themselves about the latest events and information. They work in a Network with Wild Europe, the Wilderness Society in the US and Australia, the Department of Environment of the EC and many Universities like Leeds in the UK and Alpen Adria University in Austria.

The goal of Europe is to identify, designate and protect or restore a minimum of 2% of the landmass as wilderness? especially Germany is here leading this movement and will set designate close to 150.000 hectares of new Wilderness Areas in the next few years.

More info please visit the website http://wilderness-society.org including all certified wilderness areas that meet the stringent European standards.

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    Great answer! Is Europe the entire continent, or the European Union? I'd think 2% can be reached easily if European Russia is included.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 15:46

Ukrainian Gorgany. One of the most wild places in Europe.

Mieczysław Orłowicz has written almost 100 year ago about one of the peaks, Popadia, that from there no place inhabited by men is to be seen. According to people that were there, this sentence is still true. You will not see any artificial lights from houses, streets or cars.

Unfortunately, I haven't found the translation from the tourist guide of Orłowicz, but this is very beautiful fragment describing how wild that mountains are.


Peručica forest in Bosnia might almost fit the definition.

Native Tree Society BBS Peručica forest forum post

In the National Park »Sutjeska« (17,250 ha) the strict forest reserve »Perućica« (1,434 ha) is located. Sutjeska can be found in the southern Dinaric Mountains in Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the border with Montenegro. In this mountainous area altitudes range from 500 m in the Sutjeska river valley to the top of Mount Maglic, 2386 m, the highest peak in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Perućica is allowed to enter with a guide only. In the reserve there are no landmines from the the Bosnian War, the only area where they may occur is the lower end of the reserve (in Sutjeska Canyon, near the road).


Perhaps my favourite wilderness like place, Dartmoor, fits the bill relatively well. It's in the South West of the UK, in Devon.

Generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable

Well, how far back are you talking? Technically speaking, thousands of years ago Dartmoor was all forest area, the trees were hacked down by man to make open space and it's stayed barren since, bar a few areas. More recently (in the last few hundred years) it was home to many tin mines. But it's pretty clear that if you go walking on it, these are all long gone and man's influence now is minor. There is some occasional army activity, but only in certain parts and the affect on the landscape is minimal.

But if you take this to extremes, where do you stop? Unless we knew for sure that man had never settled in the particular area, then we could never describe any land as a real wilderness.

I'd say it fit well into this category.

Has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation

In the more remote parts, especially during week days, I've walked for days without seeing anyone. So a big check on this part as well I'd say!

Has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition

It's actively preserved. And 5,000 acres? Pah, measly. Try 235,738 acres.

May also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

Its tors are unmatched, it contains a rich geological history, the barren landscape is incredibly scenic.

The only thing I'd say which may stop this being a "wilderness" by the given definition is the army activity that's ongoing, but even if you exclude the part of the moors where that takes place, the remainder is still well over 5,000 acres, so I'd say still qualifies for being a wilderness area.

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    I live by Dartmoor and walk the gnarlier and most remote areas every week. I love it dearly, but although it feels wild it is far from being true wilderness. It is farmed by the Commoners, and the landscape is shaped by stock grazing and agricultural burning (swaling). If you talk with the hill-farmers and land managers you will discover that the landscape is intentional, as laid out in the National Park Land Management Plan. The current management policy is being roundly attacked by conservationists like George Monbiot who believe the moor should be left to it's own devices and "rewilded". Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 23:08
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    @Tullochgorum That's not an entirely fair representation of Monbiots proposed strategy. He concedes that without top predators such as the wolf, Dartmoor (one of the most depressing places I've been) cannot be restored to a healthy ecosystem. The fiasco of the Oostvaardersplassen in The Netherlands shows what happens if you try rewilding without a top predator: overgrazing and ecological destruction. If Dartmoor ever wants to resemble anything close to a wilderness, it will need wolves, and rural British landowning opinion is a long way from accepting competition in its recreational predation.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 19:00
  • @gerrit - I don't think that I'm misrepresenting him at all - "Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back." Dartmoor is only 365 sq miles - nowhere near enough to support a natural population of wolves. When he gave a talk down here most farmers and conservationists thought it was risible. His heart's in the right place, but he would be better to leave the implementation details to real experts. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 14:02
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    @Tullochgorum The "reintroducing missing animals" part is essntial. Monbiot is not proposing to leave it to its own devices as it is now, such as you implied but to do essential work first. Of course farmers will oppose nature; they always do, farming is antithetical to nature. Monbiots proposals will never happen in UK. And some British conservationists defend such disastrous uplands, they might as well defend cow-grazing pastures in Amazonia next, it just goes to show how depressingly low the bar is set nowadays. The New Forest and (other) heathlands in the southwest are much healthier.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 22:17
  • @gerrit - the point is that he proposed re-introducing wolves and lynx and leaving them to their own devices. In 365 sq miles. Totally impractical. They would need extensive supplementary feeding and a managed breeding program to prevent inbreeding. It would be a glorified zoo. I think your contempt for farmers is misplaced - many of them around here are very conservation minded. And I think you misunderstand what can be achieved in upland moorland - the potential here is in the valleys leading up to the moor, not the moor itself, which would simply degenerate into an impassible scrubland. Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 23:15

I'm afraid we are out of luck in this one. But maybe this will qualify, although barely: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleshky_Sands

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