Wild and Scenic Rivers

The Wild and Scenic Rivers designation is reserved for free-flowing waterways that exhibit outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. River with this designation are protected within the Wild and Scenic River System for the enjoyment of present and future generations.[1]  





Map of Data

Download mxd The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

Resource Information

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.[2]

Wild and Scenic designation protects outstanding rivers under three categories [3]:

  • Wild rivers represent “vestiges of primitive America” in that they are free-flowing segments of rivers with undeveloped shorelines that typically can only be accessed via trail.
  • Scenic rivers are dam-free river segments with undeveloped shorelines but accessible in places by roads.
  • Recreational rivers are more developed than Wild or Scenic river segments and can be accessed by roads.

Utah currently has only one river under this designation. The Virgin River was designated as a Wild and Scenic River in May 2009.  It has 145.4 miles designated as Wild, 11.3 miles as Scenic, and 12.6 miles as Recreational for a total of 169.3 miles.[4] The National Wild and Scenic River System data shows designated rivers, but there are no designated rivers in the WFRC counties.

The Revised Forest Plan for Wasatch-Cache-Uinta National Forest has a stated goal to manage eligible river segments as Wild and Scenic Rivers (pages 115).[5] Several river segments are included in the desired future condition as eligible wild and scenic rivers, see page VIII-4.[5]  Also, Appendix VIII includes management direction for these river segments.

Stream segments within the WFRC region eligible for Wild and Scenic designation from the Revised Forest Plan for the Wasatch-Cache-Uinta-National Forest.[5]

River/Stream Segment LocationClassification
Left Fork South Fork Ogden River (Weber County)Frost Canyon/Bear Canyon confluence to Causey ReservoirWild
Red Butte Creek (Salt Lake County)Source to Red Butte ReservoirScenic
Little Cottonwood Creek (Salt Lake CountySource to Murray City DiversionRecreational

Best Management Practices

Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated by Congress or the US Secretary of the Interior. To be eligible for designation, a river must be free-flowing and contain at least one “outstandingly remarkable” value (scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar value). For this purpose, free-flowing is defined as a river section that is flowing in a natural condition without impoundment, diversion, straightening, rip-rapping, or other modification of the waterway. Under this definition, a segment of a river that has been dammed upstream can still be considered for the designation. In addition, existing minor dams or diversion structures within the area do not necessarily render a river segment ineligible. Designated river segments require sound protective management based on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. The Bureau of Land Management offers an online manual with best practices for the management of wild, scenic, and recreational rivers.[6]  

Economic Considerations

Hydropower is a powerful and underutilized source of energy in the state. It accounts for just 2% of the electricity generated in the state.[7] Other relevant considerations can be found in the Fisheries and Water Quality and Hydrology sections.

Impact Considerations

Designated rivers are typically managed by federal agencies, but can also be managed by partnerships of adjacent communities, state governments and the National Park Service allowing communities to protect their own outstanding rivers and river-related resources.[8]

Several factors may be considered when evaluating the water rights in a proposed Wild and Scenic River. One consideration is the type of designation of the river (wild, scenic, or recreational). The amount of water needed to protect the values of each section may vary depending upon the type of designation and its placement in the watershed. For example, water usage would presumably be most restricted if the river were designated as wild, while a recreational river would have the fewest restrictions of the three types.[9]

The consistency of the Wild and Scenic River designation with other organization plans should be evaluated.  River designation may help or limit efforts. For example, designation may help with protection goals while limiting engineered  flood control or irrigation measures. Sometime allowing flooding upstream reduces floods downstream and better than a channelized stream. For more  information or questions regarding Wild and Scenic River see the Compendium of Questions & Answers Relating to Wild & Scenic Rivers. [10]

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
Land Ownership
Surface Land Ownership; use Admin field to identify administrative agencyUpdated Weekly1:24,000State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
GIS Group
National Wild and Scenic River System
River segments from USFS, BLM, FWS, and NPS 20091:24,000National Atlas of the United States


  1. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. n.d. About the WSR Act. Accessed: 1/21/16.  
  2. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. n.d. A National System. Accessed: 2/3/16.
  3. U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 2015. Wild And Scenic Rivers. Accessed: 1/21/16.  
  4. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. n.d. Virgin River, Utah. Accessed: 2/3/16.
  5. U. S. Forest Service. 2003. Revised Forest Plan for the Wasatch -Cache National Forest, February.
  6. U. S. Bureau of Land Management. 2012. Wild and Scenic Rivers – Policy and Program Direction for Identification, Evaluation, Planning, and Management.
  7. Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development. 2016. Resource Profile: Hydro Energy in Utah. Accessed: 2/17/2016.
  8. US Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 2010. Partnership Wild & Scenic Rivers. Accessed: 2/3/16.
  9. Brougher, C. 2009. Wild And Scenic River Act and Federal Water Rights. Congressional Research Service.
  10. Marsh, G. 2014. A Compendium of Questions and Answers Relating to Wild & Scenic Rivers. A Technical Report of the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council.