Cain Mountain Wilderness

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Map Information


Designated Wilderness
Year Protected: 2022
Legislation: 2023 National Defense and Authorization Act (12/??/2022)
Acres: 14,050 in Churchill and Lander counties (12,339 still pending in Pershing County)
County Regions: Churchill; Pershing; Lander


Managing Agency: Bureau of Land Management
Local District: Winnemucca Field Office
Contact Info: (775) 623-1500
5100 East Winnemucca Boulevard Winnemucca, NV 89445
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Area Description


The Cain Mountain Wilderness (formerly known as the Augusta Mountain WSA) straddles the central ridge of the Augusta Mountain Range. The area is approximately 14 miles long and 6 miles wide. The altitude ranges from 3,400 to 8,400 feet. The northern part is a landscape of silicic ashflow tuff canyons and drainages. Isolated patches of pinyon-juniper are scattered throughout. The central section encompasses Cain Mountain, a limestone peak which is the highest point of the Wilderness. The mountain is scored in all directions by rugged, deep drainages lined with willow and cottonwood. Favret Canyon is the largest of these. The canyons have fossils and are blocked by intermittent waterfalls, with dense pinyon-juniper stands in the upper reaches. The southern portion is hilly with shallow washes and gullies and gently sloping foothills covered with low sagebrush and rabbitbrush.

Cain Mountain Wilderness is a traditional homeland of the Nuumu and Newe people, who have been living on and with these lands for countless generations.

Recreation and Solitude
Recreation in the Wilderness is only limited by lack of curiosity and willingness to explore. Cain Mountain is a challenging hike but is worth the view of Mount Tobin, Mount Moses, and the Toiyabe Crest from the summit. Cain Mountain is ranked #57 on, where you can read trip descriptions of many hikers who climbed the peak.

There are unlimited opportunities for hiking and horseback riding in wide meadows, water filled drainages, steep slopes, and tree-covered hill sides. Unique geologic formations offer many exploration options for rock-climbers, rock-hounds, and fossil hunters. Local fauna offer opportunity for big game hunters. The Cain Mountain Wilderness also offer fantastic night-sky viewing as one of the darkest places in the United States.

Special Features
photo_augusta1_nherterich_400.jpgThe Middle Triassic deposits in the Augusta Mountains have yielded one of the North America’s richest and most diverse faunas of marine reptiles. These beds feature an excellent state of preservation of the fossil material. Wilderness designation will help protect these valuable resources and allow for continued scientific research, study, and excavation of these unique marine reptile skeletons. In 2011 the skeleton of a rare, 246M year-old pregnant ichthyosaur was discovery and successfully excavated in 2014. Of historical significance is a stage coach stop marked by a lonely stone cabin and corral. This area now functions as a popular camp site.

Conservation History

In 1980, the 89,372-acre Augusta Mountain Wilderness Study Area (WSA) was identified by the Nevada BLM Wilderness Inventory Process. The pathway from WSA to formally designated Wilderness, is long and complex. Because the Augusta Mountain WSA sits astride three separtate counties, Churchill, Pershing, and Lander, this pathway has been particularly elusive. Since 2000, the path for conservation legislation in Nevada has focused on county by county land bills, designed to address the needs of the counties, issues and conflicts with public lands, and conservation designations for qualified public lands. In 2015, Pershing County began looking at a countywide land bill. Friends of Nevada Wilderness worked with the county, stakeholders, and the broader conservation community to find lands that would qualify for Wilderness designation. The portion of the Augusta Mountain WSA lying in Pershing County became a high priority area. Working with the coalition, FNW helped identify conflicts with the WSA, especially in the extensive portion of alluvial fans comprising the western portion of the boundary. The recommendation was to pull the proposed Wilderness boundary back to the foothills of the Cain Mountain to exclude the heavily deteriorated rangelands of the alluvial fans along Jersey Valley, with an eye to facilitating intensive environmental restoration in the future. The Cain Mountian Wilderness proposal in Pershing County includes 12,339 acres of the spectacular mountainous landscape of the Augusta Mountain WSA. As of the end of 2022, the Pershing Lands Bill and the Pershing portion of the Cain Mountain Wilderness are still on hold. See map of proposed Pershing County Cain Mountain Wilderness here.

For nearly 20 years, the US Navy lobbied Congress to expand and in 2018, the Navy doubled-down and announced plans for the Fallon Range Training Complex Modernization, which included seizing and closing over 550,000 acres of American Public lands in Nevada. A broad, diverse coalition of counties, the state, stakeholders, conservationists, and the public jumped into action to oppose such a egregious assualt of public lands. Between 2018 and 2022, the Congress pressed the Navy to work with local stakeholders including the counties, Tribes, State of Nevada, conservationists, land owners and users of public lands. The Navy listened and promptly ignored the input, barely budging from their original proposal for control of over a half-million additional acres of American public lands. In the last months of 2022 however, the Navy’s efforts gained momentum in the U.S. Congress and with the Biden Administration. The coalition changed tactics and focused on wilderness protections for some of the WSAs adjacent to the Fallon expansion. The Augusta Mountain WSA was one of the areas evaluated.  Working with coalition members, FNW help draft boundaries that addressed conflicts and issues with stake holders. As in the Pershing County proposal for the Cain Mountain Wilderness, the portions of WSA in Lander and Churchill counties were pushed back to the core of the Augusta to facilitate possibilities for extensive restoration for the deteriorated alluvial fans. A total of 14,050 acres of the Cain Mountain Wilderness, within Churchill and Lander Counties, was designated as a conservation component of the 2023 National Defense Authorization on December 2x, 2022. Learn more about the campaign and conservation elements of bill here.