Leave No Trace Principles | Enjoy and Protect Our Outdoors

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leave no trace - wind river, titcomb basin

As you spend time outdoors, you notice the phrase “Leave No Trace” coming up now and then. The Leave No Trace Seven Principles (© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org) can be used anywhere outdoors: a local park, your backyard, or the remote backcountry. 

There are seven principles and each one covers a topic that goes into detail on how to minimize your footprint and leave no trace in the outdoors. 

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of others

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Taking time to plan and prepare before a trip can make things more enjoyable while minimizing any damage to the land. If you don’t do the proper research, it can lead to situations where you’re fatigued, lost, or have a lack of resources. 

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of rock cairns, flagging, or marking paint.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

When traveling outdoors, the goal is to minimize any damage to the land, vegetation, and waterways. Durable surfaces include established trails, campsites, rock, gravel, and dry grasses or snow. When camping, make sure to set up camp at least 200 ft away from any water source.

In popular areas:
  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In undisturbed areas:
  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly

The Leave No Trace principles help outdoor enthusiasts consider what impacts they leave behind, which can in turn affect other people, wildlife, and the environment, especially when it comes to the waste we create. 

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Burning trash is never recommended.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Bury toilet paper deep in a cathole or pack the toilet paper out along with hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find

Leaving what we find helps protect the ecosystem and the story of the land. 

  • Preserve the past: observe cultural or historic structures and artifacts, but do not touch them.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

For some people, it wouldn’t be camping without a fire, but the overuse of campfires has diminished the natural appearance of some areas due to the increase in demand for firewood. Additionally, wildfires have continued to threaten our outdoor spaces and are primarily caused by humans. However, that’s not to say you can’t enjoy a campfire when you’re out, just make sure we’re doing it responsibly.

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts on the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Use established fire rings, pans, or mound fires where fires are permitted.
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

How humans interact with animals can have a detrimental impact; it can cause aggression in animals, a decline in an ecosystem’s health, and relocated or euthanized animals. Bring some binoculars or master that zoom on your camera, don’t disturb the animals in their home.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Others

Put the golden rule “treat others the way you want to be treated” into practice when you’re outdoors as well. Being considerate of others helps everyone to enjoy the shared outdoor space. 

  • Respect others and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Greet riders and ask which side of the trail to move to when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and others.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

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