Leave No Trace Principles
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
When you’re poorly prepared, you’re more likely to run into problems. Lack of good research can lead to situations where you can become fatigued or fearful, and you may be forced to make poor choices.
Planning ahead includes doing research about your destination and packing appropriately. Be sure to know your routes and destinations.
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 when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
Repackage food to minimize waste.
Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
2. Travel on Durable Surfaces
When exploring your surroundings, seek out resilient types of terrain. Ideal durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
In popular areas, frontcountry or backcountry:
Concentrate use on existing trails.
Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when it's wet or muddy.
In pristine areas:
Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
This principle applies to everything from litter to human waste to rinse water.
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter. Always leave a place cleaner than you found it.
Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. (Some highly impacted areas, like Muir Base Camp on Mount Rainier or riverside campsites in the Grand Canyon, require human waste to be packed out, too.)
Pack out toilet paper and 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.
Review our article, How to Go to the Bathroom in the Woods, for more tips.
4. Minimize Campfire Impacts
While campfires are a timeless camping ritual, they can also be one of the most destructive ones. Far better choices include a lightweight stove for cooking and a candle lantern for light. Stargazing is an excellent alternative, and is best enjoyed when your campsite is in total darkness.
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.
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.
Don't bring firewood from home, which could introduce new pests and diseases. Buy it from a local source or gather it responsibly where allowed.
Review our article, How to Build a Campfire, for more tips.
5. Leave What You Find
The adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints” still holds, although leaving fewer footprints is even better.
Preserve the past: Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species: Clean boot soles, kayak hulls and bike tires off between trips.
Do not build structures, furniture or dig trenches.
6. Respect Wildlife
Don’t approach animals. Both you and the wildlife will enjoy encounters more if you master the zoom lens on your camera and pack along a pair of binoculars.
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.
Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young or winter.
Review our article, Wildfire Safety Tips for Outdoor Recreation, for more tips.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
“Treat others the way you would like to be treated” is a rule that applies in the outdoors, too.
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock, such as horses and mules.
Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
Manage your pet.
8. The 10 Essentials
Be Prepared: For emergencies, call 911 but be aware that cell service can be weak and response times slow. Carry the Ten Essentials:
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter
9. Wetlands & Wet muddy trails
To keep our trails in top shape all summer long, PLEASE stay off them if they’re muddy. Using muddy trails, whether by foot, horse or bicycle, causes major damage to the trail and the surrounding environment. Repairs to the trail are often expensive and labor-intensive.
Please do your part as a conscious trail steward and stay off muddy trails.
When trails are muddy or otherwise saturated with water, please refrain from using them until they have had a chance to dry out. This will allow the trail tread to remain narrow and stable and will also reduce erosion.