Maybe you've heard it before, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints". If not, you have now! This single line summarizes all 7 principles of Leave No Trace.
#1 Plan Ahead and Prepare
It's always a wise idea to plan ahead before taking on an adventure of any size but this principle goes beyond picking out where you want to hike for the afternoon.
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 or GPS to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
#2 Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
It's pretty self explanatory, in order to minimize your impact, don't camp on the patch of lichens or hike through the delicate flowers when you could and should be camping on established areas or durable, designated surfaces
Durable surfaces include maintained trails and designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand, dry grasses or snow.
Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
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 pristine areas:
Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
#3 Dispose of Waste Properly
It's not quite the sight you were hoping to see, piles of trash, or even just a few noticeable pieces, wrapped up in the brush. Of course, this goes beyond your material waste as it includes your biological waste as well. Yes, that waste. Don't forget, it includes your pets too.
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite, food preparation areas, and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
Utilize toilet facilities whenever possible. Otherwise, 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.
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.
#4 Leave What You Find
It's appealing to take home souvenirs but you shouldn't plunder the parks for those souvenirs. With 327.19 million visitors to National Parks in 2019 alone, imagine what your favorite park would look like if each of those visitors took at least 1 item from the park.
Preserve the past: examine, photograph, 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.
Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
#5 Minimize Campfire Impacts
Like principle #4 above, this one has a lot to do with the visuals of the park. If you build a new fire pit or ring with each stop you make, eventually all you will see is ash piles. Even worse, without the containment provided by established fire pits and rings, you could even create a devastating wildfire. Believe me, you don't want that.
Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
Keep fires small. Only use down and dead wood from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
#6 Respect Wildlife
This point in particular seems to be surging with importance in the age of Instagram and social media in general. There are countless reasons why you don't need a selfie with a bear. A death by mauling is the biggest reason of all.
Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, [habituates them to humans], 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.
#7 Be Considerate of Other Visitors
There's a lot to be said here. Being considerate comes in many forms outside of those listed below. When inside your campground, don't shower at the public water spigot and when playing in the campground loop road, be sure to clear out when cars come through. Making them wait for you is bad enough without having to drive off the road to go around. Other visitors have just as much right and responsibility to a pleasant visit as you.
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.
Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
"These principles were established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and built on work by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management in the mid 1980s. This relationship continues today. The principles are based on and informed by scientific research in the fields of recreation ecology and human dimensions of natural resources. Take a look at the science behind the principles on the Leave No Trace website. Thank you for doing your part to protect our natural world." Leave No Trace Seven Principles © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org. https://www.nps.gov/articles/leave-no-trace-seven-principles.htm