We’ve all seen it: some trash abandoned beside the trail, an apple core tossed into the woods, a small step off the summit trail. So what’s the big deal, anyway?

Over time, the cumulative effect of these actions can alter our beloved outdoor spaces. But a few simple efforts can go a long way toward minimizing this impact. The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace are an easy, common sense set of ethics that empowers users to tread lightly on the outdoor spaces we enjoy, ensuring these places will be enjoyable for years to come.

1. Plan ahead and prepare.

With a little planning, leaving no trace becomes simple. Plan your route in advance and carry a map to minimize time spent wandering off-trail. Minimize food waste by planning your meals ahead of time, and carry garbage bags so there’s never a reason to leave waste behind.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

Walk and camp on hard, dry ground like rocks and gravel to avoid damaging sensitive surfaces like moss and wet grass. In heavily trafficked areas, concentrate use on established trails and campsites to minimize impact, but in more remote areas, avoid camping in places that appear to be already impacted.

3. Dispose of waste properly.

Pack out all food waste to minimize disruptions to wildlife diets and ecosystems. Wash dishes 200 feet from water sources to minimize pollution, and scatter or bury dishwater to mitigate food smells that could attract wildlife. For human waste, dig a 6-8” cat hole 200 feet from water sources and fill it in after you’ve done your business.

4. Leave what you find.

In certain areas, it’s illegal to remove objects like rocks or tree bark. Leave everything the way you found it, and never make permanent alterations to trails or campsites unless explicitly directed by a trail crew.

5. Minimize campfire impacts.

Only build fires in designated fire pits using dead and previously downed wood, and respect fire bans.

6. Respect wildlife.

Camp 200 feet from water sources to allow wildlife to access these areas. Keep human food to yourself, and keep your distance (especially during mating or nesting season) to mitigate potentially dangerous interactions.

7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Give uphill hikers the right of way, and be aware of how your actions might affect others on the trail. Respect quiet hours in campsites and shelters.

For more information about Leave No Trace, visit LNT.org.

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