29 critical "Leave No Trace" tips for wilderness visitors

Hiking in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Mason Cummings (TWS)

Sign in park that reads "Take only pictures. Leave only footprints"

flickr, Reclamation Revolution

Just as you rely on wild places to rejuvenate and restore you, those places rely on you to keep them in good condition.

Even if you are aware of the basic notion of "pack it in, pack it out," leaving no trace can often entail some details you might not think of. 

So that you can be mindful of all the ways you can impact the wild places you visit, here are some tips based on the seven Leave No Trace principles:


  1. Prepare. This is the single most important thing you can do. Reading this page is a great start!
  2. Plan ahead and know the regulations of the area you'll visit to avoid last-minute errors in judgement. ​For example, you'll want to check with campsites to ensure they allow campfires if you're hoping to build a fire. Or if you're hiking with your dog, you'll want to check the trail's rules about dogs. 
  3. Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies to avoid unplanned impacts, such as lighting fires where not allowed. 
  4. Avoid crowded times. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use. Visit in small groups when possible.
  5. Reduce what you bring to minimize waste. For example, you can repackage food so you are bringing only what you know you'll eat, and nothing more. Woman picking up trash in public area
  6. Reduce trash. Be thoughtful about food portions when cooking. Good meal planning helps reduce trash, pack weight and dependence upon campfires. 
  7. Don't create campsites. Campsites are found not made. Pitch your tent only in areas that are designated for them in order to prevent unintended impacts.
  8. Keep campsites small and in areas away from plants on the ground.
  9. Think about the terrain when camping. Be aware that camping in dry areas, near rivers or on unstable surfaces requires special considerations.
  10. Clean up. Allow for plenty of time for cleanup. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. This includes small items like cigarette butts and candy wrappers.
  11. Dispose of your waste in a trash bin or take it home. Whatever you do, don't burn it.
  12. Carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes to wash. For dishes, use small amounts of biodegradable soap, then scatter strained dishwater.
  13. Stay on the trail and avoid unplanned shoot-off trails. Try to keep impact to flora minimal by staying on the trail. Avoid venturing off into areas where damage is just beginning, such as impromptu trails created by other hikers stepping off trail. 
  14. Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Never burn toilet paper.
  15. Leave what you find. Yes, even that rock that you are sure only you will find cool.
  16. Preserve the peace and quiet. Respect wildlife and other visitors by keeping voices low. Resist the urge to blast music during overnight camping trips. 
  17. Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. Don't bring soil, plants of ANY kind (other than dead vegetables) or firewood (this can be purchased nearby). Clean and inspect clothing, gear and containers for weeds and other "hitchhikers" before you leave.
  18. Do not build structures or furniture, or dig trenches.
  19. Minimize campfire impacts. Burn only in established fire rings and keep fires small.
  20. Be selective about firewood. To build your fire, only use sticks that are from the ground and that can be broken by hand.
  21. Burn everything in the campfire to ash before putting it out.
  22. Dispose of waste the right way. Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources. If an outhouse or bathroom is available, use it. In most backcountry locations, burying human feces is sufficient, but solid human waste must be packed out from some places, such as narrow river canyons. Trash at campsite
  23. Need to "go"? Go far away, please. Be sure to urinate at least 200 feet from a campsite or trail. Urinating on rocks, pine needles and gravel is less likely to attract wildlife (a good thing). Diluting urine with water from a water bottle also can help minimize negative effects. 
  24. Respect wildlife by never feeding any animal. You may do so unintentionally if you leave food or garbage unattended at your campsite.
  25. Protect wildlife by storing food and trash securely. If you are planning to be in bear country, read up about proper precautions beforehand.
  26. Keep pets on a leash at all times, or leave them at home. And don't forgot to pick up their waste too! Be sure to check the rules at the trail head to make sure your dog is permitted on the trail. 
  27. Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
  28. Ditch the disposable plastic water bottles and bring a refillable one. You can even go a step further and let the Park Service know that you want National Parks to be plastic free!
  29. Get a tuneup for your car before your trip to ensure it doesn't leak any of its fluids into nearby wild waters.

Photo credits: Picking up trash in Apalachicola National Forest: flickr, USDA (USFS-Susan Blake). Campsite that was ravgaed by ravens when food was left unattended: flickr, GCNP (Kristen M. Caldon).