How To: Leave No Trace

By MDC | March 1, 2023
From Xplor: March/April 2023

After you visit a wild place, do you think anyone would be able to tell you were there? Sometimes our love for nature can take a toll. We accidentally leave litter on trails or trample wildflowers in a meadow. The idea behind “leave no trace” is to practice a few simple guidelines so that you leave only footprints, take only photos, and help keep wild places wild.

Know Before You Go

Go online to read the rules for the place you’re going to visit. Some wild areas don’t allow certain activities, such as hunting, camping, or mushroom gathering. Be sure to pack all the food, water, and gear you will need for your adventure. Last, consider visiting during off-peak times.

Pick the Right Path

If the wild area you’re exploring has a hiking trail, stay on it. Going off the trail is fine in certain cases, but when lots of people do so, it creates a spiderweb of confusing paths. When you do venture off the trail, watch your step so you don’t trample wildflowers or slow-moving critters.

Leave What You Find

It’s tempting to pick pretty flowers, collect bird feathers, and take rocks home as souvenirs. But doing so is illegal on some areas. And doing it anywhere steals the chance from someone else to see the same beautiful things. Snapping a photo is always a better option.

Be Careful With Fire

A camping stove is less likely to start a wildfire, and it won’t leave behind unsightly ashes. If you must build a campfire, keep it small and use an existing fire ring. Gather only dead wood that’s already on the ground. Never bring wood from home. It can carry tree-killing pests.

Respect Wild Things

Give wild critters plenty of space, especially when they’re raising their babies. And never feed wild animals. It makes them lose their fear of people, which usually doesn’t end well for the animals or the people.

Be Kind

As popular as wild places have become, it’s likely you’ll be sharing them with other people. Some folks like to hear nature when they’re outside, so keep your voice low and your portable speakers off. Keep dogs on a leash and clean up after them. If you’re hiking downhill, it’s courteous to step off the trail for folks who are hiking up.

Pack Out What You Pack In

Take along a trash bag. Use it to pack out your trash and any litter you find along the way. Get in the habit of putting your gear back in your pack as soon as you’re done using it. That way, you’ll be less likely to misplace it and leave it behind.


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This Issue's Staff

Photographer – Noppadol Paothong
Photographer – David Stonner
Designer – Marci Porter
Designer – Les Fortenberry
Art Director – Cliff White
Editor – Matt Seek
Subscriptions – Laura Scheuler
Magazine Manager – Stephanie Thurber