Bureau of Land Management
Leave No Trace Guidelines

Leave No Trace Principles

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Leave No Trace Award

Leave No Trace may not seem important at first, but the value of these principles become clear when you consider the impact of millions of outdoor visitors, year after year. One poorly located campsite or fire ring is of little significance, but thousands of such campsites and fire rings slowly and surely degrade the outdoor experience for everyone.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare:   Be prepared. By taking the time to properly plan and prepare for an outdoor trip, you can hike and camp safely, while minimizing damage to the environment. Poorly prepared hikers and campers, when confronted by unexpected situations, often resort to high-impact solutions that damage the outdoors, and put themselves and others at risk.
    • Know the permits, regulations, and special concerns for the area you plan to visit.
    • Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
    • Schedule your trips to avoid times of high use.
    • Visit natural areas in small groups of 4 to 6, not in large parties.
    • Repackage food to minimize waste, reduce unnecessary paper packaging, and eliminate foil, plastic, and metal containers.
    • Use a map and compass to stay on route and eliminate the need for plastic flags, rock cairns, blazes on trees, or marking paint.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces:   Damage to the land occurs when surface vegetation and/or communities of organisms are trampled bare or beyond repair, resulting in unusable trails, campsites, and soil erosion. Trampling near the base of some trees, particularly Giant Sequoias, can damage and ultimately kill them.
    • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, bare rock, gravel, decomposed granite, dry grass, or snow.
    • Stay on the established trail. Taking shortcuts across switchbacks not only scars the environment, but shortcuts tend to be steeper than the trail route, and you are far more likely on shortcuts to harm yourself by falling or getting lost, and far more likely to roll rocks down and harm unsuspecting hikers below.
    • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
    • In popular, heavily used areas you should:
      • Use existing trails and campsites, rather than make new ones.
      • choose the most traveled path when confronted by several parallel paths across the same stretch of trail. If possible, restore lesser used paths to their natural state.
      • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when the trail is wet or muddy.
      • Keep campsites small, and focus your activity in areas where vegetation is already absent or disturbed.
    • In pristine areas of little or no use you should:
      • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
      • Spread the group out, and take different paths when hiking off trail to avoid creating new trail scars that can cause erosion.
      • Spread out tents and cooking areas, and move camp daily to avoid creating permanent-looking campsites.
    • Altering a site is not necessary. Remember that good campsites are found, not made.
  • Pack it In, Pack it Out:   This common saying is a simple yet effective way to remind backcountry visitors to pack their trash home rather than leave it behind in the outdoors. Trash and litter detract from the beauty of the outdoors.
    • Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash and spilled food. Pack out all trash, leftovers, and litter.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly:   Backcountry users create body waste and waste water that require proper disposal.
    • Dish water and wash water:  Prevent contamination of streams and lakes. Wash yourself and your dishes by carrying water 200 feet away from streams or lakes, then scatter the strained water when finished.
    • Use only small amounts of biodegradable soap (Ivory, Dr. Bonners, etc.), or avoid the use of soap entirely.
    • Leftover food:  Minimize the need to pack out leftover food by carefully planning your meals so that everything gets eaten. Any leftovers need to be buried or carried out. In some places, packing out leftovers is mandatory!
    • Human waste:  Deposit human feces in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, gullies, camps, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
    • Urinate on rocks, and not on vegetation.
    • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • Leave What You Find:   Allow others a sense of discovery.
    • Preserve the past by examining, but not touching cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
    • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
    • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
    • Minimize Site Alterations
      • Do not dig trenches around tents, or build lean-tos, tables or chairs.
      • Do not hammer nails into trees or branches, and do not cut trees or branches with hatchets or saws, or tie horses to them for extended periods.
      • If you clear an area, replace the rocks and twigs when you leave.
      • Clean up you camp and rest sites by dismantling multiple fire rings, log seats, tables, and other inappropriate user-built structures.
      • Remember that good campsites are found, not made.
  • Minimize the Use and Impact of Fire:   Too many campfires has stripped the ground bare in many areas of firewood and left multiple fire rings, many of which seldom see use. Charcoal lasts hundreds, even thousands of years, charcoal-filled rings of stones may sit unused, but visible to all, for decades. True Leave No Trace fires show no evidence of having ever been constructed.

    • Use lightweight backpacking stoves for cooking, and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
    • Where fires are permitted, use existing fire rings and chimneys. If multiple fire rings are present, use the largest, most well established, and destroy the rest.
    • Keep your fires small, only collect sticks off the ground that can be broken by hand, and do not break branches off trees.
    • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put campfires out completely, then scatter the cool ashes, and disperse any fire stones.
    • Fill in any campfire holes, or avoid digging them in the first place.
    • Build your fire on layers of foil, and pack out the ashes in particularly sensitive areas.
  • Respect Wildlife:   Respect wildlife and protect them and their quality of life.
    • Observe wildlife from a distance, and 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.
    • Hang food and trash properly, or use bear cans, so that wildlife cannot get to it.
    • Control your pets at all times, or leave them home.
    • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times, such mating, nesting, raising young, or in winter.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors:   Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their outdoor experience. Remember, what you do in the outdoors impacts others.
    • Be courteous. Yield to other hikers on the trail.
    • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering horses, mules, and other stock animals.
    • Take breaks and make camp away from trails and other visitors.
    • Let the sounds of nature prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises, and leave those CD players and radios home.


earn the
Leave No Trace Award




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