Leave No Trace: What to do for Hiking/National Parks

It’s the time of the year when people begin to travel for the holidays! In California, there are national parks that are tourist destinations. Before visiting these parks, it’s important to follow the principles of Leave No Trace. Taking care of the environment isn’t just the park rangers’ responsibility! The environment needs to be protected from harmful human activities.  


Plan and Prepare 

Before arriving, make sure you’re prepared for your visit. If you’re avoiding large crowds, schedule your trip during the slow period. Check the weather beforehand, it’ll help you pack the appropriate supplies and clothing. Try to use less wasteful packaging if you’re bringing food, as it helps with space and minimizes waste. Make sure to use a map, compass, or GPS instead of making marks on the plants and trees.  

Travel and Camp on Safe Surfaces 

Walk on durable surfaces when you’re visiting. These include maintained trails, designated campsites, dry grass, rock, gravel, sand, or snow. Don’t alter any trails or campsites, as it’s maintained and designated for your safety. Set up on designated campsites, keep your space small, stay 200 feet away from water sources, and clear of vegetation.  

Properly Disposing of Waste 

Before setting up your campsite, inspect the surrounding area, such as food prep and rest areas. Make sure there isn’t leftover food, litter, or trash. It can attract wildlife and be harmful to the environment.  

Utilize toilet facilities if it’s accessible! Otherwise, you’ll need to take more precautions. Pick a spot 200 feet away from water sources. It needs full access to the sun, as heat helps with decomposition. Dig 6-8 inches below and have enough dirt and natural resources to cover it. Some national parks have waste bins available for disposal. Bag everything used for waste and follow the bin’s directions. 

For your soap, pick natural and biodegradable products with no perfume scent. Try to avoid washing at the water source, as it can still affect the water quality. Move 200 feet away and scatter the water far from the source.  

These precautions are to ensure bacteria doesn’t spread and pollute the water systems!  

Leave What You Find 

You may feel tempted to take a souvenir, but you need to leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects where they belong. Don’t touch any cultural or historical structures and artifacts. Don’t build any structures or dig trenches not meant for waste disposal. It’s better to examine and take pictures.   

Minimize Campfire Impacts 

Campfires can have dangerous impacts on the environment. Pick a lightweight stove and candle lanterns for heat sources. Only make a campfire where it’s permitted and use established fire rings, pans, or mounds. Burn all the wood or coal to ash! Don’t leave without completely putting out the fire and scattering the ashes. Take multiple precautions to avoid causing a forest fire.  

Respect Wildlife 

Don’t follow or approach wildlife under any circumstances. Wildlife can be dangerous, especially if they’re mating, accompanied by offspring, and during winter seasons. Never give them human food, as it damages their health and affects their natural instincts. Make sure your pets walk by your side and have a leash. For everyone’s safety, don’t interact at all.  

Be Considerate of Others 

While walking along the trails, remember to be kind to others! Everyone’s welcome to enjoy California’s scenery. Give space to visitors walking or biking the trail. Try to opt for headphones if you listen to music to let others enjoy the sounds of nature.  


Don’t feel discouraged from traveling to California’s national parks! Protecting the environment is a shared responsibility. Follow the Leave No Trace principles when you’re visiting and kindly encourage others. We must do our part to allow future generations to experience the beauty of nature.  

©1999 Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org 

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