Leave No Trace: Suggestions when Visiting a National Park

How to follow the Leave No Trace principles when visiting a national park

By Brett Stadelmann

Each one of us has the right to enjoy the natural wonders of the world that we live in. National parks make these stunning sites accessible to the masses – but with the ability to traverse such special areas as and when we please, it’s imperative that we explore in a way that’s kind to the environment. By following the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT), we can explore our national parks whilst protecting the natural world.

What are the Leave No Trace principles?

The name of these principles is pretty self-explanatory: Leave No Trace is a set of guidelines you can follow to ensure you leave less of an impact when spending time outdoors. It’s important to follow the principles of LNT no matter where you go. However, when it comes to areas of conservation like national parks that are likely to be ecologically and culturally significant, it’s crucial that we’re extra diligent.

Looking across a bridge through a rainforest - Leave No Trace: Suggestions when Visiting a National Park

To explore national parks responsibly, you need to be well-informed. In this guide, we break down each of the seven principles and explain exactly how to follow them to ensure we leave no trace when visiting a national park.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare

Ensuring you’re well equipped for the national park you’re travelling to is key to experiencing it in a respectful, responsible manner. You’ll want to make sure that you take the temperature and terrain into account. If you’re exploring a park with desert temperatures, for example, you should wear minimal, light clothing and pack plenty of sunscreen and water. For cold spots, ensure you have plenty of thermal clothing to wrap up warm. No matter where you are, always make sure you have lots of sustenance to keep you going.

Being prepared also means doing plenty of research on the park you’re headed to ahead of time – this way, you’ll be completely up to speed with the rules and regulations and can pack appropriately. Being unprepared for your trip is not only an inconvenience, but it can actually make you more likely to cause harm to the environment. For example, somebody who hasn’t packed adequate clothing may be more inclined to build a harmful fire without the proper equipment when temperatures drop.

  1. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Some surfaces simply can’t tolerate repeated scuffing. The second LNT principle encourages us to only travel and set up camp on ground that is resistant, and unlikely to erode as a result of trampling over time.

In any national park, a durable surface will usually be rocks, sand, gravel or a dry mud surface – you should avoid areas of vegetation, where plants and wildlife can be crushed underfoot. Stick to authorised, already-established pathways where you can, and avoid veering off course onto unspoiled land.

  1. Dispose of waste properly

When exploring a national park, there are lots of things you’ll need to take with you – most of the time, the items that we take will be non-biodegradable. Leaving any item that doesn’t occur naturally in the environment can be devastating to local ecosystems, particularly if it’s an object that won’t biodegrade, like plastic or metal.

Always use the signposted waste areas when traversing a national park, and if there aren’t any bins around, pack your litter up and keep it with you.

  1. Leave what you find

Almost every natural item that you see in a national park is part of a unique, interconnected ecosystem, so it should be left exactly where it is to continue providing for the other plants and animals that depend on it.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some invasive species in national parks that are detrimental to the environment – but it’s important to remember that there are established organisations in place that work to remove them in a way that causes minimal impact to the surrounding life.

  1. Minimise campfire impacts

For many, building a campfire is a crucial part of a night spent camping out in the wild. The vast majority of national parks don’t want to take this away from their visitors – but there are certain restrictions and regulations you’ll need to follow if you plan on making a fire.

Fires built directly on the soil will burn all the vegetation it’s in contact with. Plus, without something to contain it, it can easily become a wildfire, causing mass devastation to plants and wildlife. For this reason, you should always stick to established fire pits, or use a camp stove – this will result in the same cosy, fireside experience, without harming the environment. Be sure to only source wood where it is abundant, and let your fire burn entirely to ash once you’re finished with it.

  1. Respect wildlife

It’s truly thrilling to come across a creature you’ve never seen before, and sometimes, the temptation to interact can be insurmountable. However, making contact with wildlife can prove incredibly harmful – even lethal.

For example, engaging with a young animal can result in it being rejected by its caregiver, leading to its inevitable demise. Offering animals food can alter their behaviours and make them vulnerable to predators. Plus, they can get sick – they need to eat the food that’s naturally occurring in their habitat, not the snacks that human travellers might be carrying.

Appreciate wildlife from a distance, and respect that they need to live separately from humans in order to be healthy and safe. You can always pack some binoculars if you’re keen to get a closer look.

  1. Be considerate of other visitors

National parks tend to be rather large, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find yourself all alone. Wherever you are, it’s important to be kind and considerate of other visitors, to ensure a pleasant experience for everybody.

Feelings of discomfort tend to lead to people acting more irresponsibly. So, if you care about the environment, you’ll want to ensure you extend that same level of respect to your fellow human beings, whether that’s fellow travellers or native communities that occupy the area.

Explore in an environmentally friendly way

Once you’re aware of the seven principles of Leave No Trace, it becomes much easier to explore stunning natural spots whilst also being kind to the environment. Ultimately, we want to preserve these areas for as long as possible, so it’s important to be respectful of all the living things that share the space.