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The 7 Leave No Trace Principles for Camping

The backcountry is one of my favorite places to be–and it’s a place I want to keep enjoying for years to come. That’s why the 7 Leave No Trace Principles are so important.

Leave No Trace is a non-profit organization that aims to educate people on how to make less of an impact on the outdoors while camping and hiking.

Following the seven principles outlined by Leave No Trace, we can ensure the outdoors remain enjoyable for future generations. Read on to learn more about how you can do your part to protect the spaces we love so much!

A trail through the Pacific Northwest wilderness. The 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

Here’s how you and your family can follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles during family camping.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Keep a close eye on the weather forecast.
  • Read up on any camping rules like required permits, bear safety and food storage, and any potential fire restrictions.
  • Involve your children in the planning process of picking where to go, which campsite to stay at, what gear to pack, and what camping meals to eat.
  • Use Our Family Camping Checklist to Make Sure You Pack All the Necessary Camping Gear!

Not only does planning ahead ensure your trip is comfortable and enjoyable, but it also keeps your family safe.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

When we are traveling into the backcountry for remote camping (backpacking, dispersed camping, and canoe camping), we often have to find a place to set up camp on our own. Always use Leave No Trace Principles for any form of remote camping.

  • Stay on existing trails for walks and hikes — no cutting through switchbacks!
  • Admire flowers and plants, but don’t pick them! Leave them so others can enjoy seeing them, too,
  • Set up camp where there has been a previous campsite.
Two hikers on a trail through mountains.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

This is perhaps my favorite of the 7 Leave No Trace Principles…I love the Leave No Trace quote “Pack it in. Pack it out.”

  • Don’t leave trash or litter of any kind. Thoroughly check the area to make sure nothing was mised before leaving.
  • Don’t leave anything that can harm wildlife, such as pieces of broken water balloons or other items your kids may have entertained themselves with.
  • Don’t leave behind human waste or your pet’s waste! If you can’t pack it out, properly bury it to keep the area safe for other campers. Improperly disposed of waste is a primary reason for public land closures.
  • Check Out Our Guide on How to Go Poop in the Woods for Proper Disposal Methods

It’s really that simple. Leave No Trace camping leaves no clues that you were camping at that site.

4. Leave What You Find

  • As mentioned earlier, don’t pick flowers or plants
  • Leave rocks in place, too.
  • Enjoy the environment, but leave it unchanged so native wildlife isn’t disturbed.

Observing the environment without changing it helps allow nature to do its thing and flourish so we can enjoy it to the fullest. That’s the core message of the Leave No Trace Principles.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Educate yourself on how to properly build and start a campfire.
  • Keep your campfires inside a campfire ring and use wood provided by the campground.
  • Keep your fire small and use wood pieces that fit within your campfire ring to prevent sparks and the chance of losing control of your fire.
  • Burn your wood completely and never leave sight of your campfire.
  • The proper way to put out a campfire is to extinguish it with water, stir up the coals with a shovel, and pour water over the campfire again.
  • Always have a shovel and a bucket of water near your campfire.

Remember always to follow all current fire restrictions! If there’s a campfire ban, save the campfire for next time.

6. Respect Wildlife

A red fox.

The Leave No Trace policy doesn’t just apply to the environment but also to the animals living in it.

  • If you see an animal during your camping trip, watch it from afar.
  • Don’t try to touch or chase animals (no matter how cute).
  • Don’t try to feed animals.
  • Keep your pets on a leash during your stay, and always watch them closely.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Finally, Leave No Trace principles are about the camping experience for you and others who may be nearby.

  • Keep noise and music to a reasonable level during the day.
  • Observe strict quiet hours at night.
  • If you’re on a hiking trail, step aside for groups coming your way and smile.

Don’t be the main character in someone else’s story of the noisy camper who kept the whole campsite up all night!

An evening view of Paddle Lake in the BWCA

Watch for Leave No Trace Events Near You

The Leave No Trace organization regularly holds events throughout the year.

Many times, these are at state parks. Stop at a state park next time you’re out camping and ask the office if they have a Leave No Trace booth planned for that week or weekend.

Not only is this a great way to learn more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles for camping, but you’re also likely to meet other outdoor lovers.

Learn more by reading our blog post on the Benefits of Leave No Trace Camping.