What is Leave No Trace?

You may have heard the phrase “leave no trace” while exploring or researching for your next adventure. The principle is simple enough: leave the places you explore as though you were never there. 

The concept was first formally introduced in 1987 with a pamphlet released by the National Parks Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, entitled “Leave No Trace Land Ethics.” Originally, it discouraged practices that would disturb other visitors or wildlife, including the usage of brightly colored gear, traveling off trail or making a lot of noise.

This idea evolved into a non-profit in 1994 and has expanded its reach and mission by partnering with the National Association of State Park Directors in 2007. Through this partnership, the organization’s promotional materials and signage are now displayed in many state parks.

“Leave No Trace is an international nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, education, stewardship and simple guidelines to support and protect nature,” reads their statement of intent as listed on their website.

There are seven key principles to Leave No Trace: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of others. 

“What so many people don’t know is that committing to just one single, simple act of Leave No Trace is contributing to a tangible difference in the health of our outdoor world,” said Leave No Trace Director Dana Watts on their website. By practicing these principles when exploring federal lands, individuals help to conserve the outdoors for others. 

SUU Outdoors Basecamp Specialist Sydney Newell agreed that to plan ahead and prepare is one of the most important concepts. “The outdoors are a wonderful place, but they do come with wildlife and nature. I think it’s good to know where you’re going to be at and potential risks,” said Newell.

To be considerate of others is another Leave No Trace principle that Newell finds valuable. “I think it’s important to be respectful of everyone else trying to enjoy the same place,” she said.

The non-profit exists to continue education of Leave No Trace principles and develop research to further protect our environment. Supporters can donate to the organization, but the easiest way to get involved is to educate yourself before your next trip into nature.

When visiting a national park, there is a certain etiquette to abide by. Nature does not belong to humans alone, and we must work to maintain the beauty of the great outdoors for wildlife and for the generations that follow ours.  


Story by: Lily Brunson

Photos by: Anden Garfield