Tips For Responsible Outdoor Recreation

It’s important for us as humans to make sure that we are always acting responsibly so future generations can enjoy our beautiful planet.

By Allyson Shulte
Explore Ambassador

What’s your favorite outdoor activity? Whether you head outside for fishing, hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, boating or something else, you have to admit, nature is pretty amazing. It’s important for us as humans to make sure that we are always acting responsibly so future generations can enjoy our beautiful planet. That’s why I’ve put together a few tips to help make sure you are minimizing your impact and doing your part to protect our planet.


Plan Ahead 

Before you head out on any adventure, do your research! Make sure you always check the weather conditions so you can plan your schedule and pack your gear accordingly. If you’re heading out to a trail or campsite, stay up-to-date on current conditions. Confirm whether or not there are any permits or reservations required in advance. Prepare for your trip by downloading offline maps and trail descriptions. Respect any closures, and always have a backup plan. During the summer months, check the fire regulations that are in place for your final destination before you head out, and plan accordingly for any fire restrictions. During the winter months, be aware of incoming weather that may impact travel, along with current avalanche conditions. And lastly, make sure you always have the essentials packed (like food and water). By taking the time to do your research in advance, you can avoid any last-minute surprises that will impact your trip. 


Pack Out What You Pack In 

Whatever you bring with you to the outdoors should always leave with you. This means everything ranging from food scraps to dog poop bags, toilet paper and anything in between! When you leave your campsite, hiking trail or outdoor location, it should always look just as good as you found it (or if you’re feeling generous, better than you found it!). Leftover garbage becomes litter that can result in harmful consequences to wildlife and can make a location less attractive for future visitors. One thing that I always recommend is packing extra bags for scraps and trash on every adventure. Take the time to throw some in your car right now! I’ll often reuse grocery or Ziploc bags for storing and transporting trash. Another idea to reduce trash is to repackage food before your trip to reduce the amount of waste you’ll need to pack out. You should NEVER bury or burn your trash, as it will not only attract wildlife to your location, but also disrupt their natural feeding cycles. Before you leave your campsite or rest spot along a trail, make it a habit to inspect the area for spilled foods or trash. If everyone does their part to pack out their own trash, it will help preserve nature for all of us to enjoy! 


Watch Your Step 

Anytime you’re enjoying an adventure in nature, whether via foot, horse, car or bike, it’s important to travel on durable surfaces. While it may be supertempting to take a few steps off the trail for that perfect wildflower photo, your few boot prints could take years to recover. Always do your best to stay on the trail, and avoid stepping or walking on sensitive areas around you. Examples of sensitive areas are meadows, wetlands and alpine tundra. Because these are sensitive habitats, hiking/trampling through these areas can cause significant damage to the vegetation, as well as contribute to erosion and soil loss. If you need to travel off-trail, look for ways to stay on rocks or other durable surfaces, such as gravel or snow. If you encounter a muddy trail, it’s best to walk through the mud rather than around it, to avoid widening the trail. In areas where trails don’t exist, spread out the tracks among your group to spread out the impact (rather than creating a new trail). And lastly, don’t cut corners when you’re hiking! Taking a “shortcut” or cutting switchbacks has a lasting impact on the trail and contributes to erosion. If you’re traveling via car, bike or another form of motorized vehicle, make sure you are familiar with local regulations before heading out on your adventure. 


Don’t Touch Or Feed The Wildlife 

Although it might be totally adorable to share a snack with the little chipmunk that greets you on the trail, it also can be detrimental to their well-being. Anytime you encounter wildlife, it’s important to respect their space and to never share your food (or leave food unattended). On camping trips, be sure to safely secure your food each night and use bear-proof storage when necessary. Do not encourage wildlife by leaving food on the ground for them, and dispose of all food scraps properly. Human food is not healthy for wild animals, and feeding them may impact their ability to find food naturally or can cause them to become sick. Additionally, if wild animals begin to associate humans with food, they can lose their fear of people and become aggressive, which can result in euthanasia for the animal. The best way to protect wildlife is by leaving them alone and respecting their space. If you have a dog, make sure to keep them on a leash and under control so they can’t bother or chase the wildlife, too. Always be responsible around wildlife by keeping a safe distance and never approaching, touching or feeding the wildlife. 


Leave It How You Found It 

On your adventures, you might come across a rock that looks superneat or a flower that is so pretty you want to bring it home with you. But, if you find it in nature, it’s best that it stays in nature. This means no stealing or painting rocks, and no picking flowers or removing plants. Leave every natural, wild and archaeological area exactly as you found it. Leaving it how you found it doesn’t only apply to bringing things home with you, but also preserving the nature that you do experience. Always avoid damaging live trees and plants, and whatever you do, never carve into a tree. While it may seem like carving your initials into a tree wouldn’t have a huge impact on the environment, it encourages others to do the same, and the collective impact of you (and all the people before and after you) can be detrimental to some of the beautiful places we all enjoy today. Instead of taking nature home with you, photograph it instead. Not only does a picture last a lifetime, but it also allows future visitors to experience nature in the same way that you did. A lack of respect for the public lands we all love and enjoy can result in expensive repairs, increased restrictions and ugly scars. Let’s all do our part to leave it how we found it! 


Be Respectful To Other Visitors 

There is space for everyone outdoors through countless outdoor activities. And, on just about any adventure you go on, it’s safe to assume you’ll run into someone else while you’re out. There are a few things that you can do to be more respectful of others so you all get to enjoy your adventure to the fullest. One simple thing you can do while hiking is walk in a single-file line. Staying on the trail single file will help to prevent any further damage to the surrounding ecosystem, and it allows other people/groups to pass, if needed. When you do come across another hiker, remember that downhill hikers should always yield to uphill hikers, and bikers should yield to hikers except on slopes. And, everyone should yield to horseback riders. Another thing you can do to respect other visitors is to respect their privacy. In general, people love going to nature to process their thoughts and disconnect. Always keep this in mind when other visitors are nearby by minimizing excessive noise and/or music. Instead, turn your phone on silent, pack some headphones or walk over to a friend rather than yelling across the campsite. Be friendly to those you meet while on your adventures, and remember that everyone is entitled to enjoy the outdoors. Who knows, you might even make a friend along the way!


Make Sure Your Fire Is OUT 

Just about anyone who goes camping looks forward to a fire at the end of the day — that time when you pull out the logs, start a fire and sit down in a camp chair for a relaxing evening spent in nature. Fires are great for warmth, cooking and entertainment. But, irresponsible use of fires while on camping trips or in nature can result in burn scars or even catastrophic wildfires. It’s important to make sure you’re taking the necessary precautions to enjoy a fire responsibly. When it comes to firewood, try to use local wood rather than bringing it from home. Transporting firewood across state or even county lines can spread diseases and insects. When you get to the area where you are camping, follow local regulations. The first thing you can do is use existing fire rings, rather than building your own. Fire rings should only be used for burning wood, not your food or trash. Anytime you start a fire, only keep it lit for the duration that you are using it, and put it out with water (not dirt) when you are done. While dirt may make the fire appear to be out, it also may not completely extinguish it. Make sure to always pour plenty of water on your fire, while also mixing around the remnants to ensure there are no lingering embers. If your fire is fully out, it should be completely cool to the touch. 

Lastly, here are some resources where you can learn more about ways to responsibly enjoy the outdoors on all your adventures.

  • Smokey Bear: resources on campfire safety and wildfire prevention
  • Leave No Trace: more information on what you can do to enjoy the outdoors sustainably
  • National Park Service: tips and advice for responsible recreation in national parks

Related Articles

Always be ready to go with the Go Out{side} Email Newsletter

Don’t miss out on new Go Out{side} news, tips and tricks.