Just because you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint doesn’t mean you can forget about your actual footprint. That’s especially true during the summer when everyone capitalizes on getting outside and appreciating nature. For outdoor enthusiasts, hiking is a fantastic way to stay active and boost your mental health while exploring the natural world. In the U.S., National Trails Day happens on the first Saturday of June, representing a perfect opportunity to lace up hiking boots or gear up for an adventurous cycle.
But as you plan your outdoor adventures this season, remember to be mindful of our impact on the environment and other trail users. To help you make the most of what nature offers while still being responsible stewards of the outdoors, here are some tips to follow to enjoy nature trails responsibly.
Do your research
Planning your outdoor excursion ensures you will be able to do so sustainably. First, it’s simply common sense — you should always research a trail before you take it, gauging its difficulty and potential dangers. Blundering into a situation you’re not prepared for is a surefire way to damage the environment — and put yourself in harm’s way. A little research will also tell you if the trails you’re interested in have any restrictions or rules you need to follow.
Even if you’ve done your research beforehand, ensure you’re prepared for any situation before heading out on the trails. This may include bringing plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and proper equipment. And always let someone know your intended route and expected return time. Here’s a closer look at how to prepare for a hiking trip:
- Know the weather conditions: Check the weather forecast and prepare accordingly. Bring extra layers, rain gear, or sun protection as needed.
- Bring plenty of water and food: Dehydration and hunger can quickly ruin any outdoor adventure. Bring enough water and snacks to keep you and your group hydrated and fueled throughout your hike. Just be sure to bring a reusable water bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles.
- Carry essential gear: Depending on the trail and activity, you may need a map, compass, first aid kit, flashlight, knife, or other essential gear. Always carry what you need but try to travel as light as possible to minimize your impact.
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear: Dress in layers, wear comfortable, sturdy shoes, and consider the weather and terrain of the trail you’ll be on. You may also want to bring extra socks in case your feet get wet during your journey.
- Know your limits: Choose a trail that matches your fitness level and experience. Don’t push yourself too hard and take breaks as needed to rest, eat, and recharge.
Stay on the trail
Trails are created and maintained for two main reasons — to protect the delicate ecosystem around them and keep trekkers safe. The specific trail design considerations may vary depending on the trail’s location, ecosystem, and purpose. Still, these paths are intended to provide a safe and sustainable way for people to access and enjoy natural areas while minimizing their impact on the ecosystem and wildlife. Straying off the trail can cause damage to plant life, disturb wildlife habitats, and cause erosion. So, stick to the designated route and resist the urge to blaze your own path.
Whether you're hiking, biking, or horseback riding, be courteous and respectful to other trail users throughout your journey. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Yield to other hikers: If you’re hiking with a group, step to the side of the trail and let others pass you. If you’re hiking uphill, yield to those coming downhill.
- Be aware of cyclists and equestrians: If you’re sharing the trail with cyclists or horseback riders, be aware of their presence and move to the side to let them pass safely. Give horses a wide berth and speak softly to avoid spooking them.
- Keep pets under control: If you’re hiking with a dog, always keep them on a leash and under control. Be aware of the comfort level of other hikers and pets you encounter and make sure your fur baby doesn’t disturb others or wildlife.
- Pick up after yourself: Pack up all trash and waste, including pet waste, and don’t disturb or damage natural features, wildlife, or vegetation.
Keep noise levels down and follow proper trail etiquette to ensure a positive experience for everyone on the trail. Help make the trails a friendly and kind place to be for all walks of life!
Get there sustainably
Be eco-conscious even before you arrive at your destination. Instead of driving yourself to the trailhead, carpool or take public transportation if possible. If it’s not too far, consider biking there as a warm-up before the main event. You’ll be reducing your carbon emissions and avoiding any traffic or parking headaches.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy yourself! National Trails Day is about celebrating nature’s beauty and the joy of being outside. So, take your time, soak in the scenery, and consider bringing friends or family.
Are you planning on making it a weekend or an overnight trip? Keep in mind these simple steps to ensure you are camping sustainably, leaving things exactly the way you found them. If you think you’ll need to do a quick wash while camped, bring along a pack of convenient, lightweight eco-friendly laundry sheets.
Remember, responsible recreation isn’t just for National Trails Day – it’s a mindset that we should all embrace every time we slip into nature. See more ways to make every day feel like Earth Day!