Alaska truly is a one-of-a-kind place to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, or backpacking. But in order to keep this place wildly beautiful and minimize our impact, we must understand how to practice Leave No Trace in Alaska.
In this post, I’m going to share how to practice the Leave No Trace Principles in Alaska and why it’s important to use these seven principles as guidelines.
- What is Leave No Trace?
- What are the 7 principles of Leave No Trace?
- 3 Ways to Practice Leave No Trace Principles Every Day in Alaska
Planning a trip to Alaska? Start with my Alaska Travel Guide.
What is Leave No Trace?
The Leave No Trace Principles (LNT) are guidelines that help people plan, prepare, and adventure more consciously. By practicing these seven principles, we can minimize our impact and protect the outdoor spaces that we play in.
What are the 7 principles of Leave No Trace?
Principle #1: Plan Ahead and Prepare
To help ensure a fun and safe trip, and minimize damage to natural and cultural resources, it’s important to plan ahead and prepare.
Here are some ways to prepare for your outdoor adventure:
- Check the weather. The weather in Alaska is unpredictable and changes quickly, so it’s important to know what to expect.
- Choose the right gear. This goes hand-in-hand with checking the weather. Having the right clothing and equipment can keep you safe.
- Study a map. Knowing your route will keep you on the trail and avoid creating new social trails.
- Plan your meals and repackage them. This will help you reduce the amount of trash you are bringing into the wilderness.
- Understand local regulations. It’s common to see a fire ban in Alaska during the summertime and planning for alternatives is the only way to avoid breaking the law or impacting the land.
Principle #2: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
To avoid damage to the land or waterways that you travel on, it’s important to know how to move through these natural areas.
Travel On-Trail and Off-Trail
During travel on-trail, you have to understand that someone actually designed that specific route. Most trails that we follow in Alaska were hand-built by trail-building volunteers.
The most effective way to avoid damaging our trails and creating erosion is to stay on the width of the trail. As Alaskans, I know we have difficulty following this all of the time, especially when we need to pass another group or individual on the trail. But, it’s important to understand that this is what will scar the landscape and alter the trail forever.
Sometimes while in the remote backcountry or simply trying to find a place to use the bathroom, we have to travel off-trail. There are two things to keep in mind while doing so: surface durability (how do the natural surfaces respond to backcountry travel), and frequency of use (how likely is an area to be trampled by travel).
Camping on Durable Surfaces
Campsite selection is very important in the Alaska backcountry. You have to think about damaging fragile tundra, the likelihood of disturbing wildlife, and ensuring others do not see signs of your use.
Here are some tips on choosing a campsite in the backcountry:
- Camp at least 200 feet from any water source.
- But you can consider camping on a durable surface, such as gravel river bars, to avoid damaging fragile tundra.
- In pristine areas like Denali National Park, avoid camping where others have camped.
- Spread out your tents if traveling in groups.
- Minimize the removal of rocks or gravel.
- Limit your stay to 2 nights.
Principle #3: Dispose of Waste Properly
To avoid spreading diseases, polluting the same water sources that you will be getting drinking water from, and negatively impact wildlife, it’s important to properly dispose your waste.
Going pee in the wild is a wee-bit straightforward, but what happens when you have to take a poop? All of those dehydrated Mountain House meals have to end up somewhere…
Here are the simple steps to follow when nature calls while you’re in the woods:
- Select a spot for a cat hole at least 200 feet from any water source.
- Use a trowel to dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter.
- Place sparingly used toilet paper in the hole.
- Cover the hole with dirt and natural materials when finished.
If you’re on your period while in the backcountry, you will have to pack out your pads and tampons since they are not biodegradable. I highly suggest using a menstrual cup during outdoor activities to avoid the messiness of packing out your period waste.
Whether it’s bacon grease, cigarette butts, or orange peels, if you pack it in, you have to pack it out. Trash is harmful to the environment and wildlife, and It’s easy enough to carry a plastic bag and haul out all of your garbage.
- Dispose of dishwater at least 200 feet from any water source.
- Dispose of dishwater away from camp to avoid attracting bears (look into the Bearmuda Triangle camp layout).
- Scatter the water over a large area to avoid contaminating a single area with a concentrated amount of soap and bacteria.
Do not use soap in any water source, even if it’s biodegradable! Lotion, sunscreen, insect repellent, and body oils can also contaminate vital water sources, so think twice before swimming in areas with limited amounts of clean water.
Principle #4: Leave What You Find
Did you know that it’s illegal to remove natural objects in national parks? By leaving what we find, we can help protect wildlife and allow others the opportunity to discover these wild places in the same way.
Here’s what NOT to do:
- Build new fire rings.
- Carve your initials into trees.
- Pick flowers.
- Take home rocks, sticks, antlers, etc.
- Move cultural or historical artifacts.
Principle #5: Minimize Campfire Impacts
It is especially important in Alaska to consider the potential damage to the backcountry when deciding to use a campfire. Climate change continues to threaten the state with insanely hot temperatures and super dry vegetation. The fire danger in Alaska is always changing and human-caused fires have contributed to thousands of acres burned.
Here are some tips to minimize campfire impacts:
- Use a cooking stove. I love using my JetBoil.
- Use an existing fire ring, if available.
- Never leave a fire unattended.
- Keep the fire small.
- Gather wood over a wide area away from camp.
- Put out the fire with water, not dirt.
- Pack out campfire trash.
Principle #6: Respect Wildlife
Alaska is abundant with wildlife. We are so lucky to see moose, bears, caribou, lynx, and so much more wildlife right in our own backyards!
Here are some ways to respect wildlife in Alaska:
- Observe wildlife from a distance.
- Don’t feed wildlife! This includes storing food securely using a bear canister.
- Do not touch or pick up wildlife.
- Give wildlife access to water by camping at least 200 feet away from any water source.
- Carefully dispose human waste. This will help to avoid polluting the environment.
Principle #7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Our reasons for wandering into the outdoors may be unique to ourselves, but, if anything, we should all be able to enjoy our outdoor experience.
Here are ways to be considerate of other visitors:
- Try to use earbuds instead of an external speaker. If using a speaker, reduce the volume around other people.
- We love our trail pups in Alaska. Make sure you can control your dog, clean up its poop, and follow the local leash laws.
- Enjoy your rest breaks on durable surfaces off the main trail.
- Camp out of view from the trail.
- Before passing others, politely announce your presence and proceed with caution.
- Practice Leave No Trace Principles.
Who has the right of way on the trail?
- Downhill hikers step off to the side and yield to uphill hikers.
- Hikers yield to equestrians.
- Mountain bikers yield to equestrians and hikers.
3 Ways to Practice Leave No Trace Principles Every Day in Alaska
You can start to practice Leave No Trace Principles every day in Alaska. This will help you minimize your impact in your everyday life. Let’s discuss a few ways to practice Leave No Trace.
Plan ahead and prepare
By planning ahead, you have the opportunity to reduce the amount of resources you need. This means bringing a reusable water bottle to avoid single use plastics. There are places in Alaska that also have a ban on plastic bags, so make sure to keep reusable bags in your vehicle and bring them in the store with you.
Dispose of waste properly
The only place to put your trash is straight into the garbage bin. If you expect people to clean up after you, then you will certainly not be able to Leave No Trace while out in the backcountry. And, if you see something on the ground that’s not yours, pick it up anyways! If you have a dog, don’t forget poop bags. Being prepared to clean up your dog’s poop will get you on your way tp taking care of Alaska and reducing your impact.
In Alaska, there is always some kind of wildlife present. Whether it’s a moose and calves moseying around your backyard, the occasional bear, or maybe even a hillside Lynx, it’s super important to respect wildlife. I know they look super cute and cuddly… but don’t feed them, don’t pet them, and keep a safe distance.
The Leave No Trace Principles are always being reviewed to keep up with the current state of the outdoors. If you want to learn more, visit the Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics website here.
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Do you have any questions on Leave No Trace 7 Principles? Let me know in the comments.