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Leave No Trace
Headquarters Boulder, CO, USA
Executive Director Dana Watts
Parent organization Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Leave No Trace is a national and international program designed to assist outdoor enthusiasts with their decisions about how to reduce their impacts when they hike, camp, picnic, snowshoe, run, bike, hunt, paddle, ride horses, fish, ski or climb. The program strives to educate all those who enjoy the outdoors about the nature of their recreational impacts as well as techniques to prevent and minimize such impacts. Leave No Trace is best understood as an educational and ethical program, not as a set of rules and regulations. Leave No Trace information helps public land visitors understand and practice minimum impact skills and ethics.

The Leave No Trace program is a combination of science and common sense for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The message is framed under seven principles:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors



The roots of Leave No Trace can be traced to the 1970s and 1980s.[1] In those decades, the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service started to teach their non-motorized visitors how to have a minimal impact on the land. Also in the 70s, groups such as the Sierra Club were advocating minimum impact camping techniques. A pilot program in the 80s between the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the High Uintas Wilderness tried to reach a wide audience. Finally, a national education program was developed in 1990 by the United States Forest Service in conjunction with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

James M. Turner[2] has examined the political history of "Leave No Trace". Turner attributes the creation of the LNT ethic to wilderness advocates, who needed popular support for wilderness, but wanted to minimize human impact on wilderness. Severely limiting wilderness access would lose support for the Wilderness Act. Turner claims that wilderness advocates turned wilderness ethics 180 degrees, from 'woodcraft' (where wilderness travelers exploit wilderness resource in order to rebel against modern technology), to 'Leave No Trace' (where travelers use the latest technology to minimize impact).

The Leave No Trace program is managed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, [3] formerly Leave No Trace, Inc., which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship by all people worldwide. This mission is accomplished through education, research, volunteerism and partnerships. Leave No Trace tries to build awareness, appreciation and respect for our wildlands. Since its founding in 1994, the Center has provided training in every state in the U.S. and over 25 countries. There are more than 25,000 active volunteers and members who help provide training and outreach that impacts more than 22 million people annually in the U.S. alone.


Leave No Trace provides a framework for outdoor recreation decision making, which is summarized in the following 7 principles:[4]

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Poorly prepared people, when presented with unexpected situations, often resort to high-impact solutions that degrade the outdoors or put themselves at risk. Poor planning can result in improperly located campsites because groups failed to plan enough time to reach their intended destination, or improper campfires or excessive trash because of failure to plan meals or bring proper equipment.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Damage to land occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond repair. The resulting barren area leads to unusable trails, campsites and soil erosion.
    • In high-use areas, Leave No Trace suggests that people concentrate activity, which makes further damage unlikely.
    • In areas of very little or no use, Leave No Trace encourages people to spread out. Taking different paths when hiking off-trail will avoid creating new trails that cause erosion. Dispersing tents and equipment, and moving camp daily will avoid creating permanent-looking camp sites.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Though most trash and litter in the backcountry is not significant in terms of the long term ecological health of an area, it does rank high as a problem in the minds of many backcountry visitors. Trash and litter are primarily social impacts which can greatly detract from the naturalness of an area.[5] Thus, Leave No Trace recommends that trash and litter should be packed out. Further, backcountry users create body waste and waste water which requires proper disposal according to Leave No Trace.
    A cathole may be dug with a trowel
    • Waste water: Avoiding soap and dispersing dishwater far away from natural water sources will prevent contamination.
    • Human waste: Proper human waste disposal prevents spread of disease, exposure to others, and speeds decomposition. Catholes, 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet from water, are often the easiest and most practical way to dispose of feces.
  4. Leave What You Find: Leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects as found will allow others a sense of discovery. Similarly, Leave No Trace directs people to minimize site alterations, such as digging tent trenches, hammering nails into trees, permanently clearing an area of rocks or twigs.
  5. Minimize Use and Impact of Fire: Leave No Trace encourages people to use lightweight camp stoves, instead of fires, because the naturalness of many areas has been degraded by overuse of fires and the increasing demand for firewood. If a campfire is constructed, Leave No Trace suggests using an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite or to use a fire pan or mound fire. True Leave No Trace fires show no evidence of having ever been constructed.
  6. Respect Wildlife: If enough people approach or interfere with wildlife, it can be disruptive to animal populations.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Following hiking etiquette and maintaining quiet allows visitors to go through the wilderness with minimal impact on other users.

Application in the United States

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has partnerships with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The "Leave No Trace" method is encouraged strongly and used by youth serving organizations, college and university outing programs, outfitter and guide services, outdoor clubs, non-profit organizations and state and local governments. An example of how this partnership works is that wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service actively promote adherence to Leave No Trace principles. The Center has also developed partnerships with other parks, municipalities, and agencies that wish to incorporate the Leave No Trace program in information provided to the public.

Application Abroad

The Center for Outdoor Ethics currently has three international branches - Leave No Trace Ireland, Leave No Trace Australia and Leave No Trace/Sans Trace Canada. Additionally, the Center has partnerships or is working in over 50 other countries around the world. The Leave No Trace program is widely viewed as a successful model that can be replicated in other countries in order to minimize recreation-related impacts.



A Leave No Trace Master Educator Course is typically five days in length and designed for people who are actively teaching others outdoor skills or providing recreation information to the public. The Master Educator Course provides participants with a comprehensive overview of Leave No Trace skills and ethics through practical application in a field-based setting. The first day is spent in a classroom, introducing the course and schedule, providing in-depth information on the overall Leave No Trace program and the Center for Outdoor Ethics, reviewing gear and packing. The remaining days are spent in the field on a short backcountry trip learning and practicing the principles of Leave No Trace.

Each course is staffed with a minimum of two highly experienced outdoor professionals who are Master Educator Instructors. Participants learn Leave No Trace techniques through skits, discussions and hands-on activities. To practice Leave No Trace teaching strategies in a supportive, educational environment, each participant teaches a short session geared toward minimum impact Leave No Trace concerns.

Currently, there are over 2,500 Leave No Trace Master Educators worldwide representing dozens of countries and all 50 states. This valuable training is recognized throughout the world by the outdoor industry, land management agencies and the outdoor recreation community. Successful graduates of the Master Educator Course have the ability to train others in Leave No Trace skills, as well as facilitate Leave No Trace Trainer courses and Awareness Workshops.

Leave No Trace Trainer Courses are two-day trainings facilitated in an outdoor setting by Master Educators. Trainer Courses are designed for educators, guides, agency employees, and other outdoor professionals. Successful graduates of the Trainer Course gain the skills to teach Leave No Trace techniques and ethics to their clients, friends and family. Participants learn the concepts of Leave No Trace and prepare to teach Leave No Trace curriculum in a variety of settings-schools, camps, parks, wilderness and frontcountry areas. Workshop topics include the underlying ethics and seven principles of Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace Awareness Workshops are any type of formal Leave No Trace training that are one day or less in length. These presentations may be 30-minute chats about the Leave No Trace principles or full-day workshops.

State Advocate Program

The Leave No Trace State Advocate Program assists interested Leave No Trace educators and volunteers with their local effort to promote and teach minimum impact outdoor ethics. These active State Advocate volunteers are a key part of the Leave No Trace program because they coordinate outreach, education and training in their respective states. The State Advocates support volunteers with Leave No Trace training, increase on-the-ground awareness and attend events to further the Leave No Trace program and mission. The State Advocates have been instrumental in building communities of volunteers and educators, state-by-state.

Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program

In order to put Leave No Trace education in motion, the Center established the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers. The Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers provide hands-on educational workshops and training. Each presentation is unique, from an hour-long workshop to a two-day Leave No Trace Trainer Course. They work with a wide range of audiences such as, youth serving organizations, college students, outdoor guides, land management employees and outdoor companies. With one team traveling the West coast, one team traveling the East, and the Senior Team traveling the entire lower 48 states, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers are able to bring that training directly to your park. The teams visit outdoor retail stores, National and State Parks, elementary/middle/high schools, colleges and universities, and festivals like National Public Lands Day. Ideally, training takes place outdoors where participants are able to learn about Leave No Trace hands-on. The teams are able to provide several types of outreach and custom tailor their presentations to the unique needs of each audience. With the demand for courses specific to particular audiences, the Center has developed Leave No Trace courses specific to rock-climbing, mountain biking, sea kayaking, as well as for many other types of user groups.

PEAK - Promoting Environmental Awareness In Kids

The PEAK Program began as a partnership program between the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and REI, Inc. in 2003. The program’s curriculum centers on providing youth, age 6-12, with information about Leave No Trace through hands-on activities, referred to as “modules”. The program is presented in a “PEAK Pack,” which includes a large packet of ready-to-go activities, supporting materials and an instructional DVD. Activities can be delivered in any sequence and are designed to be 30-60 minutes lessons each. Initially, the PEAK program included four modules. Over the past five years, the program has grown to include six standard modules, a Start Card with teaching tips, an instructional DVD, additional modules (two new modules are added per year to both PEAK and Teen), a Teen Pack and both Spanish PEAK and Teen packs. The “Packing with PEAK Fund” was also created to help make the program available to youth-serving organizations across the country for free.


  1. ^ "In Depth History of Leave No Trace". Leave No Trace. Retrieved 2006-08-03.  
  2. ^ Turner, J.M. (July 2002). "From Woodcraft to 'Leave No Trace':Wilderness, Consumerism, and Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America" (PDF). Environmental History 7 (3): 462–484. doi:10.2307/3985918.  
  3. ^ "Center for Outdoor Ethics". Leave No Trace. Retrieved 2006-08-03.  
  4. ^ "Seven Principles of Leave No Trace". Leave No Trace. Retrieved 2006-08-03.  
  5. ^ "Pack it in, pack it out". Teaching leave no trace. U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved 2007-09-11.  

See also

External links



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