Leave No Trace and Reduce your Carbon Footprint

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leave no trace when hiking in the rockies

The best rule of thumb to leave no trace is: If it doesn’t come from the local ecosystem, it shouldn’t be left there.

In addition to leaving only real footprints, we also try to reduce our carbon footprint. Consider the following Seven Leave No Trace and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Principles:

1 – Plan and prepare

  • Research the trails and areas you plan to visit before you go.
  • Pack a garbage-free lunch and prepare your food at home: slice, peel, dice and pack into a reusable container. Something as trivial as peeling an orange while having lunch could result in small pieces of orange peel falling on the ground, which could be a feast for a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. This meal could lead the little rodent to associate people with food, and that can become a problem
  • Bring reusable water bottles and reusable straws. 
  • Unwrap any items that are individually wrapped, such as the foiled granola bars,  and store them in reusable containers; this eliminates any pieces of foil or plastic wrap ending up on the trail. 
  • Those tiny, shiny bits of foil from granola bar wrappers attract birds and animals. If they eat them, it will make them sick. Pack the ten hiking essentials. 
  • Leave a Family Trip Plan with a relative or friend.

2. Travel on durable surfaces

The following best practices will keep you on the trail. 

A. Take a hike through the mud and snow

travel and hiking tips to leave no waste and leave no trace
Even into the spring and early summer you may find snow on the trail. Leave no trace – stay on the trail!
  • When the trail is wet, snow-covered or muddy, please do your best to stay on the path. 
  • After all, you have the correct footwear, and what child doesn’t like walking through mud puddles, anyway?

B. Don’t braid a trail

example of a braided trail when hiking
Example of a braided trail.
  • Detours around a mud puddle may seem innocent, but over time they can create a braided trail system: a series of smaller trails that split away and crisscross the main path, which looks like a hair braid. 
  • Braided trails are difficult to follow, which can lead to additional smaller trails.
  • They are likely to erode faster and can change the natural flow of water drainage. 

C. Dealing with fallen trees across a trail

hiking tips for leaving no trace in the wilderness
Step over the fallen trees wherever you can.
  • Try to remove it just enough to create a narrow passage on the existing trail. 
  • Climb over the tree if it isn’t too big. 
  • Exercise caution if you need to climb under the tree – in some instances when a tree falls they get “hung” on nearby trees. This isn’t very stable, so make sure there is no risk of the tree collapsing on you. 
  • Walk  around the tree when there is no other option
  • Report any trees that have fallen across a trail, as well as any other damage to trail signs, outhouses, picnic tables etc. to Parks management; there is a good possibility they may not know about it, and your contribution to supporting their role in ensuring safety and preservation will be appreciated.

D. Don’t fence-jump

The fences at scenic viewpoints, and other locations, have been constructed:

  • For your safety and the integrity of the fragile landscape.  
  • To keep animals safe from roads, and humans. 

E.  Don’t chase someone’s Instagram 

Think twice about geotagging that “hidden treasure” and posting it for the world to see.  

True Story – there once was a lovely tree swing in Canmore.  

  • It was used by locals and some of the fortunate tourists that hiked along the trail. 
  • A popular Instagram influencer posted and tagged this location.  
  • The result was absolute mayhem, a total disregard for private property and a complete lack of respect for the tree and ecosystem it was in.  
  • Some might argue that the tree swing shouldn’t have been there in the first place – perhaps, but there hadn’t been any issues in the 6 years prior to this viral social media post. 

3. Dispose of waste properly

Litter on trails isn’t just an eyesore, it can also seriously harm wildlife as well as create habituation. 

  • Leave NO trace! Pack out ALL food, apple cores and banana peels included. If you leave any of it on the trail, they become another source of animal attractant, and none of it is a natural food source for our local critters. 
  • Do your best to pick up other people’s garbage as well — think of the difference it would make if everybody collected even one piece of trash per hike!
  • Pack out your toilet paper, diapers, and hygiene products.
  • Pack out your poop, or learn how to dig a cathole.
  • Are you hiking with a dog? Yup, you need to pack the dog’s poop out as well.
  • You can download my free how-to “How to PP in the Woods” document.

4. Leave it how you found it

  • When it comes to ecological integrity, it’s not only essential to think about what we leave, but also what we take from an ecosystem — in both cases “Absolutely nothing at all” is the ideal footprint to leave.
  • Stop and smell the flowers, but leave them for the insects and animals that may eat them, or use them in a nest and for other hikers to enjoy. 
  • Did You Know – picking the beautiful orange Wood Lily flower kills it for good, it will never flower again. 
  • It’s illegal to take artifacts, natural or otherwise, from any National Park. This includes things like antlers, sticks, fossils, and even stones. 
  • Children may need a reminder — I know my boys had a tough time remembering, and I would often have to do a pocket check before we continued on the trail.
 AND Don’t Walk on The Flowers for Your Photo
stay on the trail when hiking
Stepping off the trail into fragile alpine – what not to do.
  • It might only take you just a few steps off the trail for that one great photo. However, it only takes a careless footprint or two to destroy 40 years of fragile alpine growth.  That cushiony moss that you’ll notice on higher elevation trails is Moss Campion, and even when undisturbed, the pretty pink flowers can take decades to bloom. 

Rock Piles Are Ecosystems And Homes, They Are Not For Building Inukshuks

a cute little pika from behind the rock
A cute little Pika peeking its way out from the rocks!
  • Have you ever walked through a rock pile and been “eeekked” at by a Pika, or startled by a sunbathing Marmot on a large rock?
  • A rock pile is an ecosystem of its own. Insects, grasses, plants and animals, like Pikas and Marmots, rely on those rocks for shelter and food storage. 
  • Pikas are active all year long, and they spend all summer gathering flowers and grasses, creating piles of “haystacks” to dry out on the sunny rocks and to store in their rocky winter pantry. Moving rocks could displace the Pika’s haystack and winter food.
inukshuk building
Example of an Inukshuk/cairn found.

Cultural Note: Inukshuks were historically used as navigation landmarks by the Inuit and other people inhabiting the north.  Building an Inukshuk on a popular trail in the Canadian Rockies is not aligned with this historical use. 

  • Parks Canada is strongly against the practice, as it does not align with its mandate to maintain the ecological integrity of the parks.  
inukshuks built in the rockies
More Inukshuks and cairns.

5. Respect and keep a safe distance from wildlife

  • 30 m, three yellow school buses, away from elk, deer and bighorn sheep, 
  • 100 m, ten yellow school buses, away from bears, wolves, cougars and coyotes.
  • Don’t feed wildlife
  • Keep dogs on leash and under control.
  • Some provincial parks and public lands share space with domesticated farm animals, and the same rules apply.
leave no trace and stay away from wildlife
Definitely not 3 school bus lengths away from the wildlife!

6. Be a considerate and respectful guest

  • Most people on the trails want to experience nature’s sounds rather than your preferred choice of music. 
  • Think twice about geotagging that “hidden treasure” and posting it for the world to see. People have destroyed some ecologically sensitive locations by “chasing the gram.”
  • Don’t hog a viewpoint. Instead, let others also experience the view.

7. Minimize campfire impacts

dedicated fire rings and fire pits in Banff
Example of a designated fire pit in Cascade Ponds, Banff National Park.
  • Use designated fire rings and fire pits only
  • Keep fires small
  • Put out campfires completely


Reduce your carbon footprint

Here are a few ways to reduce your carbon footprint and leave no trace when visiting national parks in Canada:


  • It is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and share in the cost of gas. 
  • There is also safety in numbers on the trail. Groups of 4 are less likely to have bear encounters
  • Hiking with other people is fun!  

Take a shuttle or bus service 

The Roam bus travels through Banff National Park picking up and dropping off at key locations. 

Roam Transit bus in Banff
Banff’s Roam Transit bus.

Maintain and repair your gear

  • Clean and wash your gear regularly to maintain its technical properties.
  • Repairing gear also helps reduce the carbon footprint required to manufacture new products.
  • It provides income to local repair shops. 

Purchase second-hand gear, store it and pass it down to younger siblings

  • This works well for younger children as they are still growing
  • Join a local facebook gear swap or buy/sale page.  There are some great second-hand deals to be found!

Repurpose some of your old gear

  • Older gear may no longer be safe to use.  In those cases, get creative and make something fun out of them.  For example, old wooden snowshoes make ideal wall decorations. 

Celebrate Earth Day and Earth Month By Practicing the ‘Leave No Trace’ on Your Hikes

This year for Earth Day, take a hike in one of the Parks Canada parks and practice the leave no trace tips I’ve shared here. Go out and enjoy the beauty of nature – and be sure to leave it as you’ve found it!

This includes packing out all waste … even the waste you don’t want to!

One time on a hike we did happen to notice people carelessly disposing of toilet paper in the woods. While toilet paper is biodegradable it takes a long time to decompose, it cannot be left behind – our waste can contain things from our diet that is harmful to wildlife, it is is an animal attractant and unsightly! Leave no trace means leave nothing behind – even human waste!

Happy hiking!

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