(and Nature in General)
By venturing out into nature, whether on a local hiking trail or exploring a national park, you are visiting the home of thousands of plants and animals. These areas were around for years before we were, and there are steps we can take and some basic rules in place to make sure that nature and our beautiful national parks are kept clean and in great condition for many generations to come.
Do Not Litter
There is a staggering amount of litter dumped into nature by people. You can see it along the road, on hiking trails, and floating in the lakes and streams. There are more than 1,000 bags of litter collected each year along routes in the national parks. Not littering seems to be an obvious rule, no matter where you are hiking or exploring, but many people ignore it. Do not leave your trash out in nature. There are trash bins located throughout hiking trails and parks for a reason. Please use these trash receptacles, as it keeps the area clean, and there is less of a chance for animals to get sick or hurt by the trash we leave behind. It also makes the area more beautiful when you don’t have plastic bags and cigarette butts rolling by!
Leave Everything the Way You Found It
Always leave nature in the same condition (or better than) you found it. This includes the “do not litter” rule, but also includes not removing anything from the park. There is a nutrient cycle that each animal and plant has in place within the nature reserve. If you start removing things from the park, such as berries or mushrooms, you are hindering that nutrient cycle for many plants and animals. Every part of nature is important to all the living and growing things within it. It is up to us to leave it as we found it and help keep nature moving on its course. If you are out gathering food outside a national park, such as morel hunting or berry picking, make sure that it is legal in the area you are using.
Leaving things the way you found them also includes park equipment. National parks work on very little money, so try to keep away from any equipment, signs, or other tools you find on your visit. Also, don’t carve or chip away at any rocks, trees, or other materials. Your message might be meaningful to you, but it can hurt the environment and lessens the beauty of the national park for other visitors.
Do not light any kind of fires in a national park unless it is explicitly allowed, and be extremely careful when lighting fires in allowed areas. Fire spreads rapidly, and can spread even faster during colder conditions. We have seen too many times each year the reports of areas lost to fire. Forest fires are hard to contain once started and will hurt many lives out in nature. This rule includes not smoking between the dates of February 15 and October 31, so as to help prevent forest fires. It’s true that wildfires are a natural and important occurrence in many areas, but human-made ones happen too frequently to be helpful to the natural process.
If you take your dogs on a hike with you, please make sure that you keep them on a leash. They are animals as well, and may be tempted to run off if they smell a deer or lynx. This will cause stress to the animals out in nature and it could be a danger to your own pet disappearing deep into the woods. Some parks do not allow pets at all, so make sure that you know the rules before you bring your pup along.
Camping is allowed in most national parks. However, there are rules you must follow and official campsites you must use. Make sure you know what those rules are and follow them as best you can. Most places require you to sign up for the limited camping spots before you arrive. Check out the camping rules for the park you are going to before heading there.
Enjoy the Parks Quietly
It is so exciting to get out and see the best that nature has to offer as you explore all the national parks. As you explore, try and be as quiet as you possibly can. Lower noise levels will increase your chance of seeing more wild animals in their natural habitat, as they feel less threatened with less noise. Also, both the natural wildlife and your neighboring human visitors will appreciate the peace and quiet more than shouts and loud music.
There are posted trail routes throughout all the national parks. They are there for you to use and to help you explore the area while keeping it preserved and safe for all that live there. The parks have hundreds of trail miles mapped out for you to explore, and many of these routes lead to beautiful lookout points. Please stay on the trails posted and leave nature as it is otherwise. There should also be information on how difficult and lengthy each trail is, so you can find one that works best for you. Along with hiking trails, there are also trails dedicated to horseback riding. These routes are marked accordingly, and should be used if you are on horseback.
Within most national parks on many routes, you can go cycling or mountain biking. This is at your own risk though. On the routes that are used by too many hikers, there is no cycling allowed. You must pay attention to the signs and always keep in mind that hikers will take priority in the case of an incident.
Watch the weather that is forecasted before you head out into the parks. Extreme temperatures will make hiking uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous for those who are unprepared. Know that out in nature and at different altitudes, the weather can change in an instant, and it best to be as prepared as you can. Always bring plenty of water and sun protection. Also know that hiking at different altitudes than your body is used to can be harder to deal with than expected. If you are unsure of how you will react, take it slow.
This is a fairly new rule to talk about within the parks. Sure, that aerial footage would be beautiful, but drones are banned from all national parks. These drones can get out of your control quickly, and can easily be lost into a canyon or tree, creating a dangerous situation for the wildlife and producing litter. You can find countless videos online of drone flights that went wrong due to a gust of wind or other issue. Drones also stress the animals out, especially birds, as they do not know what it is or what it can do as it hums past.
In a nutshell, it is best practice to leave any park you explore better than you found it. Enjoy the area for what it is, and leave nature to do the rest. Just as you do not like strangers coming into your home, throwing trash on the floor, and removing your things and your food, neither do the animals and other living things that make up our beautiful national parks. Breaking some of these rules is a federal offense, and you can be charged if caught breaking them. Be smart as you are out exploring, and you are sure to have a great time!
If you plan to visit a national park, in addition to the information found here, check out that specific park’s regulations, such as this page for Yellowstone. If you are new to hiking and unsure of where to begin, check out Ranger Mac’s hiking basics to help you get started!