This article has been reprinted with the permission of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
Leave No Trace Tips For Handling Crowds in Outdoor Spaces
Crowds have seemingly become synonymous with many of our outdoor spaces, and with around 1.8 billion visits to our shared outdoor spaces annually, it’s no wonder why. Large amounts of visitors can also mean large amounts of impact and strain on these high profile places. We can help Leave No Trace and care for these areas by doing our part to spread out the crowd and knowing what to do when we encounter one.
Remember that anytime you are in a crowd, you are the crowd. This is something we often forget when faced with packed trails in outdoor spaces. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else is the problem. Keep in mind that all visitors have just as much right to be there as you do. These spaces belong to all of us. Having patience and being considerate of all those you are sharing the outdoor space with goes a long way. Most of us are receiving the same benefits from nature no matter what activity we partake in. See something less than Leave No Trace? Consider using the Authority of the Resource technique to politely educate, and remember that confrontation or shaming is never the answer.
Get Up Earlier
Headed for a hike, paddle, or ride? Trails and parking lots can often begin to fill around 9-10 AM. Getting an early start can allow you to enjoy the trail with some solitude and be ready to head home before the crowds start to form. This also opens up your parking spot for other visitors arriving later in the day, helping to curb the impacts that can arise from parking on vegetation.
Even heavy crowds will start to thin the farther you get off the beaten path. This can mean hiking in a little farther on popular trails or driving in to the deeper corners of parks and protected areas. Generally, heading to the areas just on the outskirts of the most popular trails, viewpoints, and areas will mean a little more solitude. This also helps to disperse visitors, and so impacts, across a larger area, meaning less cumulative impacts over time.
Explore Outside of Iconic Areas
Many of our most popular, and so crowded, parks and protected areas have similar spots to visit surrounding them. Rather than visiting a crowded Yosemite Valley in the busy summer, why not try exploring some National Forest land nearby? These areas are often comparable ecosystems and experiences, with less crowds.
Avoid Times of High Use
Following the first principle of Leave No Trace, be sure to Plan Ahead and Prepare, including researching the amount of use the area you’re heading to generally receives when you plan to go, and when you are able, avoiding times of high use. This can mean going in the off season or even heading out mid week rather than on the weekends, etc. Avoiding high use times when we are able to not only gives us the opportunity to experience the place with less crowds, it also helps to spread out use and impacts, protecting the area.
With so many visits to your shared outdoors spaces annually, it’s no wonder why these places can feel crowded. As we work to share these finite resources, it’s important to do what we can when we can, and remember that good stewardship goes a long way. Leave No Trace and Enjoy Your World!