Leave No Trace Camping

When most people hear the words “leave no trace,” they don’t think of outdoor ethics. Thoughts of outrunning the government are more likely to come to mind; however, the phrase is increasingly applied to outdoor recreation, like camping.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an international, educational non-profit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and stewardship of the outdoors. The organization has tried to instill seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics, which describe a way that everyone can camp responsibly and preserve wildlife for others to see.

The principles are primarily and most aptly applied to primitive camping, but the general ideas of Leave No Trace ethics will help preserve all natural areas, including those on the Door Peninsula. While Newport State Park is the only official “primitive” camping site in Door County, all campsites would benefit from campers following the LNT principles.

As camping season is now in full swing, it’s important to remember why people choose to camp in the first place – to enjoy being outside and taking in a bit of that fresh air. So, try to leave the same experience behind for those who follow.


1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

While it sounds simple, often this is the easiest way to minimize impact. When planning your camping trip make sure to know the regulations for the place where you’re visiting, pack for extreme weather conditions, package food in containers that can pack out to minimize waste, and bring a map and compass so that you can refrain from using unnatural markers.


2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow. Stay on trails and walk single file to keep trails from widening and camp 200 feet from a water source.  Remember this popular phrase, “a good campsite is found not made,” so look for places with little vegetation.


3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Pack out what you pack in, which includes toilet paper, hygiene products, trash, and leftover food. If outhouses are available, use them; otherwise, do not go to the bathroom within 50 feet of your campsite or trails, or within 200 feet of a water source. Make sure to dig six to eight inch “catholes” to dispose of solid human waste, covering and disguising the holes when finished. To wash yourself or dishes carry water at least 200 feet from water sources and use biodegradable soap.


4. Leave What You Find

This can be a challenging one, especially for children. If your kids like it chances are other kids will, too. In an effort to preserve the natural surroundings, leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them and do not build structures, furniture or dig trenches. This is an instance where the phrase, “Leave only footprints, take only photos,” comes in handy.


5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Every good campsite needs a campfire, but if there isn’t a pit already made, bring a fire pan or blanket along on which to build your fire. If you can’t do that, use a small stove to cook on and a lantern to light your site. Make sure to burn all wood until it’s reduced to ashes, and then scatter it when it is cool.


6. Respect Wildlife

Recognize that you are in someone else’s home – namely observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach animals, especially during sensitive times such as mating or nesting season, and never feed the animals. Pay special attention to what you do with your food and trash because if animals can smell it, they will get in it. Also, be sure to control your pets.


7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Be respectful of other visitors and protect their quality of experience. Yield to others on trails and let nature’s sounds prevail. When you do decide to camp, make sure you are far away from other visitors and quiet so everyone can enjoy the serenity of nature as well.


To learn more about the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics visit