Leave No Trace in the Adirondacks

by Michael Martineau

Leave No Trace in the Adirondacks

You're getting ready to head out into the great outdoors. How much do you really know about the seven principles of Leave No Trace? For the city explorer or beginner hiker, your response to that question might be, “what’s Leave No Trace?”

The seven principles help you avoid fines or even injuries. Most importantly, it helps protect the wilderness from overuse and damage. It’s important to remember that exploring isn’t just for cool photos for “the Gram.” Take it from this former NYCer – you don’t want to mess this up. This place is precious, so let's protect it together.

Let’s get started! The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are:


Plan Ahead and Prepare

Do you know how long it takes to look at the high and low temperatures for the location you will be traveling to? About 2 minutes. If you’re coming to the Adirondacks in the summer, keep in mind that it could be mid 80s one day, and low 50s the next. In winter, a mild day can swiftly shift to a very snowy, dangerous situation. We experience major weather fluctuations, and climates can change drastically from the base to the summit of a mountain. A warm summer day at the bottom of a peak may lead to a snow squall on top. So, while I’m usually an advocate of packing light, always asking friends “do you really need that extra jacket, or pair of shoes,” if you’re traveling to the Adirondacks the answer is yes. When in doubt, pack it. These trails call for hiking boots or sturdy athletic sneakers. After all, aren’t you going for that rugged look in your Instagram photo anyway?


Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Pretty self-explanatory right? You’d be surprised. Adirondack adventures take you through some pretty incredible and unique landscapes that may tempt you to deviate from the trail. There are plenty of beautiful trees and logs that look climbable, and flat spots that look dreamy for a campout. Spoiler alert: this doesn’t always end well. I’ve been through my fair share of branches breaking under my feet as I try to climb a tree, rocks rolling out from under my feet when I try to imitate the famous Karate Kid crane pose, and a few twisted ankles trying to jump over obstacles. Moral of the story: stay on the trail. Camp at designated sites.


Dispose of Waste Properly

I know, people don’t like to talk about it, but everyone does it. So, let me put it in context this way to you, have you ever stepped in it on the sidewalk because a dog owner was too lazy to clean up? Or had to tiptoe around someone’s yard because it wasn’t “groomed.” Nobody wants to experience that on the trails. You’re heading out into nature to get away from the city/urban life. Don’t bring it with you. I know, not everyone is comfortable doing their business outdoors, but if you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, do it right. It’s simple; if you have to go, walk 100 paces (or more if you’re shy) away from the trail or campsite (and away from sources of water), dig a small hole, do you, cover it, and walk back. Toilet paper should either be buried or packed out with the rest of your trash. Aside from poop and urine, don't leave anything behind.


Leave What You Find

If you’re looking for a memento to take home for your room or desk, get it at a gift shop. The Adirondacks have plenty of cool shops. Why do it this way? The answer is two-fold. First, let’s say you’re out hiking or paddling, you had an incredible day full of new memories, which happens all the time in the Adirondacks, and you want a memento to remind you of those feelings. So you grab a rock, a branch, or some bark and bring it back with you. A few days later, you notice spores growing on and around the rock. It turns out there is an invasive species growing on your souvenir and now its growing in your room or on your desk. That’s what you were hoping to bring home right? Second, imagine if everyone who visited the Adirondacks took a bit of nature with them, even a single flower. While the individual pieces are small, the combined effect on the land is significant and can alter entire ecosystems.


Minimize Campfire Impacts

Everyone looks to you as the fire builder. You’re going to build a fire using the log cabin or tepee technique. Impressive! Although the big campsite fire for making s’mores and singing folk songs looks great on Instagram, ask yourself where the best spot is. Did you take into account how low the tree branches are where you’re putting your fire? Do you have a contained space to put it in? Is there water on hand in case embers fly onto nearby leaves, kindling, or even your tent? Campfires are supposed to be enjoyable, not so big that they take the forest with it. You’ve got to give it to Smokey, he was right – only you can prevent forest fires.


Respect Wildlife

Goodbye concrete jungle – you’re in the wilderness now! Breathe in that fresh air, gaze out at the beautiful trees and rugged mountains, and wave at that moose…WAIT, A MOOSE!? Yes, the region is home to moose, bear, coyotes, and many other forms of wildlife. Much different from those pesky pigeons you’re used to seeing every day, these animals are unaccustomed to humans and see you as a danger, not a food source. Do yourself a favor and don’t approach the wildlife, not even for a selfie. This is their territory, not yours, and they will defend it if you threaten them. Wherever you’re headed in the Adirondacks, check in with the Rangers or read the notices at the trailhead so you are aware of what wildlife may be in the area.


Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You are not in your home. This is a shared space, so be considerate when you are out on the trail. We hike and camp to escape from technology and the sounds we are used to hearing every day, so leave the speakers at home. Listen to your breathing, the wind through the trees, or engage in a genuine conversation with your group. Remember that hiking is not a competition or a race. You don’t have to be the first one up or down the mountain. If you’re slower and there are people behind you, let them pass. Everyone has their own pace. Embrace your pace and soak in every moment.

In short, the biggest impact we can all make is not making an impact at all. To put these seven principles into action, find your next Adirondack adventure and go explore!

The preceding was a selection from the Leave No Trace Seven Principles. © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.