Leave No Trace in Arizona

If you’re new to recreating in the outdoors–whether it’s hiking on a local trail, visiting a national park, or practicing dispersed camping–following all the best practices can seem complicated or restrictive at first. We break it down.
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It makes sense that if you enjoy exploring the great outdoors, you’re someone who values independence, fresh air, and wide-open spaces—not rules. But it can be helpful to have some best practices for minimizing avoidable impacts when recreating outdoors. Enter: the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. Even if you rebel against authority (or just prefer an unstructured approach to nature), we think you’ll agree these are guidelines that we can all support. 

This story was created in partnership with Visit Arizona.

1. Plan Ahead and Be Prepared: Success Is Best

Arizona is one of the most adventurous states in the lower-48. Made up of six diverse biomes, the landscape transforms from desert to forest in less than 150 miles. Translation? You could get a raging sunburn and trudge through snow all in the same day. Getting caught off guard by the elements and weather can be plain old embarrassing to outright dangerous. And there’s nothing worse than getting turned away at a park or tribal area without a reservation. Always pack a first-aid kit, extra water, layers, and confirm your reservation ahead of time. By planning ahead and being prepared, you will guarantee your road trip through Arizona remains an adventure, not a misadventure.

2. Stick to the Trails: Don’t Be a Trailblazer

When you travel, it’s tempting to leave the rules of civilization behind and venture outside the lines. But exploring off-trail can have serious implications to the endemic flora and fauna in Arizona’s six ecosystems. This is especially true in the most popular natural areas like Horseshoe Bend, where footprints in the living biological soil crust take years to disappear. (Plus, this encourages other travelers to follow in your footsteps thus creating a cumulative impact.) The benefit of respecting trails is tremendous. You’ll help maintain the beauty of this incredible landscape, and also make sure you don’t accidentally step on a barrel cactus—ouch. Arizona’s wildlife and other trail users will also be grateful that you chose to leave no trace.

3. Trash Your Trash: And Protect Water Sources

Pack it in, pack it out. Let’s be honest—you traveled from far away to enjoy this natural landscape like you saw it online or in a guidebook. You would never have made the trip if the Grand Canyon looked like your neighborhood recycling bin. This Leave No Trace principle goes a lot further than just properly disposing of your litter. It applies to human waste as well as washing items like dirty dishes or hands away from natural water sources, such as creeks. This can be a surprisingly difficult principle to fully master, but once you have, you’ll have unlocked a new level of outdoor mastery.

4. Leave What You Find: Reciprocity at Its Best

Arizona is full of natural treasure. That’s one of the reasons so many people journey from around the world to experience the Grand Canyon State. But if we all took it home, there would be no reason to make the trip. There are petroglyphs, ancient artifacts, beautifully colored petrified wood, brilliant wildflowers, and much more. In fact, Arizona has an incredible density of American Indian heritage and history. All should be enjoyed from a respectable distance and left where they were found. The benefit of following this rule? You’re sure to experience the best of Arizona, because others have done the same for you. 

5. Be Careful with Fire: Enjoy the Stars Instead

Each of Arizona’s six unique biomes is vulnerable to fire: chaparral, desert, forest, grassland, tundra, and woodland. In 2020 alone, nearly 1 million acres of Arizona’s wildernesses burned. If you find yourself dispersed camping, follow fire regulations and safety to ensure a fantastic–and safe–trip. If you were hoping to have a fire but unexpectedly aren’t allowed to due to fire bans, don’t fear. Arizona is home to more Dark Sky Places than anywhere else on the planet. The night sky will put on a show that overshadows any campfire or fireworks.

Javelinas in Arizona

6. Respect Wildlife: Don’t Feed the Locals

Arizona’s wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes, from camouflaged lizards to stealthy bobcats. All told, there are more than 800 species of wildlife found in this southwestern state. When you spot one of these locals, maintain a respectful distance–one that allows you to observe the animal without causing it to change its behavior–and never offer them a snack (even if they seem to be used to receiving human food). Human food is deadly to all of Arizona’s wildlife. It’s also a good idea to keep your pets on a leash and store food safely while camping. This way, Arizona’s wildlife stays wild and you can enjoy them in their natural state.

Hikers stay on the trail and leave no trace in Gilbert Arizona

7. Share the Outdoors: It’s Cool to Say Hello

Isn’t it fantastic that other people also like to get outside, too? Optimize your interactions with other trail users by memorizing the right of way (it’s easy) and practicing situational awareness. A friendly hello, allowing a faster group to pass, and yielding to other users goes a long way towards having the best time possible the next time you head outdoors.

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