Visiting Your Favorite River This Fall? Here’s How to Leave No Trace


We’re pleased to welcome Ben Lawhon, the Education Director for Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics, to share tips for minimizing impact on the river.

Floating rivers is a unique way to enjoy the outdoors. From a raft, kayak, or canoe adrift on the water, a river traveler can watch a heron silently flying overhead, observe the record of millions of years of geologic time, We’re pleased to welcome Ben Lawhon, the Education Director for Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics, to share tips for minimizing impact on the river.

Floating rivers is a unique way to enjoy the outdoors. From a raft, kayak, or canoe adrift on the water, a river traveler can watch a heron silently flying overhead, observe the record of millions of years of geologic time, or experience the thrill of running a turbulent rapid. River corridors have always provided an ideal channel for exploring America’s wild places. Historically, early river pioneers were searching for furs, precious metals, minerals, and routes to the Pacific Ocean. Modern river runners are searching for beauty, solitude, excitement, and a sense of connection with their surroundings. More of us are traveling on rivers than ever before, making it imperative that we learn how to preserve these waterways and the habitats adjoining them.

Human impact is more concentrated in river corridors than in many other ecosystems. Although we leave little or no impact on the water when we travel over it, our impacts on the riverbanks can be significant. Steep canyon walls or high mountains define some river corridors while others meander through hills and dense forest. These features often offer majestic scenery, but they also confine travelers to narrow strips of land where we cook, eat, sleep, pack, play games, and produce waste. Since different boating parties use the same stretches of river and the same camps night after night, the effects of these activities are multiplied many times over.

Something about rivers inspires us to contemplate beauty, creation, and the power of nature. Perhaps it is the unrelenting flow of moving water that encourages thoughtfulness. Or perhaps it is the opportunity to witness the story of past epochs, written in the canyon walls, that tempts us to contemplate our roles in the web of life. For some people, the river provides an ideal setting for enjoying time spent with friends and family. For others, it provides a source of challenge and excitement. Something keeps us floating rivers year after year—the pull of moving water is a powerful and irresistible force. On your next outing, be it a day or several weeks, be mindful of your impact and what you leave behind for those who will come after you.

In order to minimize our cumulative impact on the rivers we enjoy, we need to practice Leave No Trace principles. Leave No Trace is an national and international program designed to assist outdoor enthusiasts with their decisions about how to reduce their impacts when they hike, camp, picnic, snowshoe, run, bike, hunt, paddle, ride horses, fish, ski or climb. The Leave No Trace program is managed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people, worldwide.

How to Leave No Trace on rivers:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare – Learn about river-specific issues, regulations and permits. Know river sills and carry the necessary equipment to enjoy the river safely.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – Durable surfaces include water, rock, gravel and sand. Focus activity where vegetation is absent. Leave put-ins, take-outs and campsites clean and natural looking.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly – Pack it in, pack it out. Learn about regulations pertaining to human waste and dispose of it properly. Generally, the best practice is to pack out human waste.
  • Leave What You Find – Appreciate ancient structures, artifacts, rock art and other natural objects but leave then undisturbed. Avoid introducing non-native or invasive species by cleaning equipment between trips.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts – Carry a fire pan or build a mound fire. Consider using stoves for cooking. Learn about local fire regulations. 
  • Respect Wildlife – Observe wildlife from a distance. Avoid feeding wildlife and always properly store food and trash. Control pets or leave them at home.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors – Respect other visitors and the quality of their experience. Communicate with other river users about your floating and camping plans to avoid conflicts.

For more information on Leave No Trace, visit www.LNT.org .

© Ben Lawhon, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, 2008.