Leave What You Find


Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts, and any other objects as you found them. Leave what you find involves many aspects of outdoor use. The following information addresses a variety of ways to respect natural settings.

Minimize Site Alterations

Leave areas as you found them. Do not dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables, chairs, or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs, or pine cones, replace these materials before leaving. On high-impact sites, it is appropriate to clean up the site and dismantle inappropriate user-built facilities, such as multiple fire rings and constructed seats or tables. Consider the idea that good campsites are found and not made.

In many locations, properly located and legally constructed facilities, such as a single fire ring, should be left. Dismantling them will cause additional impact because they will be rebuilt with new rocks and thus distress a new area. Learn to evaluate all situations you encounter.

Avoid Damaging Live Trees and Plants

Never hammer nails into trees for hanging things, hack at them with hatchets or saws, or cut or trample tree saplings or seedlings. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable. The cutting of boughs for use as a sleeping pad creates minimal benefit and maximum impact. Inexpensive, lightweight sleeping pads are readily available at camp supply stores.

Picking a few flowers does not seem like it would have any great impact and, if only a few flowers were picked, it wouldn’t. However, if every visitor thought, “I’ll just take a couple,” a much more significant impact might result. Take a picture or sketch the flower instead of picking it. Knowledgeable campers may enjoy an occasional edible plant but are careful not to deplete the surrounding vegetation or disturb plants—especially those that are rare or are slow to reproduce.

Leave Natural Objects and Cultural Artifacts

Natural objects of beauty or interest—such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks—add to the mood of the backcountry and should be left so others can experience a sense of discovery. In national parks and some other protected areas it is illegal to remove natural objects.

The same ethic applies to cultural artifacts found on public lands. Cultural artifacts are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. It is illegal to remove or disturb archaeological sites, historic sites, or artifacts—such as pot shards, arrowheads, structures, and even antique bottles—found on public lands. If you discover a significant archaeological resource that may not be known to others, pinpoint its location on a topographic map and report your finding to a land manager.