Sometimes it’s mind-blowing that the natural beauty of our national parks is open to all, but this is only possible because people all over the world follow the principles of #LeaveNoTrace.

Leave No Trace defines modern outdoor philosophy. It’s a set of guidelines based around minimising your impact, but they haven’t always been around. In the first half of last century the bush was taken for granted and campers would dig, cut and burn whenever they needed. As environmental knowledge grew and gear improved, the focus shifted to conservation.

In the 90s the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace became officially recognised – leaving our wild places exactly as we found them became the norm. So what are they?

  • Plan ahead and prepare

    Be prepared. Plan ahead. Good times.

    Breadknife and Grandhigh TopsWarrumbungle National Park

    Rob Mulally / OEH (2018)

    -31.28682, 148.99715

    Planning out your trip and preparing to manage your impact along the way makes sticking to the other Leave No Trace principles easy. Follow these to fly through the outdoors:

    Remove packaging where possible

    Use reusable containers for food and drink, or make your food from scratch and avoid the waste in the first place. Bring a garbage bag to carry your rubbish out (and any extra rubbish that you find!)

    Read up

    Check out the restrictions and conservation programs that might impact the park you’re visiting. You might need to follow special procedures, like washing your boots before entering to protect frogs from Chytrid Fungus.

    Hit the off peak!

    Too many people at once puts a lot of pressure on our wild places, so try and avoid busy periods (you might even get it all to yourself). If you’re heading out with a big crew split into groups of 4-6 people.

    Bring the compass

    In the backcountry it’s better to use your navigation skills and landmarks than marking trees with tape or building rock cairns.

    Tip: Check the Alerts page before you go to get lowdown on your park of choice.

  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces

    Stay on track.

    Honeysuckle Picnic AreaBarrington Tops National Park

    Rob Mulally / OEH (2018)

    -31.88613, 151.51271

    Many feet make light work of soft soils, so it’s important to travel and camp on durable ones wherever possible.

    Campsites

    Campsites have been put in place because their location makes it easier to manage the impact of large numbers of people. In more remote areas, campsites are naturally occurring places at least 50 metres back from the water that feature hardy dirt, rock or sand-based surfaces that drain well. It’s best to take some soft camp shoes as well, the ground (and your feet) will thank you.

    Hiking

    Hiking’s where the real damage happens. The best way to minimise your impact here is to stay in single file and stick to the track no matter what! Veering off the track can lead to track-braiding which is ugly, spreads out the impact and drastically increases erosion.

     Did you know? Hikers wear high-ankle waterproof hiking boots so they can tramp through mud and always stay on the track

  • Dispose of Waste Properly

    Take your rubbish with you. #Dontbeatosser

    Murramarang National Park

    Melissa Findley / OEH (2018)

    -35.67153, 150.30212

    One of the key ways to leave no trace is to make sure you don’t leave anything behind. It sounds obvious, but there are a bunch of common things people think the wilderness will take care of.

    Food waste

    Food that you chuck in the bush will biodegrade eventually, but not before it’s been an eyesore to others, impacted the native wildlife or even sprouted an invasive species. Pack it out or use bins where provided.

    Human waste

    Use toilets where provided or pack out “faecal waste” (poo) for minimum impact. If you have to dig a hole, make sure it’s at least 15cm deep, 100m from water and you cover it back up when you’re done. You should still pack out toilet paper, sanitary pads, tampons and condoms because they don’t biodegrade.

    Soap and toothpaste

    Use these sparingly and at least 50m from water, definitely never use them in creeks, dams and rivers as they can harm wildlife and contaminate drinking water. Use biodegradable options and disperse used water in the bush.

  • Leave What You Find

    Look but don’t touch.

    Branden Bodman / OEH

    -30.37708, 152.72855

    Leave no trace is all about protecting environments in their natural state, as are national parks, so keep ya mitts to yourself!

    Don’t touch

    Respect Aboriginal sites and other culturally significant or historic areas by observing quietly and sticking to paths. This one’s also important for nature, try to avoid touching trees and moss as you pass, the damage builds up over time. At camp, avoid tying ropes to trees as it can easily ringbark them.

    Did you know? Rock stacking is discouraged because it can take away the habitats of many species, including some that are threatened, as well as destroying away from the beauty of the natural environment.

    Or take

    You’ve heard the phrase “take only photographs, leave no footprints” and to be honest, it’s a pretty damn good motto. Taking anything else from the natural environment might seem harmless on its own, but the effects quickly add up and damage habitats. It’s also disrespectful to “souvenir” objects from cultural sites; tourists visiting Uluru have been returning Sorry Rocks for years out of guilt.

    Wash your gear

    Soil, seeds and spores can stick to any gear that gets dirty while out in the wild. Help to avoid spreading diseases or invasive species by cleaning your gear before and after use.

  • Minimise Campfire Impacts

    Wollemi National Park

    Daniel Tran / OEH (2018)

    -32.83486, 150.20418

    Avoid lighting fires but if you do here are pointers to do it safely:-

    Fire safe

    When permitted (it’s essential you check the NPWS website for the latest alerts or check with the local NPWS office), fires should only be lit in designated fire pits or circles, don’t assume ashes on the ground indicate an approved spot for a fire. Avoid lighting fires where possible–fuel stoves make less of an impact and are usually better for cooking anyway.

    Leaving it cold

    If your fire’s burning you should always be there, making sure it doesn’t escape and burn down the whole forest (that’d leave a trace!). When you’re setting up, scrape away the top layer of vegetation leaving mineral earth, stay with the fire until you’re done with it, then extinguish it completely and leave it cold.

    Bring your own wood

    Dead wood and fallen branches provide habitats for native animals so bring your own wood or use wood that’s provided to minimise the impact of your campsite. Remember it’s prohibited to gather firewood in NSW National Parks. Check to see if your destination campsite provides firewood.

  • Respect Wildlife

    Respect the locals

    Pretty BeachMurramarang National Park

    Melissa Findley / OEH (2018)

    -35.56782, 150.36584

    Don’t feed the animals

    Feeding native animals can make them sick and impact their natural behaviours. It can also be quite dangerous and encourage them to scavenge campsites for food. Watch the natives from a distance acting as they would if you weren’t around.

    Tip: Make sure you secure all of your food to avoid feeding the animals accidentally and missing out on lunch!

    But I can pat them, right?

    Even if you don’t feed the animals, getting too close or touching them can be harmful; it can distract them from their young or alter their scent. Quell the urge to get a selfie with the wildlife, you might get called out online for getting too close!

    Read more about why #dontfeedit is so important.

  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

    Be considerate. Enjoy the natural beauty of national parks in harmony with everyone.

    Border Ranges National Park

    Branden Bodman / OEH

    -28.41392, 153.02242

    Leave no trace ensures that everyone can enjoy the natural beauty of national parks in harmony, so this point is rooted in respect for the park, rangers, traditional owners and other visitors.

    Say g’day and help out others when needed, only enter areas where permitted and follow all regulations (even if you don’t understand them at the time). Finally, try not to be too loud and avoid amplified noise or machinery like generators – sound carries well in our parks so keep it down and keep it wild.