How do hikers damage trails?

How Do Hikers Damage Trails? 5 Ways To Protect Your Favourite Trail Today

There are so many ways that everyone from beginner to advanced hikers could be damaging trails without even knowing it!

However, with a little bit of knowledge, we can make a big difference. Protecting the wilderness and magic of hiking for generations to come. 

Many think that it is newbies and “front country” hikers that cause damage to our trails, coastlines, and national parks but sometimes even the most experienced wanderers can improve the way that they move through nature with as little impact as possible

As experienced adventurers, hikers, and nature lovers, we wanted to share 5 simple tips on how you can protect your favorite trail.

Let’s dive in!


Trail Pollution

Take only pictures, leave only footprints”

Pollution is the major damaging factor for both trails and wildlife, especially on the most popular pathways and easily accessible hikes. Often this is caused by inexperienced hikers or “weekend warriors” who have not yet learned to fully respect their surroundings, leaving their waste for others to deal with, but many would be surprised about the pollution that they can leave behind without even knowing.

Littering on the trails, rest areas, and parking lots is one of the largest forms of pollution in national parks.  Discarded plastic bottles can take over 1000 years to break down so the problems that we can leave behind are not short-term. With the growing interest in exploring our national parks, the issues will only grow if a solution can not be found quickly.

Although littering is a major and extremely visible issue, other forms of pollution are causing big changes in the wilderness. Issues such as emissions from transport, pollution of rivers, streams, and lakes due to cleaning chemicals, human or animal waste, and invasive animal species that move into areas to feed off what the humans leave behind.

Although this may not be our waste it is our problem. Unfortunately, park rangers or caretakers in the area are not capable of keeping on top of this growing issue. 

How do I stop trail pollution?

  1. When out hiking, take all waste back with you for correct recycling, also making a little space in your backpacks to collect any trash that you come across whilst out on the trail.
  2. If you see anyone dropping litter and you feel that you are safe, it is important to speak to them. Asking them to have some respect for the natural landscape, the local wildlife, and other hikers who are there to enjoy it.
  3. When in car parks or communal areas of national parks, keep an eye on the condition of the amenities. Advising the local caretakers of any damage, lack of amenities, or things they could do better to keep the area clean and tidy.
  4. When nature calls and a toilet isn´t accessible. Pick a safe location at least 10 feet from the path and bury your poop/paper once finished. Do not use wet wipes or similar products which do not decompose.
  5. When nature calls for your pet. Please pick it up with a decomposable poop bag or bury it. nobody needs a dog mess on their favorite hiking boot!
  6. Donate or take part in schemes to clean our trail network such as Clean Trails.  Make sure to post your efforts on social media to encourage others to do the same!
  7. Carpool when traveling to your destination. One thing nature does not need is more cars!
  8.  When washing dishes or showering do not use harsh chemical detergents. Instead, opt for the many natural/ biodegradable options out there, your skin will thank you too

These small actions can make a big difference! Trash not only makes the place look untidy, but it can also cause serious damage to the mountains, forests, rivers, and their occupants.



Erosion of Trails


What is trail erosion?

Trail erosion is the damage caused to a natural or pre-built pathway by both natural and human factors.

Humans can often start a process of trail erosion by walking through fragile vegetation which can weaken soil structure and its connection to the bedrock below, once this damage has been created nature will do the rest channeling water down pathways furthering erosion,  causing ugly scars in the landscape and untold damage to the natural equilibrium.

Eroding trails can be an issue for the mountains and forests but also a safety concern for hikers, most trail networks are designed to allow trekkers to travel through the area in the safest way possible, giving the best under-foot conditions and staying safe distances from cliffs, rockfall, avalanches and sudden water flow. leaving the marked path puts not only yourself in danger but others who may follow your footsteps, clueless to the danger that they are facing. Sometimes that Instagram pic is just not worth risking lives for!



How can I stop trail erosion?

  1. Stick to marked trails and don’t take shortcuts through the vegetation.
  2. Try to walk in the middle of the trails where possible.
  3. Try to walk in smaller groups and when in bigger groups walk in single or double file.
  4. Notify park rangers or local authorities about any damaged trails or fallen trees/ rocks over pathways that you find to allow them to fix the issue before others start to go around the obstacles, expanding the path.
  5. Avoid muddy walks where possible
  6. Pay attention to signs, if the path is closed there is probably a good reason for this.
  7. Carry a map and know how to read it, sometimes snow or fallen debris can block the obvious route, and a map will keep you on track and safe.

How Do Hikers Damage Trails? 5 Ways To Protect Your Favourite Trail Today

Damage to Vegetation and “Nature Shopping”


There are some beautiful plants and trees out in the forests and mountains of the world but one rule is that we hikers must try to leave them alone!

People travel from all over the world to enjoy the wonder of untamed nature that the U.S park network provides to us and it is important to remember that whatever you take can no longer be enjoyed by the next person, every year millions of visitors remove fossils, rare plants, petrified wood and trees from national parks and natural areas and although one small action may seem insignificant the culmination of these actions are causing huge issues. Let´s save the souvenirs for the gift shop!

How can I cause less damage to local vegetation?

The natural equilibrium of a wild area can be very fragile and removing or damaging a small entity from this can cause untold damage, not only to plants and trees but to the animals that live there too. 

Although some foraging is encouraged and connects us to the wilderness. It is important to hike with as little impact on our surroundings as possible. Never take more than you need.

Planting new trees and plants can also cause untold damage to forests and mountains, seriously affecting the equilibrium of the area by potentially introducing invasive species to the area.

When hiking it´s essential to take all fruit stones and seeds home with you. Do not feed the wildlife unless otherwise instructed by a park ranger.


4. Vandalism of trails and surroundings


It´s really cute that you love your significant other but carving your name on a tree is not a cool thing to do. 

Nature is for everyone! It´s important when out on the trail to cause as little impact as possible, especially when it comes to causing damage for personal gain/ entertainment.

This can come in many forms such as

  • Writing or carving messages on trees, rocks, picnic tables, signs, or bins.
  • Placing padlocks at beauty spots
  • Tossing coins into lakes and streams
  • Making rock piles
  • Pulling down trees or picking flowers
  • Creating shortcuts or your path
  • Letting your pets terrorize the local wildlife
  • Building tree houses, swings, or hammocks

“Vandalism to public parks and natural areas costs as much as 100 million dollars per year!” States Darryll Johnson, a National Parks Service researcher based at the UW College of Forest Resources.


Sitting around the campfire at nighttime is a fantastic reward for a hard day on the trail and is something we very much look forward to when planning the next adventure but it is important to know how to set up a campfire correctly and how to ensure that it is completely extinguished before heading off to sleep or leaving the site.

Human-caused wildfires account for 90% of wildfires in the U.S. costing as much as 16 billion dollars in a single year along with enormous amounts of damage to local areas and wildlife, not to mention putting others’ lives at risk.

How Do I stop Wildfires?

Avoid making campfires unless necessary and if you do make one, try to join together with other parties and have one fire for everyone rather than many small fires, community is a huge part of hiking after all.

When making a campfire it is important to know what you are doing and to ensure that you have everything you need to not only light the fire but extinguish it too. For more information on how to correctly start and extinguish a campfire click here

Other causes of wildfires can come from cigarettes, electronic devices, and overheated cooking fuel containers, when out on the trail it is important to be very aware of the risks of carrying/using such items, especially in the summer.


Thanks for reading our post, we hope that you took a lot from our tips and look forward to seeing you out there!


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