Every National Park, National Forest, State Park, and wilderness area has rules and regulations that were created to protect you and to help maintain the ‘natural and undisturbed’ state of the area. Some rules are universal, like the ‘Park it in, pack it out’ rule, while other rules may vary from park to park, such as when and where you are allow to have a campfire. Always make sure you check the rules and regulations for the specific park that you are visiting before you go on your hike, so you are prepared to respect them.
Here are some general rules you need to know:
- Parking/Fees/Permit. If you are driving to the trail head, make sure that you park in the designated area. State parks and other recreational areas have a ‘day use’ fee ($5 to $10), so bring some cash with you. Place your receipt on your car’s dashboard; this way the park ranger will be able to see it. Finally, if you are backpacking in certain wilderness areas, you will need to have a permit issued by the Park Ranger Station, make sure you carry the permit with you on your hike.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Anything that you bring with you on the hike needs to leave with you. Therefore, make sure you bring a bag or container for collecting your garbage as you go (even your fruit peels are considered trash as they do not belong to the natural habitat). On certain trails, such as the summit area of Mount Whitney, you will also be required to carry out your feces due to the sensitive nature of the environment and the high volume of hikers. Items that are foreign to a natural area can damage entire ecosystems, so take this rule very seriously.
- Campfires. It’s your responsibility to determine whether a campfire permit is required for the area you are visiting. In areas that require permits, usually the permit is not only for campfires, it is also for stoves, lanterns, or anything that is a sustained source of an open flame. Campfire permits are free of charge and easily obtained (via internet or at the Ranger Station). If you have a fire, keep it small and manageable, contained in a fire ring, and never leave it unattended. Remember to extinguish your fire completely using water (preferably) or sand.
- Stay on the trail as much as possible, and when camping, try to use existing/established campsites. Hiking off trail damages existing vegetation and causes erosion.
- Do not pollute the water source. Do not wash your clothes, dishes or body in creeks, lakes, or rivers. Instead, collect some water and complete your task a few yards from the water source. Soap (even if is biodegradable), toothpaste, soap, and meal left overs and especially urine are not natural to the habitat and can contaminate the water source damaging wild life and natural vegetation.
- Do not feed wild animals. Bear cubs may seem to be cute and harmless but if you see a bear cub walking towards you while hiking on a trail be very careful, mama bear may not be far behind, and she will not be happy to see you near her cub. Feeding wild animals will encourage them to seek out people and their food. Fauna in its natural habitat has everything it needs to survive without your help, so don’t put their lives or your life in danger by feeding them.
- Respect trail cairns and signs. Cairns are stacked rocks placed by trail maintenance crews to mark the trail and help hikers stay on track. Just like any other trail sign, use them as reference and respect them.
- Share the trail and camp site ‘amenities’ (bear canisters, fire ring, flat areas to set camp, etcetera) with other hikers. Respect other hikers right of way and yield if necessary (hikers going uphill have the right of way), stay on the right side of the trail and pass other hikers on the left side of the trail, be polite and greet people (a simple “Hi”, or “Have a nice day” goes a long way), don’t be loud at the campground and respect other people’s sleeping times.
- Bury your feces. “Human waste and what we do with it can be one of the most significant impacts that faces lands used by the public for recreation,” as explained by Ben Lawhon, education director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. “It’s a disease impact, water quality impact, social and aesthetic impact — and it’s something that a lot of people just have a hard time dealing with.” While in the wilderness you are required to bury your feces in a hole at least 6’’ deep and 200 feet away from the trail and water sources. Bring a trowel to dig your hole and always remember to bury your biodegradable toilet paper; one of the most unpleasant sights seen in the outdoors is toilet paper stuck in the shrubs and bushes along the trail.
- Take only pictures and memories. Do not take rocks, plants, seeds, pine cones, animals, or any other wild item as a souvenir unless you have a permit to do so.
While hiking and backpacking, it is very important to respect these rules and regulations in order to protect these natural habitats and look after your own safety. Now, if you are an avid hiker by now, you may want to look into the Backpacking Gear list to get ready for some overnight wilderness adventures!
- Why Hiking and Backpacking is so cool.
- Learn all you need to know to be prepared: Hiking and Backpacking Checklist
- 10 Basic Rules you need to respect while hiking and backpacking.
- Answer ‘the call of the wild’: Backpacking Gear.
- Best Hiking and Backpacking Food.
- Hygiene Kit, basic items and practices that will keep you safe and comfortable.
- Learn how to pack a thorough Wilderness Emergency Kit.
- Tips & Extras, make your trip more enjoyable!