Leave No Trace: The Paddlers’ Footprint.

Paddlers have relatively small impacts on the river environment when compared with other users. We generally take only pictures and rarely leave footprints except when we access a river, scout, or portage. Most paddlers are driven by an environmental ethic to minimize their impacts on the rivers that they cherish and enjoy. By following some very simple recommendations paddlers can virtually eliminate any direct impacts to the river environment that they might have. We ask that all paddlers consider following the environmentally friendly paddling and camping practices that have been carefully researched and described in the nationally recognized “Leave No Trace Practices for River Corridors”:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Learn about river-specific issues, regulations, and permits
  • Use a river guidebook and map to plan your trip
  • Schedule your trip so that you encounter appropriate river flows for your group's ability
  • Repackage food to minimize waste
  • Know river skills and carry the necessary equipment to minimize your impact

Travel and Camp on Durable Surface

  • Durable surfaces include rock, gravel, and sand
  • Focus activity where vegetation is absent
  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites
  • Select a campsite large enough for your group
  • When on day hikes in the river corridor, walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when muddy
  • In pristine areas, disperse uses to prevent creation of new campsites and trails
  • Leave campsites clean and natural looking

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out
  • Use a washable, reusable toilet of other approved method to pack out human waste, toilet paper, and tampons. Check local regulations for requirements and recommended proceedures.
  • Liquid wastes can be dumped into the main current in many high volume (over 500cfs)rivers. In low volume rivers, scatter liquid waste 200ft from water, away from camps and trails. Check local regulations.
  • Urinating directly into the river is often the best option. Check local regulations.
  • Use a tarp in the camp kitchen to catch food and trash, which attract unwanted animals.
  • Pack out all small food particles and small pieces of trash.

Leave What You Find

  • Appreciate ancient structures, artifacts, rock art and other natural objects, but leave them undisturbed.
  • Do not build structures or dig trenches in campsites
  • Avoid introducing non-native species, including live bait, by cleaning equipment between trips

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Minimize campfire impacts by using stoves
  • Use a fire pan or designated fire ring for open fires and charcoal
  • Elevate firepan and use a blanket to catch embers
  • Use dead and downed wood no larger than an adults wrist to keep the fire small
  • Consider bringing your own firewood or charcoal
  • Burn all wood and charcoal to ash. Carry out ash with other garbage.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed wildlife; it damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife by storing food and trash securely
  • Control pets or leave them behind
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting or when food is scarce.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience
  • Communicate with other river visitors about your floating and camping plans
  • Leave larger camps for larger groups
  • Avoid camping or eating near major rapids where scouting and portaging take place
  • Non-motorized crafts usually have the right of way over powerboats; slower boats should keep to the right
  • Let nature's sounds prevail

Additional AW Recommendations

  • Use existing trails whenever possible to access the river, scout, or portage. Hiking off-trail can cause vegetative damage and erosion, and can begin user-created trails that are not designed to resist erosion and to drain properly. Using existing trails greatly minimizes any erosion or vegetative damage you may have otherwise caused. If you must hike off trail, minimize your disturbance to the soil and vegetation by staying on rock as much as possible, by maintaining secure footing to avoiding sliding, by avoiding very steep slopes, and by avoiding areas with obviously sensitive vegetation.
  • Dispose of human waste properly. The proper technique for disposing of human waste varies depending on an ecosystem’s ability to decompose or dilute the waste, and on the amount of use a river receives. Paddlers should follow the recommendations of the managing agency if the river is on public lands, and visit the Leave No Trace website for additional information. In general – solid human waste should be buried 6-8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from any water source. It is generally acceptable to urinate into large rivers, while urinating in small streams or directly on vegetation is discouraged.
  • Pack it in – Pack it out. Paddlers are encouraged to not only pack out their own trash – but also others trash that they may encounter while on the river or at an access area. If the job is too big – do what you can – and consider organizing a river clean-up. Remember that lost or damaged boats and paddles are litter that you have a responsibility to recover. Small plastic shavings that result from dragging boats should also be considered litter.
  • Camp Responsibly. Prevent ground scars by using firepans or existing firepits in designated areas, burn only dead and down trees, and keep fires small and manageable. Consider not having fires in the backcountry. Place tents in established locations or in areas devoid of vegetation whenever possible. Strain and pack out food waste, and broadcast dishwater away from camp. Double check to make sure that you have left your camp as you found it or better.
  • Share The River. AW has developed a set of recommendations on how to best interact with anglers, horseback riders, other paddlers, and local residents and other non paddling access area users. View these recommendations by clicking here
  • Be Aware of River Management Issues – and Get Involved. As a paddler you have an obligation to be aware of the management issues associated with the rivers you paddle. Many whitewater rivers are subject to intense pressures to allow resource extraction and other potentially damaging activities to occur. By staying aware of such issues you can take actions to protect the rivers and your ability to enjoy them. Consider offering to do some volunteer work, and of course regularly check the American Whitewater website for conservation and access alerts. You have the ability to proactively make your rivers better places or to protect already great places.
  • Go Green. Choices you make every day impact rivers indirectly and directly, in ways you may not even think about. Consider living an environmentally conscious lifestyle to lessen these impacts and to free up extra cash for that new boat or paddle. Carpool to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on acid precipitation and global warming. Conserve water in your home, yard, and garden to keep aquifers and rivers more fully charged. Reduce your electricity consumption to reduce your support of mining and hydro development. Recycle to decrease national energy needs, mining, and logging. Don’t waste paper and cancel all junk mail to reduce your impacts on forests. Vote with the environment in mind.
  • Learn and Practice the Leave No Trace Principles. American Whitewater staff played an integral role in the development of the Western River Corridors Leave No Trace Skills and Ethics book published April 2001. For more information about Leave No Trace practices visit: http://www.lnt.org/programs/lnt7/index.html
  • Join American Whitewater. Learn more about our Access & Conservation Programs and how you can resolve river access issues in your community.
Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!