There are now plenty of accounts and collaboratives on the internet promoting outdoor adventure and hiking with kids. The Instagram algorithm really seems to favor folks posing in front of epic landscapes. on the one hand I think this is great: inspire people to get outside, peel their children away from screens and be wild. But on the other hand a lot of the opt-outside digital movement has actually been pretty detrimental for our favorite wild places. Here are a few of the big issues, and a few ways to leave no trace.
Horseshoe bend, the Insta-famous overlook near Page historically hosted only a few thousand visitors. That number grew to over 2 million as of last year. The last time my family visited Monument Valley people were lined up to take selfies in the middle of the road, trying to capture that one shot. Zion national park often has lines of people waiting to hike. Oak creek swimming holes have become so popular there regularly is no where to park and even no where to stand, with rambunctious parties leaving behind tons of trash.
How can we enjoy the outdoors without degrading them?
Leave no trace on the internet. If you visit a really awesome spot and post about it on social media, don’t tag the location! Keep your secret swimming hole a secret so that the “locals only” spots remain pristine.
Visit in the Off Season
Bundle up and go to Zion in the winter. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Visiting in the off season, or even just on off days reduces the stress on park infrastructure, and you will have a better experience if it’s less crowded.
Slide Rock the popular “natural waterpark” of oak creek has occasionally had E. Coli levels up to 500 times what the state says is acceptable. Even well-staffed locations like Slide Rock or Grand Canyon have limited resources for dealing with trash and human waste. Luckily, some very basic ethics can help reduce your family’s impact.
Pack it out!
If you bring something with you into the outdoors, bring it back! It is no one’s job but yours to pick up your dirty diapers, your snack wrappers, or your broken plastic sleds. The same way you expect your children to clean up their toys when they are done, you are responsible for cleaning up your trash when you are done playing in the snow or the creek. This includes organic matter two. Orange peels and apple cores are still trash. If it is not naturally part of the ecosystem you are visiting, it does not belong there. Even crumbs “micro trash” have a negative impact on the spaces we love. A few goldfish crumbs can attract ants, then mice, then rattle snakes to your favorite picnic spot and nobody wants that.
Dig a hole at least 200 feet from water, trails or camp sites, the hole must be 6-8 inches deep and you must pack out your toilet paper. I thought this was common knowledge but countless campsites and swimming spots are now polka-dotted with decomposing toilet paper. Take that stuff home with you in a zip lock bag and dispose of it there. It does not “disappear” if you put it under a rock. Luckily for the ladies there is actually some neat new technology to help us in that department.
Don’t Pee in the creek
In larger lakes and rivers it is acceptable to urinate in the water. In small popular southwest streams there is just not enough water to dilute the amount of urine getting put into them. Try to urinate at least 200 feet away from the water.
Leave No Trace Hacks For Kids
Bring easily contained snacks
Things that don’t make a lot of crumbs are your best bet, and a little preparation at home can save you the effort later: peel your oranges and core your apples before you leave.
Have trash bags
Be prepared to bring your trash home with you. Keep two different “types” of trash bags, one for potty related garbage and one for other stuff so that you don’t have to worry about spreading germs.
The go anywhere toilet is the perfect solution for little ones who are potty trained, but not “hole trained.” this little packable toilet allows you to pack out their waste. You can also bring a little toddler potty and then dump the waste into a hole, but I’ve found this method is messier.