Enjoy the Outdoors Without Leaving a Trace

Learn how to play in nature while protecting it at the same time.

About the Activity

Wherever you live, you’re never too far from a beautiful outdoor space that you can visit and enjoy. Even cities have parks you can explore and get a taste of nature.

But it’s important to remember whenever we’re enjoying the great outdoors, that we’re interacting with living things, and the habitats of various animals. In this activity, we will learn how to ‘Leave No Trace’ when we take our fun into the outside world.

Grades: K-8
Topic: Environmental Science
Estimated Time: 2 hours

Walking trail in the woods

You probably have most of these materials at home.

  • Safe walking or hiking shoes
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Paper
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  • Pen or pencil
  • A backpack
  • A bag for garbage
  • Gloves for picking up trash (optional)

Activity Steps

  1. Plan a trip to a park or wilderness area. Maybe you want to go for a walk or a hike, or maybe you want to have a picnic. Regardless of what you decide to do on your adventure, be sure to plan ahead and prepare – that’s the first of the seven rules of ‘Leave No Trace,’ the guiding principles of how we should behave when we are out in nature. There are seven rules that are a part of ‘Leave No Trace.’
  1. Plan ahead and prepare by knowing the regulations and special concerns of the area; being aware of the possibility of extreme conditions and packaging food to minimize waste.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces like established trails, picnic sites and campgrounds. Walk single file in the middle of a trail to minimize trail erosion.
Young boy playing outside
  1. Dispose of waste properly by using designated containers or by packing in and packing out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  2. Protect what you find and preserve the past by leaving cultural or historic structures and artifacts, as well as rocks, plants and other natural features as you found them.
  3. Minimize campfire impacts by using only camp stoves or established campfire rings; burn only sticks found on the ground; put out fires completely and scatter the cold ashes.
  4. Respect wildlife by observing from a distance; never feed animals, store food and trash securely and control pets or leave them at home.
  5. Be considerate of other visitors by being courteous, yielding to others on the trail, taking breaks away from trails and other visitors. Speak in a quiet voice and try not to make loud noises.
  1. Before you go on your trip, print out the attached form and bring a pen with you to observe the space you are in.
  2. Go on your trip! While you are there, walk around and observe what others are doing. Are they eating? Walking on or off the path? Discuss with your group or family what you saw and whether what you saw was good or bad. Do you think they followed the seven rules of ‘Leave No Trace?’ Did You Know? Feeding wildlife can cause health problems for animals, change their natural behaviors, and expose them to danger. Consider this before you arrive at your destination.
  3. Once you get back from your trip outdoors, think about how you behaved during your visit to the outdoors. Fill out the rest of the chart by noting your own actions while you were there. How does it differ from what you observed others doing?

Reflection Questions
Questions for your kids and teens.

  1. What are some ways you can better prepare for your outing the next time you take a trip into nature?
  2. How can you reduce waste when you are away from home?
  3. How can you apply some of the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles into your everyday life at home? What about at school?
  4. How can you be respectful of other visitors and wildlife when enjoying the outdoors?
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Investigate and Explore

Take your new knowledge to the next level. How can we apply the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles to our own communities?

The idea of protecting the environment is relatively new, in part because for thousands of years humans didn’t leave enough of an impact on the world to notice. That has changed in the last few years, and the idea of preserving our natural resources has slowly caught up. But the human impact on the environment continues to be a critical problem facing our earth, including right here at home.

The United States produces more plastic waste than every other country in the world. That’s a lot of garbage! Our citizens are also guilty of littering and illegally dumping garbage into our oceans.

People walking in the woods

Keeping our shorelines and other natural spaces free of trash is vital to keeping wildlife healthy and safe – and we can all do our part. The next time you go out into nature, bring your own bag and gloves for collecting trash, and see if you can help to tidy up the litter.

Want an extra challenge? Work with your school or the grownups in your life to organize a community cleanup event at a local park, forest preserve or beach.

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