Leave No Trace: Camping With a Conscience

Keep nature natural by minimizing your impact on it. (Photo: Kelly vanDellen/Shutterstock)

Want to get your kids connected with nature? Take them camping. It's so tempting (especially when traveling with kids) to fall for the convenience of disposable items and other shortcuts. But when you're camping, it's important the "leave no trace" ethos is essential if you want to have a natural habitat to return to. Fortunately, it's easier than you think. Here's how:

Go waste-free

  • BYOB: As in bring your own bottle (for water and other drinks) and bags (for garbage, wet clothes, etc.)
  • Be prepared to pack it out: Some campgrounds and campsites offer trash cans and dumpsters within easy access to your site, but others do not. Be prepared to pack out whatever trash you and your family create
  • Pick up litter: Never, ever throw it on the ground. Stuff wrappers in your pockets or backpack and dispose of them the next time your near a trash can. Even better: pick up litter, even if it's not yours.
  • Reuse your dishes: Use unbreakable dishes, cups and utensils. Don't avoid washing up by using disposable paper or Styrofoam versions.

Hug a tree

  • No shortcuts: Stay within your campground's designated boundaries and trails. Shortcutting disturbs fragile plants and ecosystems and tramples a path that others will likely follow. Never tie your dog to a tree as this can damage the delicate bark.
  • Get fired up: If your campgound permits campfires, go for it, but be sure to bring your own firewood and keep your fire contained to the designated pit.
  • Leave Bambi be: No matter how tempting it is to let your kids feed the deer (or the birds, or the chipmunks, etc), leave these animals alone. Even if they seem tame and accustomed to humans, it's important to remember that they are wild animals, and they deserve to be treated as such.

Keep it clean

  • Clean green: Wash dishes and your kids with nontoxic, biodegradable, phosphate-free soap.
  • Dish out: Dump old dishwater in designated areas and far away from lakes, streams or rivers.