How to Leave No Trace on your 2017 Solar Eclipse Camping Trip
On Monday, August 21st, 2017, a solar eclipse will be visible across the entire contiguous United States. It is being referred to as the Great American Eclipse, and no matter where you live in the lower 48, if the weather is clear, you should be able to get a glimpse of at least a partial eclipse. The total eclipse, where the moon entirely covers the sun, will travel a tight path through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, all the way to South Carolina. According to the news, millions of people are planning a 2017 solar eclipse camping trip, which means immense strain will be put on our parks, campsites, and public lands. Idaho alone is expecting up a million people, hours of traffic, and overflowing campgrounds.
We are excited for this incredible phenomenon and that so many people are planning to get outside and camp for the Great American Eclipse. At the same time, we are also very concerned about the effects of this camping on our public lands, including trash, human waste, and potential fire danger.
In this blog post, we’ve outlined 8 important tips for how to Leave No Trace on your 2017 Solar Eclipse camping trip.
Please share this with everyone you know who is planning to camp during the eclipse, especially those who aren’t regular campers and might not be familiar with Leave No Trace.
Respect Fellow Campers
Whether you are staying at an established campground or looking for dispersed camping, it’s likely most campsites are going to be at full capacity for the solar eclipse. Keep in mind other campers are there to enjoy our incredible natural world, just like you! They want to kick back and relax in peace — so keep music and group noise at a considerate level and think about how close other campsites are to your group. Remember the noise from late night dance parties and drinking games can echo through the entire campground and leave your neighbors both awake and annoyed. Respect the privacy of those nearby and be thoughtful of an early morning your neighbors might have planned.
Don’t Feed or Approach Wildlife
Observe wildlife from a distance and don’t physically attempt to engage with animals. Remember, we are in their home, not the other way around. Feeding wildlife turns animals into pests. Once they get a taste, they want more (just like your dog), and eventually they can become aggressive towards humans. This happens frequently with bears, and a persistent bear may have to be killed by the rangers…something that no one wants.
Please don’t go to bed with bags of chips, open coolers, and bbq leftovers sitting out. All food needs to be put away and locked up in your car before you go in your tent. Your tent is also not a safe place to store food. Whether it’s a bear or a squirrel, your tent is not animal-proof, and you could end up with stolen food, a torn tent, or much worse.
Also, don’t approach animals for photos. If you see one cross the road in front of your car, don’t get out and chase it with your iPhone. This can make animals feel threatened and is dangerous for you and others.
No matter how cute they are, this is bad for both wildlife and humans (this is a stock photo, not mine).
Don’t camp in an illegal campsite
Please don’t set up your tent where it’s not allowed. Setting up your tent right on the lake “just for the shot” – like the photo below – seriously goes against Leave No Trace. It also encourages others to also break the rules. I urge you to take a stand against this. Lead by example. Don’t set up your tent where you aren’t supposed to and don’t post photos of illegal campsites online – whether they are real or staged.
Yes, this campsite is beautiful. But it seriously violates Leave No Trace.
Make sure your solar eclipse campsite is LEGAL and follows Leave No Trace principles. It is your responsibility as a camper to look up the regulations before you leave your house and to know what is and isn’t allowed. Here are some general guidelines to follow when choosing a campsite:
- Whenever possible, pitch your tent in an existing campsite.
- Unless existing regulations say otherwise, set your tent up at least 200 feet from lakes, rivers, and other water sources. This is to help protect the environment and to maintain access for wildlife, and also to keep your pee and poop out of the water that people rely on for drinking.
- Make sure to pitch your tent on stable ground away from cliffs and don’t trample on any vegetation.
- Hammocks aren’t legal in some campgrounds. Check the rules and follow them.
- At the end of your visit, leave the campsite better than you found it. Search for cigarette butts, micro-trash, and food particles. Whether they were already there before you arrived or a result of your party, be a good steward and pick it up.
Keep Your Campsite Organized
Keeping your campsite clean when you are in camp and away for the day is important. You aren’t having a yard sale so make sure your gear isn’t spread all across the campsite. Ensure things are tied down so when the wind picks up in the afternoon, you won’t have items traveling all over the campground.
Pack out your Trash
The fire pit is NOT a trash can, nor is it a place for your cigarette butts. How would you like it if you arrived at your campsite to find the last group left it looking like this?
Have a designated receptacle (box, bag, crate, etc.) that is for trash. Don’t leave it sitting out when camp is unattended, otherwise animals might get into it (including your pets who might mischievously scatter garbage around when you aren’t looking.
When your solar eclipse camping trip is done, pack out your trash in your car and dispose of it at a dumpster.
I found this trashed campfire ring about 20 feet from a parking lot. Grrrr.
Don’t leave your Poop and TP for others to find
Imagine if the millions of people headed out on their solar eclipse camping trip pooped and left their toilet paper on the ground for someone else to find. It would not only be disgusting, but it could also create an unsanitary crisis. I’m seeing more and more toilet paper on trails this year, and I beg you to pick up after yourself. Toilet paper can take years to decompose, depending on the climate, and even if it’s buried, curious wildlife can dig it up. If you are camping somewhere where there isn’t a toilet, please follow Leave No Trace Principles. Here are the steps:
- First, when you pee and poop in the outdoors, you should be a minimum of 200 feet from any water source to avoid contamination. Pooping too close to rivers and lakes is one of the ways giardia is introduced. If you catch giardia by drinking contaminated water, you’ll suffer from serious stomach problems and diarrhea. Figures right?
- Next, for pee, you don’t need to dig a cat-hole. You can just go. The only tip is to try to avoid peeing directly on vegetation.
- For poo, bring a shovel and dig a cat-hole that is 6-8″ deep. Do your business. Find a stick, stir it up and then cover it back up with dirt and leaves. Wipe, put your used TP in a plastic ziplock, take that back with you to camp, and then pack it out. Hand sanitize and the job is done. It’s really that simple, and there’s nothing more gross about putting your TP in a plastic bag than tossing it into a toilet, like we do everyday.
I found this used TP on a recent backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch.
Don’t put soapy water in the lake
Even if soap is biodegradable, you shouldn’t soap up yourself or your dishes in the lake by your campsite. Even Dr. Bronner’s can be harmful to lake-dwelling animals like fish and birds. Leave No Trace says that the best way to do dishes is with a couple of buckets. Fill them up with water. Soap up your dishes in the first bucket, and afterwards, dip them in a bucket containing rinse water. Once all your dishes are done, strain any food particles out of the dirty bucket and put those in the trash. Then walk 200 feet from the water and toss the gray water in a wide circle to disperse it. You can find more info here on Leave No Trace’s website.
As far as cleaning your body, if you can’t stand the idea of being dirty, by all means go for a swim, but don’t lather up or use shampoo in the water. Instead, get some good body wipes and use those to wipe away the dirt and grime.
Be Fire Smart
Prepare ahead of time by reviewing posted fire regulations and restrictions, either online or when you arrive at your campsite. Given that your 2017 solar eclipse camping trip also marks the start of fire season in numerous states, this is SUPER important. If you are camping in an area that allows fires:
- Make sure you only build your fire in an established fire ring. If there is no fire ring, don’t make a new one.
- Don’t build a fire if there are strong winds.
- Only use wood that you bought or collected legally. Your best bet is to buy firewood locally and always check rules for your campground. Most state and national parks don’t allow you to gather firewood, even if it is downed wood. If gathering wood is allowed, only pick up dead and downed logs, and don’t cut down or harm living trees, as they are home for birds, insects, and other creatures. Finally, some parks don’t allow firewood to be brought in from out of state due to harmful pests and diseases that can be found on non-local firewood.
- Keep the size of your fire reasonable so if the wind picks up it doesn’t get out of hand.
- Before you go to bed or leave your campsite, make sure your fire is 110% out. The best way to put your fire out and to cool the ashes is to drench it in water.