People will soon be flocking to the mountains to ooh and ahh at the famous foliage that paints our landscape, and while there’s no shortage of articles suggesting the best sights to see, we wanted to share something new: how to be responsible (and still have fun!) on your fall drives and hikes.
Know Before You Go
Do your research before bringing your dog, mountain bike or fishing pole. Each trail is home to a different ecosystem, with different rules to protect it. If Fido or your favorite activity is allowed, follow the guidelines set by the land manager, pick up after your dog, and keep them on a leash.
We know, dog lovers – we love them too. But dogs love terrorizing wildlife, trampling plants, and eating things they shouldn’t. Plus, a leash prevents them from getting lost or coming face-to-face with an angry raccoon.
Whether you’re driving the entire trip or just to the trailhead, keep Colorado’s air clean by carpooling with friends or fellow sightseers via sites like Nextdoor or MeetUp. If you’re in the Denver Metro Area, check for ozone alerts and consider rescheduling if reduced driving is recommended. Finally, aim to visit at low-traffic times: not only will this make for a more enjoyable experience, but you’ll reduce emissions by lessening the time your car (and others!) have to idle in traffic.
Balance Your Impact
Once you get to the trailhead, split into groups of no more than four or five people. This helps reduce your group’s impact and makes it easy to stay in a single-file line: your group can hold a conversation without anyone backtracking or cutting the trail to catch up. If you’re worried you’ll miss talking to your BFF, set a meeting point further down the trail and switch groups so everyone has a chance to hang out.
Stay the Trail
Trails were built for a reason. They confine people’s impact to a designated area, preventing damage to the surrounding ecosystem. So please, avoid social trails (those unofficial-looking paths created by people wandering off trail) and resist the urge to jump in leaf piles; fallen foliage provides necessary shelter and nutrients for many Colorado critters. If you’re traveling with kids, play Follow the Leader to help them stay in a single-file line.
No, we’re not talking about people on I-70. We’re talking about the invasive plants and insects that want to use you as their personal tour guide to new places in Colorado. Since mud and dirt is one of their favorite methods of travel, you can help stop their spread by thoroughly washing your equipment, shoes, vehicles and animals before entering and exiting an area.
Be a Good Neighbor
It might be tempting to exclaim that you’re “king of the world” at the top of the trail, but you wouldn’t want someone yelling in your neighborhood, so don’t do it to wildlife. If you want to listen to music, use headphones (though we recommend enjoying the sounds of nature instead).
If you’re bringing fuel for your fall excursion, follow the Leave No Trace guidelines and pack it in, pack it out! Reduce the waste you bring in the first place by purchasing your trail snacks in bulk and bringing reusable dishes, silverware and napkins. Plan on bringing all your trash home with you (even if it’s compostable) as well as some other people’s trash - because if you don’t help pick up trash on the trail, who will?
If You Gotta “Go”
Go responsibly! All human waste should be discarded and covered in a cathole dug 6-8 inches deep and at least 200 ft. away from trails, campsites, and water sources like streams. If taking your toilet paper home with you seems gross, just think about it blowing away in the wind. It doesn’t exactly complement the fall colors.
Help reduce Coloradan’s collective impact by teaching others how to care for the outdoors. Share this article and talk to others you encounter on the trail who may not be familiar with stewardship practices. Just be polite and informative when you do so; being condescending will only make people less receptive to your message.
There’s more to stewardship than these ten tips. Continue to educate yourself about how to reduce your impact on the outdoors by reviewing the 7 Leave No Trace principles on LNT.org and learning activity-specific tips for everything from horseback riding to sand duning at TreadLightly.org.
We hope you found this article useful; if you want to do even more for Colorado and see the fall foliage in a new way, register for one of our many fall stewardship projects across the state and learn firsthand what it takes to maintain Colorado’s outdoors!