What is “Digital Leave No Trace”?

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If you’ve spent any time outside in Idaho’s stunning wilderness, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Leave no trace.” This guiding principle is essential to backcountry and adventure exploration; it encompasses everything from waste accumulation to going off-trail. If a hiker were to walk a mile behind you, they should not know you are ahead. Carry-in, carry-out, and don’t pick flowers along the way.

Some hikers and adventurers are beginning to discuss a new type of “Leave No Trace,” but this time, it doesn’t have to do with throwing your wrapper on the ground. Social media, as it turns out, is killing hiking trails. Social media is ruining the outdoor experience, and hikes, trails, and parks are being loved to death. If you haven’t read about it, you’ve likely experienced it. Maybe you’ve been hiking a trail for years, but then you see someone post about it online. Now, you can’t find parking at the trailhead, there is litter on the trail, and you can’t get a good view from the summit.

Social media is a relatively new thing for the outdoors. Many would argue it is doing our forests and parks good; visitation is up at parks across the country, and we can trace a large chunk of those crowds back to some sort of online promotion either by the park itself or former visitors. However, massive groups of people are now flooding our trails and national parks. Many remain respectful to the environment, but several are inexperienced adventurers who have not been taught to respect the land. Meal bar wrappers, off-trail footprints, and wildlife destruction are not to be taken lightly. Then, of course, there is the noise pollution. Packed trails accumulate a lot of noise, scaring away native wildlife.

There is, obviously, a lot to unpack here. Our parks need visitors to survive. Our trails need parking fees for maintenance. Outdoor adventure education thrives on participation. However, hundreds of hikers are advocating for an 8th Leave No Trace Principle. The proposed addition is written below:

“Be mindful when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts that rapidly increased use can have on wild places.”

This isn’t an outright ban—it’s the beginning of an important conversation. If you have any thoughts about this potentially controversial idea, drop us a line. We’d love to talk about it.