Treading Lightly

While enjoying the freedoms offered by mountains, forests and trails, visitors sometimes love nature to death, unknowingly causing serious damage to the land. It is each person’s responsibility to educate themselves about the basics of nature so that everyone can help to reduce human impact upon the land. Alternately, the enjoyment derived from seeing and experiencing nature’s workings can be considered one of the main benefits of being in the backcountry.

For thousands of years our wildlands have evolved into a complex ecological relationship. The balance of this interrelationship, which involves climate, water, soil, plants, and animals can be easily upset or even destroyed. Once damaged, these systems can take lifetimes to regenerate.

group sitting around small fire

One basic Leave No Trace principle is to keep backcountry fires small and use existing fire rings.

In many backcountry areas nature is already struggling to cope with heavy use and improper backpacking and camping techniques. Many areas are “camped out.” Firewood is scarce to nonexistent; fire rings dot the once-scenic landscape, vegetation is trampled or picked to extinction, and soils are rapidly eroding. The backcountry experience seems to be harder and harder to find as more and more people move deeper into the wilderness looking for nature’s solitude.

Laws and regulations are in place to try to correct and eliminate these situations. But cooperation, proper attitudes, and voluntary actions of visitors are better ways to preserve the land. A simple approach is to “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” More sophisticated “Leave No Trace” guidelines have been developed by people concerned about responsible outdoor recreation. The seven principles are:

The Seven Leave No Trace Principles

      • Plan Ahead and Prepare
      • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
      • Dispose of Waste Properly
      • Leave What You Find
      • Minimize Campfire Impacts
      • Respect Wildlife
      • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

For more information about Leave No Trace and ethical outdoor recreation, visit the Leave No Trace website.

Regulations

Below are a few of the pertinent regulations, though we direct users to consult the managing jurisdictions (e.g. U S Forest Service, etc.) for more information.

Group Size: In some places or times the Forest Service will limit group size to 15 people. Check with local land managing agencies to determine allowable group size for the area that you will be visiting. Many backcountry areas have other restrictions for the maximum number of people, possibly requiring your party to split up into smaller hiking and camping groups.

Trail Courtesy: Colorado Trail users should expect to meet other users. To ensure friendly, happy meetings, responsible users follow a basic principle of trail courtesy, the rule about yielding: Hikers and cyclists yield to horses; cyclists yield to hikers and horses. Horses tend to be wary of unexpected people and especially wary of bicycles. Some are easily spooked.

Cyclist meets horseback rider

This horseback rider has yielded the trail to the cyclist, but generally cyclists and hikers should yield to horses.

When approaching horses or other stock animals on the trail, it is best to make your presence known through talking or a bicycle bell. Be sure to allow ample right of way. You should pull completely off the Trail, preferably on the downhill side, and then remain still as the animal(s) pass by. It may help if you talk to the horse in a calm voice as the rider passes.

Cyclists: All wilderness areas are closed to bicycles. In non-Wilderness areas, you can expect to encounter mountain bicyclists on the Trail.

Although cyclists are supposed to yield to hikers, in practice hikers often step aside. Cyclists should slow down in any case and pass with a friendly greeting.  If you are bicycling through any area with a limited field of view, be sure that your ability to stop quickly is maintained at all times.

Fishing and Hunting: Fishing and hunting are authorized under State regulations and vary from area to area. Obtain permits and regulatory information in advance of your trip from local equipment suppliers and other outlets.

Dogs: Click here for dogs information on this site under Traveling the CT > Dogs.

Pack Animals: if you should desire to ride horses, or pack your gear on llamas and other pack animals you should check with the land managing agency located near the areas of your travels for any restrictions. In all instances it is wise to carry enough food for your animals, whether or not animals may be maintained by trail browsing. Certified weed-free hay must be used in much of the backcountry and in Wilderness areas. This is to help prevent the spread of invasive non native weeds, particularly thistles. Begin feeding the certified hay a couple days before you go, so your horse does not deposit seeds when you reach the Trail.

Also consider the distances and terrain that your animal might encounter during your travels. It is advisable to be familiar with animal first aid, and to know of veterinarians along the way in case of illness or accident. Some sections of the Trail are very difficult for horses, in particular segments 22, 24, and 27 in the San Juans, as well as segment CW02 in the Collegiate West. If you are not an expert rider, consider skipping these.
A highly spirited thoroughbred horse may not have the best temperament for mountain trails.

When on the Trail, it is courteous to step aside when your animal needs to relieve itself so that hikers and cyclists do not have to experience your presence after you have left. If your animals spook easily, be sure to let approaching hikers and cyclists know of the danger. Ask them to move slowly, and to keep their voices low, if that is what you need. Do not expect them to know how to deal with shy animals.