February 7, 2018 / Comments (0)

Reduce Your Impact Series: Direct Trail Impact

This article is part 1 of a Reduce Your Impact Series. Miss the introduction? Read it here!


The Presidential Range, the Franconia Ridge, the Bonds Traverse. All are popular hikes in the New Hampshire White Mountains due to their picturesque trails and spectacular views. As more hikers continue to flock to these mountains, the trails are suffering the consequences. So how can we reduce our impact on the environment while still enjoying our favorite hiking trails? Here are a few tips:

The beautiful and well travelled Franconia Ridge Trail

Stay on the marked trails in fragile areas like the Alpine Zone.

The Alpine Zone is the high area above tree line that is exposed to extreme climate conditions such as severe winds, zero visibility cloud cover and unpredictable weather. The alpine zone is home to rare flora and fauna that have evolved to survive such harsh conditions. Wandering off trail in this area can destroy rare vegetation and may result in permanent damage to the ecosystem. To learn more about the approximate 70 plant species found in this fragile ecosystem visit the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory Alpine Report.

Did you that there are two butterfly species indigenous to the Presidential Range alpine zone in the White Mountains? The White Mountain Arctic and the White Mountain Fritillary are endemic to this area and are formally recognized as a “sensitive species” by the White Mountain National Forest. You can read more about these two species here.

Mud Season

Walk through the mud.

When spring arrives so does the infamous mud season. Trails that were previously covered by ice and snow begin to thaw and transform into a wet muddy mess. Some hikers try to avoid the muddy areas by going around and on the edge of the trail unaware of the negative impacts. Going off trail to avoid wet areas can result in rapid and unnatural erosion and vegetation damage. Erosion reduces the soils ability to store water and nutrients which is needed to support plant life. So what’s the best way to reduce your impact? Buy a pair of water proof boots and gaiters and walk straight through the mud. Keep in mind to walk single file through the middle of the trail if hiking with a group. Another option is to choose a trail that is more likely to have dry ground and wait a few weeks to go back to the ones that are very wet and muddy in the springtime. Read more about the dos and don’ts of mud season hiking in this article by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Carry out what you carry in.

This is straightforward; clean up after yourself. Don’t litter and pick up any trash you come across while hiking including food scraps such as banana peels and apple cores. These items not only attract wild animals, but most species cannot digest all human food properly. Want to go above and beyond? Organize a trail clean up and spend a Saturday morning picking up litter on a popular trail. Live on the coast? Participate in a beach clean up and help prevent more trash from entering our oceans.

*Stay tuned for an upcoming article in this series focused on reducing the amount of trash you produce and alternatives to one time use items.

Be conscience about where you set up camp.

Camping at least 200 feet from any water source is a good rule of thumb and helps protect water quality and minimize pollution. In high-use areas look for pre-existing campsites to avoid widespread damage. It is better to camp on one area that has already been severely impacted than it is to camp on vegetation that has not yet been destroyed. In very remote areas it is best to spread out and avoid camping in the same place twice. Make sure to find a level spot and avoid damage to surrounding vegetation. Most protected areas have backcountry camping regulations and possibly require permits. Make sure to research the area and its’ regulations before you head out into the wilderness. Learn more about minimizing impact while camping through Leave No Trace here.

Take a trail less traveled.

Popular trails take a beating, especially during summer when seasonal hikers hit the trails again. An easy way to help these areas is to simply explore some lesser known trails. Not only will this give the high trafffic trails a break, but you will find that escape from reality that most of us seek when retreating into the woods. Avoid the conga line up to the summit of Mount Washington on a Saturday and instead find an overgrown trail and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Trail to the Shoal Pond was overgrown and nearly untouched in early August.


“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness” – Aldo Leopold. If we want our favorite spaces to remain beautiful and wild for future generations we need to hike responsibly now. Use your common sense while on the trail. Be mindful and respectful of your surroundings and take the time to make thoughtful decisions. If we all strive to reduce our impact on the environment, then these wild places will have a fighting chance to continue providing a space for escape and inspiration for all future hikers.

Last modified: February 21, 2018

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