Leave No Trace principles and how to implement them on your wedding day!
If you're eloping or planning your wedding in nature, you have a reason to do so. Whether that means you have a deep appreciation for a certain location, or you just find it stunning, there is something that is drawing you there. In order to keep these beautiful areas protected, it's important to follow Leave No Trace (LNT) practices to minimize your impact and leave it better than you found it!
There are seven Leave No Trace (LNT) principles or guidelines that are important to follow. These help to minimize your impact on the environment and protect it for the future. These are not laws and are up for interpretation, but they do provide a guiding framework on how to enjoy the outdoors!
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles:
- Plan and Prepare Ahead
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
#1 Plan and Prepare Ahead
When planning your wedding in the outdoors it is extremely important to plan and prepare ahead! Being prepared and having everything you need minimizes your impact on the environment. Poor planning can result in mistakes, injuries, land degradation, and ruins your experience.
Before your wedding day, I will research and work with you to make sure we are both prepared with everything we need to make sure your wedding day goes perfectly!
Important things to consider when planning a wedding outdoors:
- Are there road or trail closures that might effect time, access to locations, or experience?
- Do I need a permit to get married here? (More often then not the answer is yes. Permits are fairly easy to get depending on the area, and are there to protect the land)
- Is there a busy season in this location?
- What gear do I need in order to be prepared for this hike or location?
- Am I physically prepared for this hike? (The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a position to get hurt on your wedding day)
- Do I have a backup plan in case I can't get to my location?
- Do I have service there or should I get a satellite phone?
- Are there any bans in the area I should be aware of?
Making sure you are prepared before your wedding day means you can enjoy yourself more and your impact on the land will be minimized.
#2 Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Eloping is amazing! You are able to visit STUNNING locations and have a wedding experience that is extremely unique to you and your relationship!
If you plan on hiking or exploring outdoor areas on your wedding day, make sure to stick to trails and designated areas. Trails are established for a reason. They provide clear routes and they concentrate traffic onto a very specific spot, which limits the likelihood of new trails popping up and scaring the landscape. Stay on marked trails and if you need to step off the trail for any reason, make sure you're doing so on a durable surface like a rock!
The Leave No Trace Center explains each kind of surface here and explains how durable they are.
Some other important ideas to think about when you're on trail:
- Avoid making "shortcuts" through the trail. It's common on trails that have switchbacks to see markings where other hikers have "cut" through to make the hike shorter to the top. Overtime this area gets very degraded and the vegetation gets destroyed. Keep in mind that the trail was made a specific way for a reason and we should stick to it!
- If a trail is closed for restoration or animal mating, respect that! It might change your plans slightly or make your hike a bit longer, but in the long run that's what keeps these areas beautiful!
- This goes back to the preparedness principle, make sure you know what kind of surfaces you'll be encountering on your trip. For example, if you're traveling to the desert, read up on cryptobiotic soil and learn how to properly identify it. Cryptobiotic soil is a living organism that looks like dirt but is extremely important for these desert landscapes! Same goes for alpine areas. Alpine areas are extremely fragile, so brush up on info about how to limit your impact when in these areas!
#3 Dispose of Waste Properly
This seems like a pretty basic idea, but it goes a bit more in-depth. Waste in this case means all waste... anything that wasn't in the area when you got there needs to be packed out. This includes all the tiny things like confetti and the icky stuff like poop.
Even if confetti is labeled as biodegradable it has to be packed out. It's not clear how long things take to biodegrade so it's better to be safe than sorry. Think of the next people that visit the area, they probably don't want to see the ground covered in confetti. An alternative to confetti that I love to use is leaves that are already in the area! If you're dreaming of a confetti moment, try having your guests gather leaves from the ground (this works best in fall) and tossing those into the air instead. It gives the same effect but matches the landscape better and leaves no trace! Other ideas are bubbles, sparklers, or snow in the winter!
Make sure to pack out everything from food scraps to plastic to the champagne cork!
Now for the icky stuff that no one wants to talk about: poop. We're all human, and it's inevitable that you'll have to go at some point especially if you explore the outdoors often! Poop can be extremely toxic if it gets into waterways so it's important to dispose of waste properly. A "cat hole" is the most common and widely accepted waste disposal option. This is where you dig a hole, do your business, and then bury it. It's important to research beforehand (back to the first principle) about the proper disposal methods for the area you're traveling. In some areas, the only way to dispose of your waste properly is to pack it out with you and dispose of it when you get back to a town.
The LNT Center has a great resource here about different ways to pack out.
Urine, on the other hand, has little effect on vegetation or soil. Pee can draw animals to the area so dilute it with a bit of water when you're done.
To summarize: if you bring it in, pack it out - don't leave a trace that you were there and try to leave it better than you found it (pick up trash if you see it)!
#4 Leave What You Find
It's enticing to grab a rock or flower from the area you got married in but if everyone who visited the area did that, It would be ruined. You might think if you do something it won't make a difference, but it does. Every little pebble or flower that makes up the area you are in is what makes it so beautiful. Even grabbing a small rock can impact the environment and alter its balance.
You have a photographer with you for a reason, if you want to capture something special let me know! At the end of your wedding, you'll have a gallery of amazing photos that capture your entire day that you can look back on.
In national parks, it's even illegal to remove natural objects.
#5 Minimize Campfire Impacts
Ending your wedding day cuddled up next to a campfire sounds like the perfect way to end your night. But, check you're allowed to do that first! Check if there is a fire ban in place before starting your fire - this information is super easy to find online and can save the environment!
If there is no fire ban in place, just be sure to build your fire in designated fire rings or in areas that explicitly allow it. Make sure to keep your eyes on fire and be cautious of wind.
When you're all done, check the ashes are cool to the touch before you leave it!
#6 Respect Wildlife
Wildlife is amazing and I'm always stoked to see something, but remember, they are wild! Although you may want to feed them in order to see them up close, avoid doing so. Feeding animals can be harmful to them and can eliminate their fear of humans which is dangerous for both sides.
Side Story: One day when I was in Zion National Park a squirrel that was clearly not afraid of humans (very obviously was fed by humans) kept trying to crawl into my backpack and onto my legs in order to get closer to the food that I was eating. Although I love wildlife, I love seeing it from a distance and not on top of me lol. I was terrified and was forced to leave this beautiful river area because it would not leave me alone.
Make sure to store your food properly as well (especially in bear country)! This stops animals from getting into it or putting you in a dangerous situation! If you're in bear country, look into buying or renting a bear bag/odor-resistant bag when hiking outdoors.
#7 Be Considerate of Other Visitors
This one is super important and one I take pretty seriously. Nothing is worse than having your day ruined by another visitors' actions. Remember the golden rule, treat others the way you want to be treated!
When you're choosing to elope, odds are you're trying to find a private yet beautiful location. Great options to avoid the crowds are hiking to lesser-known areas away from visitors and going in the offseason or mid-week. Keep in mind these spaces are still open to the public and other visitors have the right to be in that location just as much as you. Enjoy your elopement day to the fullest just keep in mind small things like how loud you're playing your music so other people can enjoy the beauty of an area just as much as you!
The LNT Center has a great resource about hiking etiquette you can find here.
Last but not least, Leave No Trace on Social Media
This one is slightly controversial but important to bring up. Over the years the rise of Instagram and geo-tagging locations has led to amazing locations becoming overcrowded and damaged to a point of no return. Places like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona was once a local hidden gem, but after people started tagging the location on Instagram the area became a crowded hotspot.
Be conscious of what you're posting online. Instead of geo-tagging, an exact location be vague. If you're eloping at a secret spot in Acadia just tag the park, or Maine as a whole, or the restaurant you went to after your ceremony.
Keeping your elopement location a secret can protect landscapes and ensure they last for a long time!
Whether you're backpacking across mountains or going for a stroll in your local park, make sure to practice LNT!
No one is perfect - everyone is constantly learning about how to better take care of the planet. I make mistakes too, but it's important to be conscious and do your best when you can! If you have any questions about how to leave no trace or eloping feel free to ask! I'm an open book and love to chat with new people! Here is a link to my contact form if you want to reach out about anything!
MEET YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER TEAM
Hey, We're Bridget & Ryan!
Adventurers turned adventure elopement photographers specializing in national park and hiking elopements! We help couples craft a wedding day that feels authentic to them in a meaningful and epic location. Life's an adventure, let's make your wedding one too!
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