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Leave No Trace Camping Ethics for High Alititude Ecosystems

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The high altitude tundra and forest ecosystems of Colorado are very fragile environments. Here, the weather conditions are extreme, the growing season is short and the soils are thin. The impacts caused by careless recreationists can detract from the back country experience and take decades to heal. Here are some guidelines to help you minimize the impacts of your visit.

Backcountry Travel

  • Travel quietly and in small groups. Avoid disturbing others.
  • Spread out impacts by exploring less visited areas.
  • Keep your pets under control or leave them at home. While pets are legal in the backcountry they often bother wildlife and other visitors.
  • Stay on maintained trails whenever possible. Do not cut switchbacks.
  • Minimize horse use when trails are wet. The weight of a horse and rider on wet trails causes serious erosion problems

Campsite Selection and Use

  • In heavily visited areas use existing campsites and fire rings whenever possible to confine impacts to a small area.
  • In less visited areas choose a site well away from streams and lakes and out of sight from other users.
  • Eliminate all traces of your camp and fire before you leave.
  • Carry out all non-burnable trash. Do not bury it because animals will quickly dig it up.
  • Clean up with soapless hot water whenever possible. If you must use soap for washing or bathing do so at least 150 ft. from any water sources and pour the soapy water into absorbent ground.

Stoves and Fires

  • Use a camp stove for all cooking. Wood is scarce in the high country and an essential part of the ecosystem.
  • Gas is quicker, cleaner and won't leave a scar of charred and sterilized soil.
  • If you must build a fire use only dead and down wood. Use existing fire rings and keep the fire small. Use only as much wood as will burn completely.
  • If there is no fire ring don't build one. Choose a spot on gravel or mineral soil away from combustible vegetation. Build the fire on open ground or in a shallow pit. Keep it small.
  • Don't leave fires unattended. When you leave make sure the fire is dead and cold. Clean out fire rings so they will be ready for the next visitors. Bury your ashes. In less visited areas eliminate all traces of your fire.


  • Bury human waste in a small cathole about 6 inches deep and dug in organic soil away from heavy use areas. Be sure it is at least 150 ft. from any water to prevent contamination.
  • Dig a latrine if you have a large group.
  • Toilet paper can be buried in the cathole, carried out or burned (if you are careful about the fire danger).
  • Diapers and tampons should be carried out.

Care of Saddle and Pack Stock - click this link for more detailed information on horse use.

  • Use the minimum amount of stock necessary to transport your group.
  • Avoid use in wet or boggy areas.
  • Don't tie stock to trees. Instead highline, picket or hobble your stock and move them often to avoid excessive impacts to any single area. Don't build corrals without BLM's permission.
  • Make sure stock are kept at least 150 ft. from water and brought down to water as needed.
  • If you haul feed for your stock you must use certified weed free hay or pellets to prevent the spread of damaging weeds.
Visit the Official Leave No Trace Web Site

Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact:
Jim Lovelace

Last modified: January 6, 2011