The National Park Service and the Michigan DNR have always promoted and encouraged “Leave No Trace” when people visit outdoor recreation areas under their purview. However, Leave No Trace can be observed in any outdoor space – whether it’s a lakeshore, the backcountry, your local park, or a campground – anywhere in the country.

When we go camping and RVing, we are right in the midst of nature. We spend our time out in nature, enjoying its beauty, history, and diversions. Let’s take a look at the 7 Principles and how they apply to RVers.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

RVers tend to be master organizers and “preparation” is their middle name. When you have a house on wheels, you need to be prepared for the weather, emergencies, and whatever life throws at you – and have the supplies or tools or resources available to help fix it. Likewise, when you Leave No Trace, you need to know the area’s regulations and be prepared for any weather or potential emergency. Small groups are encouraged with Leave No Trace, which helps to keep everyone more aware of their surroundings and enhance the outdoor experience. While on the trail, repackage food to minimize waste. As part of Leave No Trace, choose to use a map and compass or GPS for marking points, instead of using paint or rock cairns. Basically, prepare so that you can handle the elements and can find your way around.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Your RV should be parked on a durable surface, preferably at a designated campsite where the surface is packed sand, gravel, or concrete. You want to use a site that already exists, not make a brand new one. Similarly, while hiking or moving around natural areas, stay on designated footpaths; don’t make your own trails. Walk single file to minimize impact. Keep your campsite equipment maintained to your site, and avoid from spreading out. With so much water in Michigan, you need to make sure you’re camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams to protect riparian areas.

Dispose of Waste Properly

This is a big one. We can all make a difference when it comes to keeping the outdoors in pristine condition, as well as keep local wildlife safe. If you are away from the campsite, make sure to pack out when you bring in. Keep your campsite clean, and make sure there is no garbage left at the site when you leave. When it comes to bathroom facilities, if you don’t have a toilet in your RV, utilize toilet facilities whenever possible. Otherwise, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. All toilet paper and hygiene products should be packed out. Disposing of waste also applies to dirty water from washing dishes. Make sure you’re 200 feet away from water sources and use biodegradable soap when you do your dishes. If you have an outdoor shower on the side of your RV, use washing products that are environmentally friendly. You should already be camping at least 200 feet away from a water source so you should be covered as far as where this shower water drains off.

Leave What You Find

Be considerate of your surroundings and help preserve the past so that they have a future. Photograph and visually observe cultural and historic structures and artifacts instead of touching them in any way. Leave plants, rocks, and other natural objects alone and refrain from bringing those items home with you. You also need to help preserve the natural environment by not introducing non-native species. Campers, for instance, are strongly encouraged to purchase wood nearest the campsite location, or from the campground itself, instead of transporting wood. This helps reduce the spread of invasive species as well as plant diseases.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Fire is one of nature’s greatest resets and can be useful, but you don’t want to inadvertently cause a fire, especially in a campground. Use established fire rings and fire pans where fires are permitted. Make sure the fire danger is reasonable to have a fire. A lightweight stove might be a better choice for cooking if the fire danger is high while you’re camping. Keep any fires you do make, small, and use only down and dead wood from the ground; never harvest a tree for firewood. After you have a campfire, reduce it to ash and put out the fire completely using water, dirt, and sand. Most forest fires these days are a result of human fault. By taking these actions and taking them seriously, you help preserve nature as well as help to keep the people around you safe.

Respect Wildlife

Every year we hear of people who get mobbed by a bear or run over by a bison, all because they get too close to take a selfie. When it comes to wildlife, it’s better to observe from a distance and use either binoculars or the zoom on a camera to see an animal up close. Don’t follow or approach any wildlife you find, and never, ever feed them. Not only does feeding “people food” damaging to an animal’s health, it habituates them to humans and exposes them to predators or other dangers (such as traffic). When you’re camping, store your food securely and out of reach. Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them, especially at certain times of the year. For instance, spring brings about new life, and some creatures – black bears, for example – can get downright aggressive if you come near them or their young. If you like to go camping with a dog or cat, keep your pet under control at all times and don’t let them wander from the campsite. Not only can they be a tasty meal for some wild predators, but they can cause damage to wildlife and the environment because they don’t “follow the rules.” Pet owners are responsible for their pets.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

RVers tend to be a courteous bunch at the campground and while out and about. However, it’s important to remind that it’s important to respect others and to be courteous of their experience. Yield to others, don’t talk loudly or cause loud noises (unless you need assistance), and don’ take too long at overlooks or other attractions where there might be more traffic. Take breaks off the trail at designated spots so that others can pass by safely and you preserve the wildlife around you.