Understanding Leave No Trace on the River

Written by Ben Sack, 03.29.2023

If you are lucky enough to go white water rafting, it’s your responsibility to help care for the places you visit. Leave No Trace (LNT) principles were designed to protect local flora and fauna, while also protecting the wilderness for future generations to enjoy.

For Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado is not just a place where we operate a rafting business, it’s also our home. We truly enjoy sharing the beauty of the Arkansas River with people and teaching them how to properly care for wild places. In turn, we hope our guests can pass everything they learned about rafting ethics and river sustainability on to others.

What is LNT All About?

Whether you are visiting a popular national park or a remote wilderness area, Leave No Trace principles will help you minimize your impact on the land. By following simple rules like only camping in established areas you will help preserve wild places for the enjoyment of future generations.

The LNT Organization “accomplishes its mission by providing innovative education, skills, research and science to help people care for the outdoors…Leave No Trace focuses on educating people—instead of costly restoration programs or access restrictions—as the most effective and least resource-intensive solution to land protection.”

What are the Leave No Trace 7 Principles?

The LNT philosophy is comprised of 7 key principles. No matter if you are white water rafting or rock climbing, these principles will help ensure you are treating the landscape with the respect it deserves.

The following are a selection from the Leave No Trace Seven Principles. © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Planning ahead is the first critical component of LNT. As the Care for Colorado website explains, “almost half of Colorado is public land. Learn about the area you plan to visit before adventuring out so you can enjoy and help protect the spaces we all share.” When it comes to white water rafting, you should inquire with your outfitter about the details of the trip so you are adequately prepared.

While the majority of your rafting gear will most likely be provided regardless of the outfitter you choose, it’s still important to keep self-care in mind when it comes to hydration and protecting yourself from the elements.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Whether you are hiking, rafting, or mountain biking, how you choose to travel and camp can have a large impact on local ecosystems. When hiking, you should stay on existing trails – even when they are muddy. Similarly, when rafting Echo Canyon likes to use established access points along the river to minimize erosion and protect native vegetation. When we make camp on multi-day raft trips, we choose locations that have a durable surface like a flat area of hard-packed sand. Finally, you should strive to camp only on durable surfaces in established campsites.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

The phrase “pack it in, pack it out” is a popular mantra for LNT practices. It’s your responsibility to remove any waste you create while engaging in outdoor activities. Not only should you remove obvious trash items like food wrappers and cigarette butts, but you should pack out food scraps as well. When going to the bathroom, use established toilets when possible, or dig a cathole 6-8 inches deep for poop.

We train our guides to leave it cleaner than they found it, so even if it’s not our water bottle floating in the river we like to chase it down and dispose of it properly. Want to go even further? Bring a small trash bag and leave a little room in your hiking pack or on your raft and plan on packing out some garbage you find along the way.

4. Leave What You Find

Another important principle for LNT is to leave what you find in wild places. While Colorado has tons of amazing plant, animal, and mineral specimens, that doesn’t mean you should take them as souvenirs. When you are on the river, don’t grab that piece of cool driftwood as a keepsake, leave it for others to see as well. A helpful way to think about this LNT principle is to take only photographs when traveling to wild places.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfire management is an extremely important part of LNT practices in Colorado. Before you plan on having a campfire, be sure to do your homework on fire bans. Beyond obvious ethical concerns, there can be serious legal consequences for starting a wildfire. Campfires should only be built in established fire rings – creating a new fire ring out of rocks or on bare dirt is very much frowned upon. If you do have a campfire, keep it small when burning, and be sure it is “dead out” before you go to bed. You should be able to put your hand to the ashes and feel no heat. When Echo Canyon has campfires on multi-day rafting trips, we also pack out the ashes.

6. Respect Wildlife

bighorn sheep ramYou should remember that plants and animals call the places we visit home. As such, it’s important to keep your distance from wildlife. A good rule is to keep a distance such that if you extend your arm out and cover the animal with your thumb. If your thumb fully blocks out the animal then you’re at a safe distance for you and the animal.

Similarly, you should never intentionally feed wild animals, or
improperly store food they can access it. If an animal like a bear gets used to eating human food, it will become a dangerous nuisance in no time with a devastating ending for the animal. When we pass by Bighorn Sheep on rafting trips, the staff and guests at Echo Canyon are always as quiet as possible.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The final LNT principle is being considerate of other people in the area. This means talking at a reasonable level and camping far away from other groups. When hiking or biking, practicing good trail etiquette and yielding at the proper time is also important. If you are on a rafting trip, don’t bring waterproof speakers and blast your music so everyone around can hear. In the end, it’s possible to enjoy each other’s company on a raft without negatively impacting other people’s experiences.

How Does Echo Canyon Practice LNT?

Echo Canyon is an active member of the Care for Colorado coalition, as well as a Community Partner with LNT.

All Echo Canyon staff members are trained on the LNT principles and use them daily while working on the river. One of our main goals is to teach guests how LNT applies to rafting ethics, as well as other conservation measures in Colorado. In turn, we hope our guests can continue to practice these principles after their vacation is over.

Go White Water Rafting in Colorado!

At Echo Canyon, we are proud stewards of the Arkansas River and the surrounding landscape. We take great pride in practicing LNT, while also teaching our guests the importance of rafting ethics.

Contact Us today to book your next Colorado rafting adventure!

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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