Things You Should Never, Ever Do in a National Park

Millions of visitors enter Zion National Park every year. And while most are good patrons, doing their part to care for this incredible natural resource, the same can’t be said for all of them.

From littering to graffiti on rocks to leaving the trails to make their own, some tourists leave an undeniable negative mark on the parks. Keep reading to learn a few things you should never, ever do in any national park.

Hit the Trails Unprepared

Most of the dangerous situations that visitors to national parks find themselves in happen because they hit the trails unprepared.

Sometimes they fail to dress for the weather, or maybe to pack layers just in case a sudden storm pops up. Other times they don’t pack enough water to get them through an entire hike or keep them hydrated in hot conditions. Still more tourists ignore trail warnings or lengths and start a hike that they simply aren’t capable of finishing, or that they can’t finish before darkness falls.

Zion National Park might be the fourth most-visited national park in the country, but it isn’t a theme park. If you plan to hike, it’s important to realize that unless you stick to short, paved nature trails, you’re going to be journeying miles away from civilization and shelter. Packing the right gear, wearing clothing that’s appropriate for the weather, and knowing what you’re getting yourself into are all essential if you want to stay safe and comfortable during your hike.

Leave Your Mark

You’ve probably heard the phrase “leave no trace.” But that doesn’t mean that you fully understand the principle behind it.

“Leave no trace” means leaving that national park and all of its natural beauty exactly how you found it. But this means more than just packing-out your trash. There are 7 principles of Leave No Trace, including:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

In fact, following all 7 of these principles would keep you from doing any of the bad habits on this list. 

Stack Rocks

If you’ve spent enough time in any national park in the country, odds are that you’ve seen a rock cairn, even if you don’t realize it.

A rock cairn is a careful stack of rocks, often in one of two distinctive shapes; a stack of rocks that get progressively smaller, or a stack that resembles a bridge with two pillars and a flat top connecting them.

These rock cairns look peaceful and natural. And in fact, they are an important part of many national parks’ histories. But they should never, ever be made by visitors to the parks. Creating these stacks disturbs the plants and microscopic creatures that make their homes among these rocks. Moving larger stones leaves the soil underneath exposed, which can lead to erosion. Finally, stacking these stones near the edge of cliffs or over trails can cause a deadly disaster if they topple while there are hikers far below.

In national parks like Hawaii Volcanoes and Acadia in Maine, park rangers build and maintain these rock cairns. They are used to mark trails, especially in the backcountry, and have a long history of guiding hikers. But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay in these parks for visitors to build them. And in other national parks, like Zion or Capitol Reef, these rock cairns aren’t used, which means that any you see were constructed illegally.

Strike Your Own Trail

Another way that visitors to national parks destroy them without even realizing it is by leaving marked trails. Even straying just a few feet from a marked hiking trail can cause major destruction. It destroys plant life and disturbs the homes of animals. Plus, when one visitor leaves the trail, others may follow. As they leave a mark, other visitors are even more likely to follow later on, causing further destruction.

National parks spread across the country help to preserve unique and beautiful landscapes. Tourists need to do their part to minimize their impact and preserve these parks for future generations. Staying on the trail helps with that.

Get Up Close and Personal With Wildlife

If you’ve read or watched the news in the past few months, you might have heard about several run-ins that visitors to Yellowstone National Park had with bison. In both situations, young visitors got too close to these wild animals, which ended in the visitors getting hurt.

While you won’t find bison in Zion National Park, you will find plenty of other wildlife. Bighorn sheep balance and leap precariously on the rocks in higher elevations. Mule deer graze in the grassy fields around Zion Lodge. Rock squirrels turn up just about everywhere.

Touching, feeding, and approaching any of these animals, regardless of how small or friendly they look, is a major no-no. Not only can they bite or otherwise harm people, but getting too close can also cause animals to lose their natural fear of humans, causing deadly dependence.

Doing Your Part for Our National Parks

Regardless of which park you plan to visit or how you choose to enjoy the outdoors, it’s important to do your part to preserve them. For more tips on lessening your impact, check out these tips for reducing your carbon footprint next.