Get Wild: Joyful trails — The right way to follow accountable recreation on the paths and at camp

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A campground in Willow Lakes in the Gore Range of Summit County. With warm weather comes new opportunities for outdoor recreation and a duty to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
Stasia Stockwell/Get Wild

It’s that time of year when the snow rushes to the rivers in a melting frenzy, the sun is long in the sky, and we flock to dry trails and campgrounds for summer adventures. Summit County has hundreds of miles of hiking trails for outdoor recreation, from trails backpackers follow as they meander through the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness to singletrack trails in wooded areas that mountain bikers zip past. There are opportunities to pitch a tent at the rims of Dillon Reservoir and at the foot of the imposing peaks of the Gore Range.

This access to wilderness and other public spaces is part of what makes Summit County so special. It is also something we can help preserve for ourselves and for future visitors to these beautiful corners of the mountains. And more importantly, when we can rest respectfully on the trail and at camp, we can lessen our impact on the wild places we travel through and play in.

One of the most important rules of trail use is simple: use the trail! Instead of wandering off the beaten track, stick to the trail whenever one is present. This helps focus our human influence into a smaller area instead of spreading it across the land and doing more damage to it. By sticking to the path, you avoid trampling over delicate forest and alpine flora such as wildflowers, mosses, mushrooms, lichens and other species. This promotes a mountain world that is rich in a diverse variety of plants.

Another fundamental set of rules you must abide by on the trails or at camp is the Leave No Trace principles. Essentially, these rules help minimize our impact when recovering in wild spaces by leaving nothing but footprints and taking only memories from the trails and camp. Unpack every piece of junk, including things like orange peel and coffee grounds. And as much as we may be seduced by the vibrant wildflowers, refrain from picking them so that they may thrive and be left for others to enjoy.

When it comes to finding a campsite, in some places it is easier to know where to pitch your tent than in others. On developed campgrounds, stick to designated tent sites, such as concrete slabs or cleared dirt patches, rather than looking for an alternate site. In primitive wilderness camping, pitch your tent where it will have the least impact on the land. Consider permanent ground, like a slab of rock or packed earth, rather than a meadow of flowers, and remember to camp at least 200 feet from water sources like lakes and streams.

When it’s time to relax at camp, it’s worth reconsidering whether you really need that ring of fire. Although campfires are almost ubiquitous when camping, they have a major impact on the country and the potential to start dangerous wildfires. Before heading to camp, check for and follow fire restrictions. But even if no fire bans are in place, consider gazing at the stars instead of staring at the flames.

To learn more about responsibly relaxing on our trails and at camp, study the Leave No Trace principles at LNT.org. And if you’d like to help keep our Summit County hiking trails and wilderness campgrounds beautiful, consider volunteering with the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance (EagleSummitWilderness.org) or Friends of the Dillon Ranger District (FDRD.org).

Stasia Stockwell
Stasia Stockwell

Stasia Stockwell is a Breckenridge native and avid backcountry skier. As a true mountain dweller, she feels most at home in the Alps. Stasia writes primarily for the outdoor adventure space, with a desire to connect readers of all backgrounds with the outdoors in meaningful ways.