What is Leave No Trace? (& What Does It Mean for Girl Scouts?)

At Girl Scouts, we believe in responsible behavior and respecting the environment. That’s why Leave No Trace is such an important aspect of Girl Scouts!

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. That’s something we can get behind!

So, what does Leave No Trace mean, exactly, and how can Girl Scouts ensure they’re practicing it daily?

What is Leave No Trace?

In general, the idea of Leave No Trace is to sustain the environment for generations to come. We can do this by being aware of how we’re interacting with the environment and making conscious decisions about our impact on nature.

There are seven principles of Leave No Trace. It’s important that Girl Scouts are familiar with these principles, since so much of our activities happen in the outdoors! Let’s go through each one and think about how these principles apply to Girl Scouts.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Before you start your outdoor adventure (no matter how small!) make sure you’re prepared. Make sure you’re familiar with regulations and special concerns about the area(s) you’ll be visiting, and keep in mind high-traffic times. Avoiding crowds will not only prevent protected wildlife from getting trampled, it will also make it a more enjoyable experience for the girls!

Depending on the size of your troop, consider splitting up into smaller groups. If there are too many people in one given spot, there might not be enough room on the trail for everyone to listen, talk, and share with each other. Smaller groups help foster conversation while also being mindful of the environment around us!

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Whether you’re visiting for a day or overnight, it’s important to stick to durable surfaces, like established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. This is for the safety of everyone in your group and the safety of the environment! When we walk outside of these established paths, we risk damaging vegetation and other organisms that can be damaged beyond recovery.

If your troop is staying overnight, remember that campsites are found, not made! You don’t need to alter an existing site to meet your needs. Try to find a site that is so highly impacted that further careful use will cause no noticeable impact.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

One of the easiest ways to Leave No Trace is to dispose of any waste you’ve brought with you. If there are trash cans available, excellent! Use them for anything you no longer need, separating recycle or compost items if necessary. If there aren’t any trash cans, bring it all with you. This includes packaging, leftover food, and other litter. And if you’re camping overnight, don’t forget to check that you’ve grabbed all of your clothing, camping gear, and anything else non-edible you may have left behind!

And when nature calls, find a spot at least 200 feet from water, your camp, and trails and dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep for solid human waste. When finished, cover and disguise the hole. It’s not glamorous, but it helps protect the environment!

4. Leave What You Find

We love souvenirs as much as the next person, but during your outdoor adventure, the only souvenirs you should take are pictures! Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects where you find them, and avoid building structures like forts or furniture. Leave those projects for your back yard!

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

While the Midwest might not be wildfire country, it’s still incredibly important to minimize the impact your campfire makes! Keep in mind regulations for where you’re visiting (which you should have already researched as part of principle 1!), as fires may not be allowed everywhere you want to visit.

When fires are permitted, keep them as small as possible. Only use sticks that can be broken by hand. No tools necessary! Once you’re done, make sure all wood and coals have burned to ash. Put out the fires completely, then scatter the ashes once they’ve cooled.

6. Respect Wildlife

One of the best parts about spending time outdoors is seeing all of the amazing wildlife. As exciting as it is to see animals and birds in the wild, remember that they should be observed from a distance and should never be fed. It damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.

Similarly, make sure food (including food waste!) is stored securely. Whether they’re fed intentionally or find your food on accident, wildlife can be very negatively impacted by human food.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

And finally, be considerate of others! This includes others in your group. Raise your hand when you have a question, avoid loud noises, and yield to others on the trail. As a whole, be a sister to every Girl Scout, and every non-Girl Scout!


These are only some of the ways the seven principles of Leave No Trace can impact your next Girl Scout outdoor adventure. For more information on the seven principles, check out the Leave No Trace Center’s website!