Minimum Impact Ethics


Trash collected by SGWA trail patrol


Leave No Trace; Low Impact Camping; No Trace Camping; Walking Softly in the Wilderness: Call it what you will – it all means one thing – how to lessen your impact on the natural environment you are visiting. It is everyone’s responsibility –including yours– to learn how to walk softly in the wilderness. Read all you can about the subject, including this page, then preach and teach what you have learned. Together we can all make a difference towards sustaining a primitive wilderness for the visitors of the future.

To learn more, please visit the Leave No Trace Online Awareness Course site.

Some of these Ethics profiled below may be specific to the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but most of these are applicable to any wild area in any country or region.


It’s an old proverb, but it should be the foundation of all your travels in the wilderness: Take only memories, leave only footprints. To be taken literally, not figuratively.

Prevent trail destruction and erosion: Walk single file only, stay on the trail even if it’s muddy or covered by a patch of snow, and never cut switchbacks [a violation of 36 CFR 261.55(d)]. Avoiding mud puddles or snow patches creates parallel trails or widens existing ones. Cutting switchbacks creates unsightly and destructive erosion gullies .

When you are in the wilderness, be conscious of the impact you are creating. Do you appreciate seeing small litter, food remnants, and disturbed campsites left by others? Don’t leave that for other people either.

Travel in small groups only (4-6 people maximum). Avoid popular trails, holiday weekends, and popular camps. It lessens the impact on the wilderness and creates opportunities for seeing wildlife. The limit of persons per permit in the San Gorgonio Wilderness is twelve. This is the limit, not a recommendation.

Pets must remain on a leash no greater than six feet at all times. This ensures their safety and yours and prevents them from trampling sensitive vegetation and wildflowers and harassing wildlife. Dogs have become lost in the San Gorgonio Wilderness only to be discovered later having been a meal for coyotes.

Never feed, disturb, or harass wildlife. It’s harmful to their health and alters their natural behavior. Observe wildlife from a distance.


Absolutely nothing of a foreign nature should be left in the wilderness. This includes, but is not limited to: Banana peels, orange peels, apple cores, grape stems, nut shells, gum, candy, and any other foodstuffs. Even though they may be biodegradable, such items are unsightly and may take years to biodegrade in an arid mountain environment. Pack it out!

Always carry a small camp shovel [in the San Gorgonio Wilderness it is a violation to not posses one 36 CFR 261.58(e)] and bury human waste at least six to eight inches deep. Do not bury toilet paper – pack it out! It is a violation of (Federal Code) 36 CFR 261.57(g) to bury your toilet paper in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Volunteer Rangers collectively remove pounds of used toilet paper every weekend from the Wilderness. It is your responsibility to pack out your own. Toilet paper takes months and even years to biodegrade in an arid mountain environment and is often dug up by small mammals and scattered about the forest floor. Human waste is also responsible for the spread of Giardia in North America.

Restore the ground as closely as possible to its natural state. Glass, tin cans, and aluminum foil have no place in the backcountry. Leave them at home.Burning or burying such items in a fire is a violation of 36 CFR 261.57(g). Repackage all your food and beverages so that you carry no more than zip-lock bags. It is more efficient space and weight wise.


Select only durable campsites a minimum of 200 feet from all meadows, trails, streams, lakes, and other campers. Always seek out previously used sites. Creating a new tent site when others are available is irresponsible.

It is never necessary to dig a trench around your tent. Simply select a site which is well drained. Refrain from “sweeping” clean the area where you will put your tent. Doing so creates nothing but a dusty, overused looking tent site and prohibits regrowth of small plants and grasses. Those pine needles and duff create a nice cushion for your tent.

The best campsites are found, not built. Do not pile logs and rocks to build walls. Refrain from making your campsite like a fort! Consider it nothing more than a place to put your tent before you move on. Such constructions may provide some relief from wind (when wind is actually present), but they destroy the character of the wilderness. If you must stack rocks or logs, disassemble them when you abandon camp and return them to where you found them.

Always leave rocks, flowers, lichens, and all other natural objects alone. Minimize your disturbance of stones, soil, and plant life. Don’t pick wildflowers or edible plants, and avoid disturbing living trees or plants when setting camp.

Always carry a water bag. Take the water to your camp, not your chores to the water. Repeated trips to the water source creates an unsightly and unnecessary use trail.

Do all washing of cookware and your body at least 200 feet from all water sources. Avoid using any soap. Even biodegradable soaps upset the delicate pH balance of water and inhibit algae growth. A small, wet scrub pad works great alone.

If you are wearing perfumes, lotions, sunscreens, or deodorants, don’t immerse yourself in a water source. Such chemicals alter the delicate pH balance of water that is vital for all types of organisms and for other campers who may need to filter that water downstream. Do all your bathing at camp and well away from water sources.

Resist the urge to have a fire. Carry a backpacking stove so you do not have to rely on fire. Fires are not only harmful to air quality, they also remove precious groundcover and wildlife habitat important to the overall ecological health of the forest. Not having a fire provides the opportunity for star-gazing and potential nocturnal wildlife encounters. Fires, other than those on a “backpacking” stove, are prohibited in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Where and when fires are permissible, never burn anything other than dead, down wood (fires, other than those on a “backpacking” stove, are prohibited in the San Gorgonio Wilderness). Never cut any living trees or plants for fuel. Any standing tree having leaves or needles or not, is not potential firewood – keep looking. Mutilating, defacing, or carving your initials into any natural feature is a violation of 36 CFR 261.9(a).

Never burn trash. Burning trash (plastic, glass, aluminum foil, clothing, etc.) is dangerous and unacceptable. Doing so releases noxious chemicals and pollutants into the atmosphere. If you packed it in, you pack it out – everything!

Leave the Wilderness and your camp cleaner than you found it. Pick up trash left behind by other careless visitors. Just before abandoning camp, check carefully for anything left behind, pick up any small pieces of litter, and “naturalize” the site. Find a downed tree branch (hopefully with needles still attached) and sweep your camp with it to remove unsightly footprints and return needles and groundcover. Return any pinecones, branches, or rocks to their original locations.


Plan and repackage all meals and snacks at home so you are never carrying any more waste than zip-lock bags. Much litter recovered from the wilderness includes twist-ties, plastic bread bag ties, candy wrappers, and other oddities (often lost with the wind). Repackage your food to not include such items.

Only cook what you are capable of eating. Disposing of food in the backcountry builds a dangerous dependence among wildlife. Pack out your leftovers.

Use a bear-proof canister to store food.   It can mean the difference between life and death for a “problem” bear. This is the most effective way to prevent food loss and bear encounters. We no longer advocate tying your food pack into trees.


Travel discreetly and leave no signs of your passing. Stay as quiet as possible and enjoy the solitude. Watch the clouds or take a good book. Leave your Frisbee, football, and radio at home – they have no place in nature. Learn to enjoy wilderness for what it is, not what you bring into it.

Treat the wilderness and nature with utmost dignity and respect — as an experienced mountain traveler would — displaying at all times a keen awareness of the diverse and delicate mountain world.