National Park Etiquette: What Not to Do When Visiting Northern California’s Treasures

As the summer travel season in our glorious National Parks winds down, the enchanting fall season invites visitors with its vibrant foliage. However, recent encounters between humans and wildlife serve as a reminder of the need for responsible park etiquette. Observing the fundamental principles of Leave No Trace is crucial to ensure safety for you, your family, and the preservation of our natural wonders for generations to come.

As the fall travel season approaches, here’s a gentle reminder of what not to do when exploring National Parks or other wild lands. The responsibility of staying safe and preserving the wilderness lies with us, the visitors. Here are 5 things you should never do in a National Park.

Approach Wildlife

Each National Park has distinct regulations, including guidelines for wildlife encounters and food storage. Before embarking on your adventure, take a moment to acquaint yourself with the park’s specific rules, either online or at the entrance.

Many parks mandate a minimum distance of 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators like bears and wolves. Be vigilant for signs of agitation, and never engage in feeding, touching, startling, or disrupting wildlife intentionally. Remember, no photograph is worth risking your life. Stay alert while driving, as vehicle collisions pose the most significant threat to animals in parks.

Take Home Natural Souvenirs

The practice of souvenir hunting can have dire consequences. In 1957, South Dakota’s Fossil Cycad National Monument lost its status because numerous individuals, including researchers, removed plant fossils that inspired the park’s designation.

Beyond the superstition of bad luck, collecting natural souvenirs can severely disrupt ecosystems, particularly when done on a large scale.

Leaving Trash Behind

The principle of “pack it in, pack it out” should remain a steadfast rule. The substantial volume of trash collected during Yosemite’s annual Face Lift event illustrates that this principle is sometimes overlooked.

Since its inception a decade ago, volunteers have gathered over a million pounds of litter. Leaving no trace extends beyond litter; it includes refraining from carving rocks, defacing natural features, and more.

Flying Drones

Flying drones within National Parks is illegal and subject to a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail, unless you possess a park-issued special-use permit.

Drones not only disrupt other visitors and pose safety risks but also distress and confuse wildlife. Leave the aerial photography to professionals and immerse yourself in the park experience.

Starting Fires in Undesignated Areas

Gathering around a campfire is a cherished camping tradition, but it’s essential to abide by rules and regulations at your campsite regarding fire usage. Never leave a fire unattended, and always extinguish it properly with water or dirt.

Always stay informed about local restrictions and guidelines, as different parks may have unique regulations. For instance, in Yosemite, fires below 8,000 feet are currently prohibited due to wildfire risks. Seek guidance from park rangers upon arrival to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

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