Leave No Trace

Hiker enjoying the vast views of Big Bend
Many visitors fall in love with Big Bend and then want to know how to reduce their footprint.

Be a steward of the land; during your visit to Big Bend, do everything you can to minimize your impact on the desert landscape.

This is not a black and white list of rules or regulations. Rather, it is a way of thinking, an attitude, and an ethic, that helps us reduce our impact on the places we love.

Your trip will go much better if you research and plan ahead.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Prior to your visit, start planning by using Big Bend's Plan Your Visit page.
  • Big Bend is a land of extremes. Be aware of the latest weather and river conditions and plan appropriately.
  • Have a back up plan or two. Things like weather events, congestion, or wildlife can close trails and roads on short notice.
  • Bring water, a map, food, and appropriate gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable Chihuahuan Desert experience.
  • Schedule your visit to avoid the busiest times. Visit in small groups.
Big Bend backpacker
Good campsites are found, not made.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on established trails, campsites,
  • Avoid walking on the edge or going off trail, even when wet or muddy. While on the trail, walk in single file in the middle of the trail.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 100 yards from springs, creek beds, and tinajas.
  • Avoid using “social trails” made by visitors repeatedly going off trail in an area. Established trails are well marked with official trail signs.
  • Whether in a front-country campground or in the backcountry, make sure to set up camp in designated locations. Keep campsites small. Focus on areas where vegetation is absent.
It can take years for littered orange peels to break down.
It can take years for littered orange peels to break down.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Don’t leave behind any trash or food scraps. In dry climates like Big Bend, organic litter like orange peels or nut shells do not decompose quickly. Food scraps can also lure wildlife dangerously close to roads, picnic areas, and trails.
  • Before starting a hike, use the bathroom. Pack out human waste using a waste disposal kit, such as PETT, Cleanwaste, WAG bags, Restop II, or similar commercial products. The contents of the bag are safe for disposal in trash receptacles and landfills, and the bags provide a lightweight, sanitary way to pack out waste.
  • Otherwise, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) deep, at least 0.25 mile from water, campsites, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products just like other trash.
Preserve the Past.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past. Do not disturb or remove any archaeological and/or historical sites or artifacts. If you think you’ve made a discovery, leave it there. Make note of the location, take a photo with a common object for scale, and show it to a park ranger.
  • Leave rocks, wildflowers and other natural objects as you find them
  • Chalking, carving, scratching, or painting on rocks, trees, and other natural objects is considered graffiti and is illegal. It degrades the environment and the experience for all.
  • Do not build cairns or stacks of rocks. Don’t change existing cairns or build your own along trails.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Fires are NOT allowed in Big Bend National Park.
  • In order to cook foods you may use a backpacking stove, portable fuel stove or the barbeque grills in the established campgrounds. Please check with a ranger for current regulations on stove usage.
  • Fireworks are always prohibited in all national parks, including Big Bend.
Bear in Big Bend
Observe wildlife from a distance.

Respect Wildlife

  • Stay at least 25 yards (23 m) from all animals and 100 yards (91 m) from bears. This law is not only for your safety but also for theirs.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and can cause highly dangerous interactions with people.
  • Protect both wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Pets are only allowed along roadways, in parking lots, and in other developed zones like campgrounds. They must be secured on a six-foot leash at all times, and they’re not permitted on hiking trails. Consider leaving your pet at home.
  • Be alert for wildlife crossing the road unexpectedly. Obey speed limits.
big bend hiking
Be a responsible visitor.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Remember that you share public lands with other visitors. Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid disrupting natural sounds with loud music or shouting when near others.
  • Share the trail by walking single file and allow others to pass by stepping to the side of the trail on durable surfaces.
  • Drones are not allowed in the park. They can negatively impact animals and the experience for other people.
social media highlight

Reduce the Impact of Social Media

  • Encourage positive behavior. Posting about conservation, leave no trace, and safety helps spread the word and supports the mission of the National Park Service.
  • Avoid geotagging or giving directions to areas off trail. Some sensitive areas can be rapidly damaged by crowds seeking out these spots for the perfect social media photo.
  • Don’t post a selfie while engaging in illegal activities like feeding wildlife. Also, if park officers see those kinds of posts, you may receive a citation in the mail.
  • Commercial services are carefully regulated in national parks so that these wild places are not overrun with advertising. Professional photographers, product ambassadors, influencers, and other marketers should check out the park’s Permits page for more information.

Last updated: September 2, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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