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The dos and don’ts for sightseeing like a pro

There are plenty of ways to enjoy nature to its fullest—without ruining the party for anyone else

Photo: Mary Lynn Strand / Shutterstock

Do you hear that? The birds chirping, the brooks babbling, and the clicks of selfie-taking? Yes, it sounds like summer has finally arrived. Rejoice! But as you put your winter coats away and shred your jeans into jorts, consider taking these sightseeing tips to heart.

Do stay on the trail

This one has been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. Events like the wildflower super bloom in California have attracted poppy-peepers from far and wide, and yet some of these people are damaging the very thing they came to see. Wildflowers are delicate little beauties. Wanting to run through or lie down in a field of them is an understandable human impulse, but if the thousands of people that came to see the flowers did that, there would be nothing left.

You can still experience nature's beauty from the safety of the trail
You can still experience nature’s beauty from the safety of the trail. Photo: Go Exploring / Shutterstock

And this goes beyond just wildflowers. It applies to dunes, forests, and other delicate areas. It’s one of the crucial seven principles of Leave No Trace practices: “Travel and camp on durable surfaces.” In other words, only walk where you aren’t going to cause any damage—you can still get beautiful photos from the trail.

Don’t follow the herd

Following the trail doesn’t mean you have to follow the same path as everyone else. In fact, it benefits everybody if you don’t. Let’s look at that super bloom example again. Once word got out that the poppies were going crazy at Lake Elsinore, a lot of people started flocking there. Those people took photos, posted them online, and tagged Lake Elsinore as the location. That led to even more people flocking there. What happened? Damage to the flowers, and mind-breaking amounts of traffic. It got so bad that certain areas had to be shut down and blocked off.

The good news? The super bloom actually happened all throughout parts of California, not just in Lake Elsinore. With just a bit of research, you will likely find a place that’s just as beautiful away from people clogging up the road and getting in your otherwise epic photo.

A single poppy among a super bloom
A single poppy among a super bloom. Photo: Mary Lynn Strand / Shutterstock

Do pack out your own garbage (and someone else’s)

There’s merit in planning things ahead of time. It can mean less traffic, fewer disappointments if something is closed, and avoiding unnecessary purchases. But we all know that spontaneity is what makes a road trip truly memorable. So don’t be afraid to take that local’s recommendation or drive the scenic detour or spend your whole day in a place that was just supposed to be a pitstop. Those off-the-itinerary moments are what make hopping in a car and traveling to a new destination so fulfilling. You’re in control, so seize the day (trip).

You may be shocked to learn that when you go outside to experience some unspoiled beauty, Mother Nature may not provide a conveniently located garbage can every 100 yards. But that is not your invitation to leave trash on the ground. No, friends, that is why the powers-that-be created items like pockets and backpacks. If you were able to carry your sandwich and bag of cheese crunchies into the park, you are perfectly capable of carrying those wrappers (and peels and cans and gum) back out.

Don’t endanger yourself, the animals, the plants, or others

Congratulations, you’ve traveled to a beautiful place and focusing on your surroundings is incredibly enjoyable. But this also means not doing anything stupid just to “get the shot.” The internet is full of videos of those who pushed their luck too far. Don’t join that club.

Part of enjoying your surroundings also means keeping your distance from the wildlife. Your head may be full of Doolittle dreams, but attempting to feed or pet these animals can put them (and you) in danger. If they start losing their natural instincts, they may not survive. Or they may bite, claw, or kick you. If you want that perfect photo of an animal, make friends with a zoom lens. You can even buy zoom lenses that attach to your smartphone and allow you a nice, clean shot—all while maintaining a safe distance.

Keep a safe distance from any animals or wildlife
Keep a safe distance from any animals or wildlife. Photo: Marko Nikolic / Shutterstock

You also need to clean your boots, bike tires, and boat hulls in between trips to avoid inadvertently transport invasive species. It sounds improbable, but these little missteps have destroyed some ecosystems (bat poop contains some especially nasty stuff). It’s also critical to learn how to identify—and avoid—potentially harmful plants like poison oak and poison ivy. One little brush with the wrong leave can leave you with some seriously painful blisters.

Do support public lands

Public lands are some of the most valuable natural treasures we have. They offer us a chance to see the world as it was thousands of years ago—to walk through a place and experience it as the earliest humans once did. And as important as it is to connect with the past, it’s equally important to preserve them for the future, allowing generations far beyond us to experience the same wonders.

So, what can you do to ensure these lands are around for years and years to come? Support charities that fight to keep our public lands and precious wilderness areas safe (the Sierra Club and Earth Justice are both great). Looking for something even easier? Try taking someone with you on your next outdoor trip. Public Lands need all of the love they can get, but it’s often hard to really feel it until you’ve experienced it yourself. Feel empowered to show someone else what these amazing areas have to offer.

Bring a friend along for the next super bloom
Bring a friend along for the next super bloom. Photo: Mary Lynn Strand / Shutterstock

Remember, knowledge is power. Learn and abide by the principles of Leave No Trace, and help to educate others. Do a little bit of homework and prepare properly, and you’re bound to have an incredible experience, one that both you and others can enjoy for a long time. After all, the best things in life are those we can share.