News & Updates

Best place to take a rest?

Guest - November 22, 2010

Taking a lunch break off the trail, on a durable surface (being careful about water impacts) in the High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, NY. Photo Credit – Ben Lawhon

Thanks to all of you who posted comments on our recent Facebook question: True or False: The best place to take a rest is in the middle of the trail.

Some of the responses I thought had merit included:
  • It depends on the situation. Do whatever makes the least impact on the environment and is the most courteous towards the other users of the trail.
  • True for one person taking a quick breather. False for a group of 10 having a 20 minute break.
  • The correct answer is "It depends." Generally speaking, moving off the trail to take a snooze seems to be logical. What if your trail is surrounded by sensitive endangered wildflowers or delicate alpine medows? Things are not always so black and white while trying your best to leave no trace. Stop and think before you snooze. Sweet dreams!
However, I believe this is the best answer:
I will say generally false on busy trails, although at times it may be tricky to follow all the principles of Leave No Trace in the process: travel on durable surfaces, respect wildlife, and respect other visitors. It may not be possible to plan ahead for when/where you can stop for a break, but it can be part of the solution — find a place off trail where your impact will be small, that won't disturb other visitors or wildlife, and can keep the trail clear for other visitors.

However, I will say TRUE on remote trails. If you have the place to yourself, there is no reason to spread your impact by finding a place just to rest. If this is just a 15 minute break to catch your breath or get a drink and eat a snack, perhaps the best place is the trail.

In places like many trails into the Grand Canyon, traveling off trail would mean falling off a cliff. Be wise.

I think the Leave No Trace team has stated it before, and that is that these are principles, not hard and fast rules. One of the best things is just plan ahead for these situations and make the best decision based on the circumstances.

From our North American Skills & Ethics Booklet:
Keep a low profile. Take rest breaks a short distance from the trail on durable surfaces, such as rock or bare ground. If the vegetation around you is thick or easily crushed, pick a wide spot in the trail so others can pass by. If possible, camp out of sight and sound of trails and other visitors. {C}
Ideally, you'd make the best decision about where to take a break based on the circumstances – weather, terrain, surrounding vegetation, safety, other trail users, method of travel, etc. If you can safely get off the trail onto a durable surface without doing a lot of damage in the process, then go for it. However, if it's going to require that you scale a rock face or crush a patch of an endangered orchids to get out of the middle of the trail, then perhaps a wide spot in the trail is the best place for a break.
You've heard it from us many times – Leave No Trace is not about rules and regulations, it's not about black and white answers. Leave No Trace is a framework for making good decisions about how to minimize your individual recreational impacts.
Remember – the goals is to have everyone who spends time outside doing something, even something small, to minimize their impact on the land.

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

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