7 Leave No Trace Principles for Mountain Weddings and Adventure Travel

Leave No Trace Mountain Weddings Mammoth Lakes Ca

If you love the mountains and great outdoors as much as we do, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Leave No Trace.”

But what does that mean? Simply put, it’s the best practices we should follow to enjoy and protect our natural spaces.

With well over 100 million visitors on more than 10 billion outings in the U.S. each year, we run the risk of loving our mountains to death.

Impacted areas suffer from litter, invasive species, habituated wildlife, trail erosion, polluted water sources and more.

Most of us don’t intend to harm our natural surroundings, but we may lack the knowledge to preserve it, or we may be simply overlooking a few important behaviors.

If you’re planning a destination mountain wedding or honeymoon and want to spend time in the great outdoors, Leave No Trace principles can keep you safe, allow you to have fun and leave the great outdoors in a natural state that allows others to enjoy it and also allows you to return to a lovely, natural environment.

Before you plan your mountain wedding or head into the great outdoors, please join us in embracing the practices highlighted below.

1. Plan ahead and prepare.

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

If you’re planning a wedding whether it’s at an established venue or on public lands, make sure you plan ahead. This means checking with local agencies to make sure you have the proper permits. It also means doing a little bit of research around how many people your chosen location can accommodate. This is especially true for weddings held in outdoor ceremony site on public lands, vistas, and wooded areas.

Planning ahead includes connecting with local agencies and planners.

  • Use established venues for your wedding, portraits and styled shoots.
  • Check and see if you’ll need permits for your chosen venue.
  • Avoid sensitive areas such as high alpine meadows, riparian corridors and any place fenced off for rehabilitation efforts.
  • Stay on established trails and in established use areas.
  • Check to make sure how many people your venue can accommodate without doing damage.

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

When you’re poorly prepared, you’re more likely to run into problems. Lack of good research can lead to situations where you can become fatigued or fearful, and you may be forced to make poor choices.

Planning ahead includes doing research about your destination and packing appropriately.

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Learn more about Principle 1: Planning Ahead

2. Find and use durable surfaces.

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

Some areas are sensitive and can only accommodate a handful of people without doing major irreparable damage. Meadows in the west are particularly susceptible to damage, especially damage due to trampling.

  • Do not pitch a tent or have a picnic in a sensitive area, such as a high alpine meadow area.
  • Avoid or minimize going off trail, especially in places where impacts are already minimal or non-existent.
  • Rock and packed-earth surfaces are best for walking on and setting up styled shoots.
  • Do not set up a picnic, tent or campfire close to a river or lakeside shore. Even if it’s only for “inspiration” it sends the wrong message to others who may not understand that the shoot was “only for Instagram,” or only for a blog.
  • Pay attention to signage asking you to stay away from delicate areas. For example, in teh Eastern Sierra, you should not climb on or walk on Tufa Towers at Mono Lake.

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

When exploring your surroundings and setting up your picnic or overnight camp, seek out resilient types of terrain. Ideal durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.

In popular areas, front country or backcountry:

  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when it’s wet or muddy.

In pristine areas:

  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Learn more about Principle 2: Using Durable Surfaces.

3. Dispose of waste properly.

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

Weddings produce a lot of waste. From wasted food to discarded programs and invitations to abandoned favors, the average 100-120 person wedding produces roughly 400-600 lbs. of waste.

  • If you’re having an outdoor wedding and need to use portapotties, make sure you order enough for the size of your reception.
  • Make sure all trash, especially trash with food in it is secured in a bear-proof dumpster or otherwise safely secured. (Don’t leave trash in your vehicles. Bears and wildlife can and will often tear into your car to get food.)
  • Hire a cleanup crew from your venue or a local planner to help with cleanup. Walk the venue (both ceremony and reception) to inspect it for errand trash. Make sure you leave outdoor venues on public lands cleaner than you found them.
  • For outdoor ceremony venues, consider forgoing ceremony programs altogether. They often get left behind and create excess trash that must be picked up.
  • Even “organic” trash like food and flowers must be cleaned up. Leave the place nice for others to enjoy.
  • Avoid using confetti, rice, glitter, flower petals or anything thrown or scattered that’s impossible to clean up properly.

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

This principle applies to everything from litter to human waste to rinse water.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your picnic spot, campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter. Always leave a place cleaner than you found it.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. (Some highly impacted areas, like Muir Base Camp on Mount Rainier or riverside campsites in the Grand Canyon, require human waste to be packed out, too.)
    • You can also dispose of dog waste this way rather than packing it out in biodegradable doggie bags.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • Don’t wash directly into rivers, streams or lakes. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Learn more about Principle 3: Disposing of Waste

4. Leave what you find.

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

It can be tempting to incorporate surrounding natural elements, like a wildflower crown picked from a nearby meadow, into your wedding or styled shoot, but please don’t.

  • Avoid picking flowers or gathering other elements for your decor.
  • Make sure any structures you use, such as Chuppahs can be transported back out and don’t cause damage.
  • Avoid damaging trees or plants during set up or tear down. This includes damaging trees by hammering nails into them, tearing off branches for decor or firewood, or damaging them in any other way.
  • Minimize site alterations. Do not build structures, impromtu furniture or dig trenches.
  • Please do not carve into a live tree.

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

The adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints” still holds, although leaving fewer footprints is even better.

  • Preserve the past: Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species: Clean boot soles, kayak hulls and bike tires off between trips.
  • Do not build structures, furniture or dig trenches.

Learn more about Principle 4: Leaving What You Find

5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

Campfires are Instagram gold. Set ablaze on an amazing rock cropping or a cozy fire on the shores of a mountain lake can evoke feelings of adventure and sublime beauty. But please don’t do this. It damages and scars the land and impacts the enjoyment of others.

  • Avoid building a fire on a rock outcropping. It scars the stone.
  • Don’t build a huge bonfire to dance around. It is much harder to control a large bonfire than it is a small campfire.
  • Use established fire rings if you can find them.
  • Don’t build a fire in sensitive areas such as high alpine meadows or desserts where plants are sensitive to disturbance or fuel grows back slowly.
  • Avoid building a fire on a lake shore.
  • Do not bring wood from a different area. Buy wood locally to avoid introducing invasive species.
  • Do not cut down trees or snap branches for fuel. Instead, buy wood locally or use fuel that is downed and already on the ground.
  • Make sure you get the proper fire permits (if necessary)

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

While campfires are a timeless camping ritual, they can also be one of the most destructive ones. Far better choices include a lightweight stove for cooking and a candle lantern for light. Stargazing is an excellent alternative and is best enjoyed when your campsite is in total darkness.

  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Learn more about Principle 5: Minimizing Campfire Impact | See REI’s article, How to Build a Campfire, or this article from Old Growth Outdoors about How to Build a Fire for more tips. Also, check out this awesome Campfire Saftey Guide by Montem.

6. Respect wildlife.

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Mammoth Lakes, CA, where Mountainside Bride is headquartered, you’ll see stickers and signs all over town saying, “Don’t Feed Our Bears.” While very few visitors have actually tried to feed bears and wildlife by hand, by leaving trash around and not securing bear-proof dumpsters, visitors have inadvertently fed our bears, training them to come out of the backcountry and into town to feast on garbage. Please be mindful of your wedding or events capacity to attract wildlife.

  • For outdoor receptions, contain food preparation to one place.
  • Do not dump foods, liquids or anything else into a stream.
  • Do not dump beverages onto the ground.
  • Avoid having guests throw birdseed, which attracts bears and other wildlife as well as birds.

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

Don’t approach animals. Both you and the wildlife will enjoy encounters more if you master the zoom lens on your camera and pack along a pair of binoculars.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, can alter natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young or winter.

Learn more about Principle 6: Respecting Wildlife

7. Be considerate of other visitors.

For your wedding, portraits and styled shoots

Weddings are can be wildly fun, exciting, animated and chaotic affairs. If your ceremony or reception is on public land, understand that it’s very likely that you will encounter the public. Be respectful of their experience while enjoying your own.

  • Limit or omit loud music or amplified sound for ceremonies on public land.
  • Limit your guest count.
  • Consider shuttling guests to your site to mitigate parking impacts to other visitors.
  • See #3, pick up all of your waste, including biodegradable waste and leave the place cleaner than what you found to ensure others can enjoy it.

For enjoying the Great Outdoors

Treat others the way you would like to be treated” is a rule that applies in the outdoors, too.

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
  • Manage your pet. Your pet should be on a leash or under voice command. Voice command means you command once, not repeatedly beg your fur-baby to “come here” or “stop jumping” while apologizing to the other person and trying to convince them that your pet is “just friendly.”

Learn more about Principle 7: Being Considerate to Others