When Visiting Olympic National Park Please Leave No Trace

A pink and white mottled Painted Sea Star set against a dark rock in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park for your great (x3) grandchildren:

When visiting Olympic National Park, many visitors are drawn to old-growth forests, majestic mountains, coastal beaches and tidepools.  The idea of preserving healthy ecosystems for future generations, in many ways synonymous to the idea of conservation, is also central to the mission of the National Park Service (NPS).  For example, Elwha River Restoration in Olympic National Park is one of the largest conservation projects in the world. 

Read more about leave no trace practices at a later time and read other tips for planning the best Olympic National Park vacation

Two young children sliding down natural water slide in a stream

Climate change

The National Park Service is working on a climate change response program.  According to NPS data from 2007, visitor vehicle travel within Olympic National Park boundaries produced over 62 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from all human sources within the park. 

Although leave no trace principles have historically ignored conservation of fossil fuels, research shows greenhouse gas emissions are one of our greatest impacts on ecosystems worldwide and in Olympic National Park.  For example, climate change from greenhouse gas emissions is causing species extinctions.

Olympic Chipmunk with paws to mouth as if feeding

Public transit to Olympic National Park

Are we conserving fossil fuels for our children's children?  With that question in mind, consider visiting Olympic National Park without a car, especially if you are a single traveler.  There is an abundance of Port Angeles things to do without a car.  Shared transit and exercise in the form of walking or biking encourage leave no trace as well as healthier lifestyles.  Shuttle, bus, and ferry options to Port Angeles and Olympic National Park also enhance community by allowing diverse people to connect with each other.

Full body close-up shot of an Olympic National Park Black Bear

Food storage and disposal

Seemingly harmless biodegradable food debris like apple cores can alter human and wildlife relations.  Specifically, access to human food can lead to changes in Olympic National Park wildlife behavior that can detract from the wilderness experience for future visitors.  For example, Black Bears can become dangerous to humans if they become accustomed to human food; therefore, proper food storage and disposal is an important consideration to leave no trace in Olympic National Park. 

April 2015 Closure:  A bearly competent backpacker might have intentionally fed a bear in Enchanted Valley, shutting down the area for at least a month...grrrr.

Two backpackers hiking on a narrow subalpine trail when visiting Olympic National Park


Please consider not bringing disposable items when visiting Olympic National Park that could get left behind like food wrappers, hand-warmers, and tissues.  Any trash or debris that does enter into public spaces should be packed out in order to leave no trace in Olympic National Park.  Read more about how to pack for hiking in Olympic National Park for a full list of what to pack and what to leave behind.

Toilets or lack of them

Most trailheads have pit or vault toilets and Olympic National Park visitor centers and campgrounds often have flush toilets.  Only human waste and toilet paper should be deposited in toilets.  Other materials, such as tissues (brand name "Kleenex"), tampons, pads, and disposable diapers, should be disposed of in trash cans.

Bring your own toilet paper and trowel for long hikes to ensure you can follow leave no trace when hiking in Olympic National Park.  If you are far from a toilet and nature calls, in order to leave no trace, you should dig a shallow pit away from water, and completely bury human waste.  If you only have to urinate, you do not have to dig a pit, but you should find a location off-trail and away from water.

Two girls actively looking in a tidepool

Leave no trace in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and Salish Sea

Rocky shores that are commonly explored by visitors looking for Olympic National Park tidepools are fragile ecosystems; in fact, all living creatures must compete for space and avoid drying out during a low tide.  Many stationary tidepool animals might live on a particular spot on a rock for their entire adult lives.  Therefore, please follow these instructions to leave no trace in tidepools both in Olympic National Park and anywhere in the Salish Sea (including the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound). 

Call people to you

Avoid moving living creatures from where you found them and never collect them.  If you want to show something to other people, call the people to you rather than carry something to the people.  Even shells that you think are OK for collecting, might have been turned into homes for other living creatures.   

Close-up of a beautiful orange and purple patterned Olympic National Park Lined Chiton attached to a rock

Leave all life attached

Don't pry tidepool animals off of rocks as this will likely make them vulnerable to predators and it is not easy for them to reattach.  Only pick up tidepool animals that are not attached to anything (it is OK to pick up something when it is in sand).  This is especially important for threatened sea stars (starfish) due to sea star wasting disease.

Wet your hands before touching or holding tidepool animals

When tidepool animals are exposed to air or dry hands, they can dry out.  All tidepool animals and seaweed are in danger of drying out (dessicating) during a low tide. If you want to help leave no trace in the tidepool, then give them a gift of water to help them stay moist.

Close-up of an Olympic National Park Pygmy Rock Crab sitting in a pool of water in a person's hand

Hold Olympic National Park tidepool animals close to the ground

If you pick up a tidepool animal in your hands, keep it close to the ground, so that if it falls out of your hands it will not fall far.

Don't wear waders and step firmly on bare rock or hard-shelled tidepool animals when possible

Do not wear waders as this can result in serious destruction to tidepool creatures and their habitat.  Mussel and barnacle beds are surprisingly resistant to direct force from careful footsteps, but twisting footsteps or jumping could damage them.  Stepping on mats of seaweed can damage the soft-tissue tidepool animals hiding underneath - when possible, avoid stepping on seaweed to help leave no trace in the tidepools.

Close-up of a Giant Green Anemone open in the water

Please leave infants and dogs on the beach

There are many jagged surfaces on a rocky shore that can hurt an infant or damage the pads of your dog's foot.  Dogs might not enjoy tidepooling and infants might not remember the experience.  Each trip by a human onto a rocky shore means the possible loss of life to tidepool creatures; there is just no way to avoid stepping on all the small creatures and seaweed.  Both dogs and children under the age of 6 seem to prefer playing on a sandy beach to tidepooling so please keep this in mind when making your plans in and around Olympic National Park.

A small Vosnesensky's Isopod attached to seaweed with perspective from a human hand

Look under rocks by lifting them, not rolling them

The habitat on the top of the rocks is different than the bottom, so different tidepool animals live on the top and bottom of the rocks.  If you are going to look at the tidepool animals under a rock and want to leave no trace, pick it up, and then return it to the same spot when you are done. 

Keep the top of the rock up, and the bottom down.  Rolling rocks can damage the tidepool animals that live under the rock, and it is easy to forget to return the rock to its previous position.  The shore crabs are not bigger under bigger rocks so looking under smaller rocks will give you the same experience.

Information is brought to you by Olympic National Park Tours with ExperienceOlympic, Port Angeles WA 98362.