There’s nothing better than getting outside – and being able to exchange vows and marry your best friend in a beautiful outdoor location is one of the absolute most magical things about eloping! But, the truth is that we humans can cause a lot of damage to the environment, without meaning to or even realizing it. Leave No Trace is so important to remember anytime you’re outdoors, and your elopement day is no different! This guide is all about planning a Leave No Trace elopement, and how to ensure that your wedding day is good for you, and for the environment.
Before we get into the principles of Leave No Trace, let’s talk about what it actually means! Leave No Trace (or LNT) is a set of seven principles created by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, designed to help people understand their impact on the environment. While some impact on nature is inevitable, we can do a lot to reduce this impact!
Here are the seven LNT principles:
LNT is important anytime you’re outdoors – whether it’s a small city park or a big national park! It ensures that we can enjoy nature without damaging it, and that these places stay beautiful. Learning these LNT principles is important, because the reality is that very few people intend to cause harm – a lot of us just aren’t aware of how our actions can impact the environment!
Leave No Trace is also crucial for elopements specifically, because of course, we want to make sure these places are preserved and that they’re beautiful forever. But, as elopements have become more popular recently and more couples get married outdoors, many national parks and other outdoor places have seen some damage, and as a result, many have implemented restrictions or even banned ceremonies entirely in certain locations! These rules are there to preserve nature, but they can certainly be a bummer for eloping couples. To ensure that couples can still get married authentically and tie the knot outdoors, it’s important to plan a Leave No Trace elopement and keep your impact to a minimum!
Now, let’s talk about how you can plan a Leave No Trace elopement, and how each of the seven principles can apply on the day you get married!
The first principle of LNT is all about being ready for the adventure you have planned. When you know what to expect, you’re less likely to find yourself injured or lost, and you’re less likely to run into problems. When you choose your elopement location, make sure you’re physically prepared (don’t choose a hike you aren’t experienced enough for, for example), and when you’re packing, bring everything you need – and more. Always have offline maps downloaded, check recent conditions for where you’re going, have proper gear, bring plenty of food, water, and layers, and be safe!
Be sure to also look up specific LNT rules for your elopement location – while these principles apply to every situation, some places can have special considerations.
“Durable surfaces” refers to things like rock and sand – surfaces that aren’t living. Stepping on grass, wildflowers, and even cryptobiotic soil, causes a lot of damage! Even one footprint can harm the living organisms, and it can take years to recover. Always stay on trail when hiking (even if it’s muddy – wear good shoes so you don’t have to walk around!), and if you’re camping, try to always set up tents in areas where it’s clear others have done so before.
There’s nothing worse than enjoying a trail, beach, or overlook and noticing trash on the ground. Not only is it unsightly, it’s also terrible for wildlife and for the ecosystem. Pack out anything you pack in!
But, this principle doesn’t only apply to trash. A common misconception is that biodegradable items, like food or flower petals, aren’t a problem – but the reality is that anything that doesn’t belong in that environment is potentially harmful. So, make sure you aren’t leaving anything behind!
Along with packing out anything you pack in, make sure that you don’t take anything with you when you’re outdoors (unless of course it’s trash, or something that shouldn’t be there in the first place). It can be tempting to take one little flower or a cool rock or a seashell, but this is more harmful than we often realize!
First, if everyone did this, these places wouldn’t be as beautiful. But, these items are often also important for animals, and taking them can be harmful to wildlife.
If you build a campfire on your elopement day, it’s really important to be safe! The biggest risk is wildfires – so before you start a fire, make sure that there are no burn bans in effect. Make sure to also only build fires in approved fire rings or places where it’s allowed, and when you’re done, put it out completely with water.
Try to only use branches and leaves that have already fallen, rather than taking them off of trees, as this is another way that campfires can negatively impact the environment.
When you’re planning a Leave No Trace elopement, remember that being outdoors means you’re in these animals’ home! Always keep your distance from animals, even the ones that seem harmless, like chipmunks or birds.
Never approach animals, and never feed them! Many people think it’s cute when birds fly up to them looking for food, but this is actually a really bad sign. First, wild animals have a specialized diet, and human food can be really bad for their little stomachs – but they don’t know this and will munch on anything that tastes good! Getting food from humans can also make animals aggressive, with humans and with each other, and they can even lose the ability to find food on their own. This can change their natural behavior patterns, and it means that when there aren’t as many people around (winter, for example), these animals will die.
The last principle for your Leave No Trace elopement is to be considerate of other visitors. With elopements, you likely are tying the knot in a public park, as opposed to a private venue. Be sure to share the space, keep noise to a minimum, and follow the rules for your elopement location!
One of the most important things when planning your elopement is to hire a Leave No Trace aware elopement photographer! They’ll be able to help you with guidelines for your location, and they’ll be aware of permit requirements, park rules, and everything you need to ensure that your wedding day is environmentally friendly.
If you’re ready to plan a Leave No Trace elopement, contact me!