We are seeing more and more people hitting the road and embracing the nomadic lifestyle in vans and other vehicles, as well as people simply going on vacation trips. Their travels most likely include scenic adventures and camping on public lands or outdoor spaces. In the digital world of social media, you don’t have to look far to see millions of posts featuring scenic Utah landscapes and vans converted into mobile living spaces. On Instagram, there are more than 13.2 million posts with the hashtag for “van life”. With increased visitation to public lands, it is up to all of us to responsibly recreate and do what we can to minimize the impact on these beautiful outdoor spaces.
For many adventurers in the van life, Principles of Leave No Trace are essential to their way of life on the road. We’ve created this guide to share key tips with adventurers for responsible recreation and to help minimize the impact of this popular minimalist lifestyle on public lands.
Are your epic road trip dreams starting to come together and come true? Make sure your plans don’t fall through the cracks like your phone falls off the side of your car seat! Plan ahead, have a backup plan, and research the country you are visiting before you arrive.
- Parking and stay limits
Depending on the land you are visiting, there may be local laws and regulations regarding camping and van parking. Some areas may have a time limit for how long you can camp on public land and how far you must be from water resources. All public lands managed by the Utah Bureau of Land Management have a 14-day stay limit. For more information, contact the local office, visitor center and/or ranger station in the area you plan to visit. Visit our website for a list of Bureau of Land Management offices and visitor centers in Utah.
Safety should always be a top priority on any road trip list. Before you go, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to reach your next destination as well as how long you plan to be in the area. In an emergency, call 911. To report natural resource crimes such as vandalism on public lands to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah, please call the BLM Law Enforcement Dispatch tip line at 800 -722-3998.
- Safety tips
Be aware of your surroundings and other visitors. Always be considerate of other visitors. Don’t rely solely on cell phones for your safety, as you may not always have cell coverage in remote areas. Find more safety tips on our website covering rivers, caves, fires, flash floods, summer heat, wildlife and more: Know Before You Go – Safety Tips.
Camping and minimizing impacts
Camping in remote natural areas can offer stunning views and great recreational opportunities, but it also carries a greater risk of damage to natural resources compared to camping in developed recreational sites. Maximize the enjoyment of your next adventures and minimize your impact on public lands by following these tips:
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces. When deciding where to park your vehicle for camping, consider permitted uses of the land, any potential for disturbance to wildlife, and prevention of damage from moving ground or habitats.
- Stay on designated routes to avoid creating new routes or campsites.
- Dispose of waste properly and take your waste with you if the bins are full or unavailable. Keeping recreation sites clean helps keep them open, safe, and enjoyable for future campers.
- Camping Essentials & Best Practices
- When preparing meals, remember that reusable tools and lightweight, efficient camp stoves have become essential gear for minimal impact camping. The stoves work in almost all weather conditions and leave no marks. Conserve water and be responsible near water resources.
- In remote areas you may run out of water and be far from places to get more – be prepared and plan ahead. Do not wash dishes or put soap/chemicals into water sources such as rivers, lakes, streams, etc. For washing dishes or yourself, haul your water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and disperse filtered dishwater. Use hot water and scrub the dishes thoroughly (use soap only if necessary). Soap, even when it is biodegradable, can affect the water quality of lakes and streams, so minimize its use.
- Use hand sanitizers to wash your hands so you don’t have to worry about waste water disposal.
- Properly dispose of sewage from your campsite and follow best practices in serviced campgrounds, as sewage can attract wildlife. Respect and maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Do not feed wild animals as this can harm their health and alter their natural behaviors. Store food and other items that may attract wildlife in wildlife-resistant containers.
When Nature Calls… Properly Dispose of Human Waste
On public lands, there have been issues with human waste, dog feces and toilet paper not being disposed of properly. Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid polluting water sources, minimize the risk of spreading disease, and maximize the rate of decomposition. Help us keep public lands safe and healthy by properly packaging human/dog waste and toilet paper.
- Portable toilets
Portable toilets (also known as “pack it out” toilet systems) should be an essential part of your camping kit for packing human waste. It is not recommended to burn toilet paper due to the risk of starting a forest fire.
- Proper disposal of human waste
See our “When Nature Calls… Dispose of Human Waste Properly” page to learn more about the proper disposal of human waste and visit the Gotta Go Utah website for a great guide on proper disposal methods for different areas.
Campfires, fire restrictions and wildfire prevention
Abandoned campfires are still the leading cause of human-caused wildfires, but many wildfires throughout Utah start along our roads. When planning to park and drive your vehicle, never park or drive on grass or dry vegetation. Hot exhaust and mufflers can start fires you won’t even see…until it’s too late.
- Campfire Safety and Fire Restrictions
The best place to start a fire is in an existing fire pit at a well-placed campsite. Keep the fire small and only burn as long as you use it. Campfire safety and knowledge of current fire restrictions are key to preventing wildfires. Extinguish campfires properly using the “drown, stir and smell” method. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. For more information on how you can do your part to prevent a wildfire, visit: https://utahfiresense.org. Check local fire restrictions in Utah at: http://utahfireinfo.gov.
- Maintain your vehicle
Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained by making sure your brakes aren’t too worn, which could cause metal-to-metal contact, that nothing is dragging on the ground, and checking the correct tire pressure to avoid punctures. Having your vehicle inspected regularly before your next trip on public lands will help you have a fun and safe outdoor adventure.
Create content responsibly
You have the opportunity to inspire responsible storytelling and outdoor recreation when creating content that showcases your adventures in the van life. When researching locations and creating content, remember these tips:
- Responsible storytelling
- Things to know before you go: Permits may be required and take time to process. Communicate with property managers about permit requirements, weather and local guidelines.
- Plan and prepare: The outdoors can be high risk with rapidly changing conditions. Consider the terrain and arrange adequate transportation. Be prepared with the right equipment and be aware of drone “no-fly zones”. Bring plenty of water and safety gear.
- Respect others: Avoid blocking trails, vistas or side roads. Give space to people who play or work. Think about the impact of your presence on the space. Try to blend in with the scenery if possible. Be aware of labeling or disclosure of specific locations and consider the impact. Visit cultural and heritage sites while respecting the protection of our shared heritage in Utah.
- Do it better: Encourage others to respect and maintain outdoor spaces. Describe responsible leisure in action – and behind the scenes.
Check Recreate the website responsibly for more tips for content creators!
When exploring and enjoying public lands, please recreate responsibly.