How to be kind to Summit County trails this summer

Follow the Leave No Trace principles to preserve the land

A family enjoys a summer day hiking in Breckenridge. Learning Leave No Trace guidelines can keep trails usable for years to come.
Aaron Dodds/Breckenridge Tourism Office

Every year, thousands of visitors and locals recreate on Summit County trails, and outdoor areas in Breckenridge are no exception. Fortunately, Leave No Trace principles and other easy tips will keep public areas usable for years to come.

Scott Reid, the director of recreation for the town of Breckenridge, said that the most popular trails in Breckenridge are the ones with access within the town or very close to town. Those include French Gulch, Peaks Trail, Carter Park, Tiger Road/Dredge Trailhead, Illinois Gulch and Trollstigen, which houses Isak Heartstone.

“The most popular days and times tend to be Fridays through Sundays, midmorning through midafternoon (such as) 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Slower times tend to be the inverse — weekdays, excluding Fridays, early mornings and later in the afternoons,” Reid said. “During our shoulder seasons (spring and fall), it is also possible to use some of the trails in the early morning while the ground is still frozen, even though they may be muddy at midday.”

One of the goals of Breckenridge is to have more boots and bikes and fewer cars. To help reach this goal, the town’s Open Space and Trails department has expanded trail access to have more than 130 trail-access portals within the town. This means that over 90% of residences within the town have at least one portal within a quarter-mile of their home.

“There is also bus and transit access in close proximity to several of our most popular trailheads,” Reid added.

To make the most of their time outdoors, Reid said that being mindful of other hikers will create a more positive experience for everyone who uses the trails in Breckenridge. This also extends the lifespan of trails and outdoor areas, meaning that visitors and locals can enjoy their favorite trails in the future.

“We have found that congestion is largely perception-based, and if trail users truly seek solitude, there are many opportunities to do so by being intentional about where, when and how you recreate,” Reid said. “We are all blessed to be able to enjoy these community assets, and a sense of appreciation goes a long way to ensuring that we can continue to protect and manage these public spaces. Trails are common ground.”

Lauren Swanson, public relations director for Breckenridge Tourism Office, said that visitors should use the public transportation system and consider going car-free to minimize impact while also having the most enjoyable experience on the trails.

“Whether they’re coming from the airport and taking the shuttle or renting a car, or even road-tripping here, we’re encouraging them that once they get here, hang up the keys,” Swanson said. “It’s definitely more enjoyable to explore town on foot or by bus than it is to deal with the hassle of driving around and finding parking.”

Swanson added that avoiding social trails — or trails that deviate from the main trail — is another way to extend the life of Breckenridge’s trails and open space. Being mindful of where hikers are stepping can also bring a big positive impact to keep trails intact. That includes staying in the center of the trail and not avoiding obstacles like mud.

“Trails are specifically designed to be able to take the impact of trail users and have high volumes of trail users. Social trails are not, so making detours or shortcuts on switchbacks can cause a lot of harm,” she said.

Fortunately, she said, once you begin to be aware of how your actions can affect the outdoors, it becomes easier to prevent harmful behaviors before they happen.

“Leave No Trace is super important,” Swanson said. “It’s something that we all share as a destination community. I think whether you’re coming here, or whether you’re traveling to California and going to their mountain destinations or even the beach, learning the Leave No Trace principles is something pretty cool that if you learn it here, you can take everywhere.”

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace
Plan ahead and prepare
  • Know regulations and special concerns.
  • Prepare for extreme weather and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible.
  • Minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass or GPS.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Durable surfaces include maintained trails and designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand and dry grass.
  • Camp at least 200 feet from water sources.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Keep campsites small.
  • In popular areas:
    • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
    • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
Dispose of waste properly
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect areas for trash. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  • Use toilet facilities whenever possible. Otherwise, pack it out or deposit solid human waste in catholes 6 to 8 inches deep, and at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from water sources and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
Leave what you find
  • Examine, photograph, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting nonnative species.
  • Do not build structures or dig trenches.
Minimize campfire impacts
  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash. Put out campfires completely, then scatter ashes.
Respect wildlife
  • Observe wildlife from a distance.
  • Never feed animals.
  • 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.
Be considerate of other visitors
  • Respect other visitors.
  • Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Take breaks away from trails and other visitors.
  • Avoid loud voices and noises.
Source: Leave No Trace,

This story previously published in the summer 2022 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.

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