The Plague of Campground Garbage

During our recent multi-state family camping excursion I was struck by the amount of leftover trash that we found in many of the campsites that we occupied. “Dad, why are you taking pictures of garbage?” Asked my oldest daughter, who is used to seeing me snap lots of pictures for “the website,” but she thought it was strange that I was photographing old bottle caps, cigarette butts and discarded tent stakes.

An abandoned campfire in a remote portion of the Deschutes National Forest, in Oregon

An abandoned campfire in a remote portion of the Deschutes National Forest, in Oregon

“Why do you think people left this stuff here, for us to clean up?” I asked my daughter. “I don’t know,” she said, “but it sure is gross.” Gross indeed. We are used to finding some bottle caps and old aluminum foil, when we arrive in a new campsite, but the thing that struck me most on this trip is that we were camping in some pretty obscure and remote places. Even Lassen National Park is not heavily trafficked, particularly in early July when snow still covers much of the upper elevations.

In Six Rivers National Forest, California, someone attempted to chop this branch off for firewood

In Six Rivers National Forest, California, someone attempted to chop this branch off for firewood

Discarded trash isn’t the only environmental damage that we came across, on our family camping journey. Right behind our campsite, in the Six Rivers National Forest, someone decided to cut their own firewood by trying to chop through a large tree branch. Never mind all the deadfall around the area, or the little market down road that sells firewood. They must have given up, but the tree is now heavily damaged.

Some of the backcountry garbage found during a 14-day camping trip through California and Oregon

Some of the backcountry garbage found during a 14-day camping trip through California and Oregon

This kind of stuff is so blatantly senseless that I really think the people responsible for it don’t realize that they are doing anything wrong. I don’t know how one reaches these people, because something like throwing a Pepsi® can on the ground is so foreign to me.

For all of the frustration over the seemingly endless supply of backcountry trash, though, there is hope in the next generation. While hiking through the redwoods one morning, we noticed a freshly-discarded soda can in the bushes, next to the trail. “Should we take it out?” My daughter asked, with no prompting from me. I didn’t even have time to get mad about the can.

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21 thoughts on “The Plague of Campground Garbage

  1. I recently bought these bags called Scensibles ( to bring camping when its the “time of the month” and they’re awesome!!! There little pink bags that you put your feminine items in after you use them and they smell really good (masking unpleasant smells) and you can throw them in your backpack and bring them home with you. You can buy them at Wegmans or online on amazon.. Definitely bringing them wherever I go!! Respect your planet!! Don’t throw those items into the woods…gross!

  2. Agree that we should leave our campsite as if we were never there. When we go camping with our daughter, we usually talk to her about being responsible for our own trash and recycling etc. She’s a Jr. Ranger. We should all be good role models and as a sign of respect to Mother earth, always pick up after yourself and recycle.

    Kudos for writing this article.

    • It sounds like you are doing a great job! I bet camping in Thailand is a lot of fun – I have an FB friend from Malaysia who has posted a lot of their beach camping pictures and it looks wonderful.

  3. That’s the kind of stuff that drives me crazy! No Respect! Please Use the “No Trace Rule” Leave your camp site as if you were never there, so others can enjoy it too. I just got back from the Blue Ridge Parkway camping and I had to clean up broken glass before I could let my kids loose. Mother Nature is one our GREATEST ASSETS! Great Post, Thx.

  4. They say “its because of poverty” and because people have not been taught to keep the environment clean. In Australia we have national clean up day. Volunteers go out into the environment with bags specifically to pick up rubbish. Yet I still see people throwing rubbish just anywhere. I can’t accept that it is because of poverty and ill informed that people do this. What’s your view?

  5. It is so sad to see all the trash that people leave behind. My family and I always bring a few trash bags whenever we visit lakes, ponds, campsites ect. We always find ourselves cleaning up other people’s trash. It has really taught our son to take care of his “home” and be respectful towards mother nature. While we are going on our hikes, or choosing a camping site we are picking up trash along the way. By the time we reach our destination our bags are filled. Still to this day I do not understand the big deal about cleaning up after yourself and keeping our planet clean. I strongly urge everyone to pick up trash even if it is not yours. If you do this you are not only keeping nature beautiful you are keeping out animals safe.

    • Astrid August 16, 2011 You remembered all those cvoons? I’m crying my pretty eyeballs out while reading this; I nearly died of dehydration (Ok this is exag already) For the longest time I was wondering when are you going to blog about me. (Hahaha. Conceited much? BUT HEY, you love me right? You conceited, I’m conceited. Great minds think alike!) I just thought of another formula (the Joseph the Dreamer one; will let you know soon) What I really, truly wanna say is:Hi I’m Astrid. I love you, my friend.

  6. Roy – I do concur with you on trash in cgs/trails/scenic spots but what I find even more distressful is the number of pets (?) we see abandon in cgs. We see kitten most often then dogs and have even spotted a couple of parrots in the trees of Ocala NF’s cgs. So sad and you know they can’t survive on there own especially if there are coyottes in the area. That’s more rant!

  7. Thanks everyone! This began as a rant, but it made me feel better to write about it…and then I felt even better, after reading your comments 🙂

  8. Thanks for this – my husband and I camp quite a bit with our 3 children and we are constantly amazed at how seemingly insensitive people are. I guess I used to think that those who camped for a family vacation were much more environmentally conscious, but in the last few years it seems that has changed and the same people that think it is okay to leave their trash just about anywhere are now going camping too. Unfortunately, I think it will fall to the rest of us to pick up after them to keep the campgrounds pristine. I guess we tend to use it as a learning experience for our kids about what NOT to do.

  9. My son and I are frequent visitors of the woods and I am trying to instill a respect of nature. In the car and in my pack (for spur of the moment hikes), I keep several of the little white grocery shopping bags to pick up garbage. He is learning to recycle and pick up garbage. Now I have to be careful of what kind of garbage he picks up, because he places great importance on a trash free environment:) I am happy to report, I have witnessed many other groups doing the same thing. Hopefully, we will soon out number those who litter.

  10. Fortunately, there’s quite a few of us younger hikers and campers that try to carry out more trash than we brought in, as well. I think my pack was heavier on the way out of the woods this last weekend, even accounting for water and food consumed.

    What’s foreign to me isn’t just that someone would leave it in the first place, but that some people would be bothered by the litter, yet not consider picking some up and packing it out. I know that I’m grateful for those with the mindset of you and your daughter.

    • That’s a good point, Tim – the redwood grove that we were in is pretty popular. It’s hard to believe that someone else didn’t see that pop can laying beside the trail.

  11. Roy, my partner Stephanie usually brings a bag so we can pack out the trash we find on our hikes.

    It does seem that there’s less trash nowadays than 20 or 30 years ago.

  12. In some cases it’s people don’t care and others it’s they just never stop to think what they’re doing. Like you’re doing, the best place to learn is when parents teach their kids but a lot of parents never take their kids out to the woods. Then they grow up and decide they want to go camping and have no idea what to do and don’t have respect for wild places.

  13. Whenever my family is out we have a simple goal of making it look a little better than when we arrived.

    I do agree that it’s not all doom and gloom. Whether you agree with the concept of being green or not, at the very least it brings far more awareness to the environment than there was when I was growing up which should result in far more people putting their garbage away appropriately.

  14. We regularly hike with small trash bags so we can pick up what we find along the trail. Unfortunately, we always find stuff. Especially at the campsites in the National Forests, or along the forest service roads. These are most disturbing to me. You would think that people who like to go out and enjoy nature would also like protecting it and keeping it the way they found it. That doesn’t always seem to be the case.

    Its good to know that there are at least some in the next generation learning the respect and protect the incredible gift we have in our forests!

  15. Wow! This is disturbing. Like you, I take some pride in the realization that my kids don’t even think twice about picking trash up on the trail (or anywhere for that matter). I’m still hopeful for the future.

  16. every time I head out on the trail I am surprised at the amount of trash is out in the middle of nowhere… It seems that the more special the place is the more crap you find too. Or that people still carve names into trees, and spray paint rocks. I would think these people enjoyed what the forest had to offer… I guess they just didn’t want the next people to enjoy it as much…