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There is nothing better than an outing in the middle of nature to decompress! Traffic on the hiking trails of Quebec and Ontario has massively increased over the past few years. There is a growing number of people hearing the call of the wild, and consequently, trails are busier and busier, which puts more pressure on already fragile ecosystems. That’s why it is essential to learn how to hike in a sustainable way, in order to give a little bit back to the natural world, which already gives us so much. As such, here are ten tips to protect those precious areas we like to visit, both for recreation and to disconnect!
This article was produced in collaboration with Earth Day
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Thinking about how you could preserve nature starts before you’ve even set one foot on the trail! Before you leave, you can make several choices that will minimize the impact of your hiking in Quebec and in Ontario, including considering the carbon emissions of your journeys, rethinking your hiking purchases and, last but not least, anticipating how to limit the amount of trash you produce.
There are so many hiking trails in Quebec and Ontario, there are probably several options available near you. By opting to explore hiking trails that are reasonably close by car or public transport, you are already reducing your impact on the environment. If you have to travel over longer distances, why not take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with car sharing by advertising your journey on a car sharing platform or regional group?
Responsible hiking starts as soon as you’ve chosen your itinerary. Whether the trail is busy or not, keep in mind that your hike will have an impact on the area visited. Start by asking about the rules in place at your chosen site, such as whether swimming, picking flowers or berries, or whether camping is allowed onsite. This will also allow you to check whether the area is suitable for families, and that pets are allowed.
When it comes to equipment, bear in mind that good quality material will make your experience more comfortable, but there really isn’t a huge amount of equipment needed to enjoy hiking in Quebec or Ontario. As for the few items you need, such as hiking boots, a good backpack or water bottle, opt for second-hand by reviewing local online ads. Or look for eco-friendly brands that will guarantee you products that will pass the test of time, while also having as little impact as possible throughout their manufacturing process.
To generate as little packaging as possible, think of preparing your snacks at home, put them in reusable containers and don’t forget to carry a small bag with you to bring back all your trash. Even your apple cores aren’t welcome in the middle of nature: they interfere with the health of the local wildlife, and of course, there is nothing charming about seeing food waste alongside the trail.
Hiking sustainably requires teamwork. To appreciate nature instead of only seeing the traces left by those before us, we all need to take responsibility and ensure our visit causes as little damage as possible to the local vegetation and wildlife. When hiking in Quebec or Ontario, act as if you were a guest, which is actually the case!
Trampling the same area over and over again leaves traces on natural areas that aren’t so easy to erase, as the vegetation doesn’t grow back, or grows back very slowly where hikers pass. By sticking to the designated paths, and not making them wider by trying to avoid puddles or taking shortcuts when the trail curves, you will protect the plants growing nearby, which are essential to the ecosystem of your hiking spot. The same principle applies for your hiking poles, which can scar tree roots.
A plant has a much better chance of surviving if it is trampled on once instead of five times. If going on an off trail hike, especially if you are part of a group, try not to create several paths in the same area to give vegetation a chance, and try to spot dry and tougher surfaces which will be less affected.
If you haven’t done so before leaving, read the notice boards so you know what’s allowed and what’s not to protect your chosen hiking spot… And stick to the rules!
The majority of hiking trails in Quebec and in Ontario will have toilets onsite, so make sure you stop by as a precaution before heading off on your hike. Otherwise, apply the Leave No Trace principles: find a suitable area (away from a water source), try not to trample everything around it and bring your tissues back with you in your trash bag. They are of course biodegradable, but not in the short span of a few days, and animals can dig them out.
Even if it is tempting, try not to break branches off and only pick a reasonable quantity of the plants you are allowed to pick, without damaging the roots. By doing so, you will contribute to maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystems you are enjoying, and reducing the impact of the presence of humans. In addition, try to be discreet so you do not disturb the natural habitat of local wildlife, and keep your distance in case of unexpected encounters.
Each time you go hiking in Quebec and Ontario it represents an opportunity to take concrete steps to contribute to the preservation and regeneration of the rich and fragile environment you are visiting. By picking up trash that everyone before you has walked around, or by explaining why you prefer to stay on the path instead of taking a shortcut that would damage the vegetation, your actions will raise awareness amongst your friends! It’s by doing your part that you will inspire others to follow in your footsteps and to leave no trace on the precious hiking trails in Quebec and Ontario.