Lakes, rivers, streams, and other water-bodies make for beautiful views for a hiking trip. However, unless treated with care, these sensitive areas can become quickly ruined by thoughtless hikers and campers.
Hiking on Trails Near Lakes and Rivers
When hiking next to a lake or river, follow the designated trail. The trail will concentrate the impact of a hiker or group of hikers, and preserve surrounding habitat. This is especially important considering bodies of water often have sensitive vegetation along their banks, which can also be habitat for animals. Trampling on the vegetation not only looks unsightly, but can disturb this habitat.
If there isn’t a designated trail, walk carefully. If possible, hike on durable surfaces, such as rocks, sand, or dirt, which can absorb the impact of foot traffic better than plants.
Camping Near Lakes and Rivers
Sometimes there are designated campsites near a lake or river for campers to use. Take advantage of these sites to concentrate impact. If there isn’t a designated site, again try to use durable surfaces. Camp on sand or dirt instead of lush vegetation, which can be flattened by tents. Set up camp above the tide-line to avoid being swamped by water. Avoid camping next to the water during a rainstorm, as flash flooding could raise the water level, and increase the speed of the water. This is especially true in the American Southwest, where flash floods often occur after thunderstorms.
If it is possible, set up camp two hundred feet or more away from the water. This reduces the visual effect of seeing other people by the water, but it helps keep the water clean of camp waste, such as from using a cat hole or bathing. Try to take a different path each time when walking to the water, as this helps avoid informal trails from forming, and disperses the impact.
Using Lakes and Rivers as a Water Source
The advantage of camping next to a lake or river, especially in the backcountry, is that they make a reliable water source. This can free up a hiker to explore the surrounding area, or for a backpacker a rest stop along a planned route. As with any source of water in the backcountry, do not drink directly from a lake or stream without purifying the water first. Bacteria and viruses can live in the water, and cause illness. Use a water filter, chemical treatment, or boil the water for safety.
Appreciating the Beauty of a Lake or River
A lake or river, especially one deep in the backcountry, is a great place to sit and reflect on nature’s beauty. They also make for great pictures during sunrise or sunset. If planning on hiking near a lake or river, bring the camera, but also a field guide to identify flowers, plants, and animals.
Lakes and rivers make for great camping areas for their access to water, but also for their natural beauty as well.