Any time you head out for a hike or a bike ride in the forest, it’s tempting to want to blaze your own trail and march straight into the wilderness. While we certainly encourage you to get out and explore the wild spaces in your area, it’s important you do so respectfully—trails are planned and maintained for a reason, and riding your bike, a wide range of winter activities, horseback riding or hiking through areas off the path might result in you inadvertently doing harm to your favourite woodsy area.

Here are 4 things to consider the next time you get the urge to step off the beaten path.

#1: Compacting The Earth

Will stepping off the trail very briefly ruin the forest? No, probably not. But marching far off the trail, or repeatedly biking or stomping through areas that don’t have official trails could actually result in you doing some potentially long-lasting damage. Hiking, walking and biking can compact the ground, which makes it harder for plant life to grow in the area.

#2: Damaging The Plant Life

In addition to compacting the ground, heading off the trails could result in you damaging some plants that are already growing in the area. Stepping on a flower could kill or at least damage the plant, and if you aren’t trained in identifying plants and flowers, you won’t know which ones are potentially rare or fragile. You could also drag seeds of weeds with you, which makes it easier for them to get into areas they shouldn’t be growing.

#3: Trail And Path Maintenance

Trails and paths are costly to maintain, but they’re kept up for a reason—the people who planned out the park and keep those trails in good condition want to encourage people to use them and avoid disturbing other parts of the forest. Respect the investment put into the trails and paths and make good use of them.

#4: Potential To Get Lost

If you are unfamiliar with a forest and decide to go hiking off away from the trails, there’s always the chance you’ll get lost, especially if it’s a large space or one that is particularly remote, especially in some of the larger national parks or areas with massive back countries. Sticking to the marked trails will ensure you’ll always know where you are on a map, and makes it easier for you to retrace your own steps if you get confused about your position.

These are just a few of the main reasons why you should respect the trails when you head out into the forest. Your urge to explore wild spaces can still be satisfied by following the paths—enjoy the sights, sounds and smells around you and keep the rest of the forest in good condition.

We invite you to share your experiences and together we can respectfully enjoy our natural as well as preserve them for our future generations too. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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