March 2022- Sierra Rec Magazine – Opinion – Earlier this month a Verdict, on Joseph Don Mount who was busted for organizing a hike of 139 people in 2020 on a rim-to-rim hike at the Grand Canyon, was announced banning Joseph from The National Park system for two years. As I have followed this story it is comical to me the number of people that seem to fill chat boards on social media, not understanding what the big deal was. That, in what I would consider common sense or common courtesy of others issue, besides it being completely illegal in the parks and wilderness system, would be so irrelevant to so many.

Do you know there is a crowd control policy in National Parks and Most Wilderness and National forest locations?

In most Sierra Nevada wilderness and Park systems the max crowd size is between 15 -10 individuals depending on which trail and location. National Forests across the country vary greatly but all do have restrictions. Most in the sierra tend to below 25 people but vary on location greatly. These rules are enforceable with fines and suspension of rights to access if caught but generally are handled on a case to case basis with warnings. In the case of Joseph Don Mount, he was fullish enough to broadcast it on Facebook groups, accept fees and in the groups were actual rangers from the park system. Not exactly the type of offense that just slides by.

Desolation Wilderness Group Size Violations

As a volunteer in Desolation Wilderness I tend to run into this 1-2 times each summer. Most of the time it is a day hike pack from the valley that is up for the weekend. Stopping the group and explaining minimal impact guidelines of wilderness and the reasons for strict group size policy generally helps them understand that we are not trying to break up their party or limit their enjoyment, but instead to enhance the enjoyment of all currently and in the future that come to the wilderness. Breaking up a group once on trail is not easy. Generally speaking rest stops become huge noise gatherings and then separating each time is difficult to manage.

Large Group gathers on Indian Arch in Yosemite National Park

Can You Plan Large Group Outings in National Parks, Wilderness or National Forests?

Listen it is not about the 139 people seeing the park in a single day. Obviously if they all showed up n pairs and did the same trail on the same day the environmental impact could be similar. I understand the argument. The reality is that it never is. Large groups tend to widen the trails, choosing to walk shoulder to shoulder or take more loop excursions around slower hikers. Large group noise, shout outs etc. are not controllable. And if you are honest with yourself, you do not go to the forest, wilderness or national parks to hear from other people.

Planning a large family gathering or group outing is tricky. In some places you may need a special permit. But best practices would include:

  • Micro groups – Groups of 6-8 people all with different agendas, timelines etc..)
  • Place hikers in groups based on speed and fitness. Place slow hikers together and fast hikers in another group.
  • Varied entry points – groups should enter Wilderness Areas or national park trail systems from different areas.
  • Varied activates at different times.
  • Different planned destination itineraries
  • Leaving behind Music systems (Always surprising to see people in wilderness carrying their music and blaring it out loud. Neither I nor the animals want to hear that crap in the wilderness)
  • Use the Carpool rule (If your group does not fit in Two normal size vehicles, it is too big for the trail.

General Guidelines of Leave No Trace Misunderstood

Ask a single individual and even a Noobie will tell you the basic structure of the Leave no trace concepts. Don’t litter, bring out what you bring in (Boy some people really need to learn this one). Don’t be destructive. Don’t feed the bears and other wildlife! But the Leave no trace principles are grounded in an act of service for others. A service you can provide to other visitors currently int eh forest and to those yet to come.

Destruction of trails that have to be rebuilt because of over use, is a problem. Noise pollution when visiting wilderness, is a problem, Leaving behind small traces of Toilet paper so that someone does not dig up your hole, is a huge problem. Leaving behind your orange peels, banana peels and shells thinking they are biodegradable is a huge problem.

The concept of leave no trace is make it as much as possible, “impossible” for anyone to ever know you have been there. Large groups, small groups, individuals all can do a better job of leave no trace, by entering into the forest, wilderness or national park with a mindset of service. Do your part and limit your group sizes on your next visit. Bring out more than your took in by picking up the trash others left behind, clean up after your dogs and do not leave their poop bag for the trip back, you and I both know you are not going to pick it up later.



Publisher of Sierra Rec Magazine. An avid hiker and explorer of mountain lifestyle and adventure. I love to discover new trails, hike along rivers and hang a hammock along the shores of a mountain lake. I often great people on the trail and have found some of my favorite places from the advice of people I meet in the Wilderness. I love the sierra and just like sharing what I know.

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