National parks are very nice about bathrooms: They have them. Just remember, they don’t have them everywhere! I mean, don’t expect to be halfway up Zion National Park’s Angels Landing Trail and find a pit toilet. Wait…just kidding! Angels Landing is so popular, and it’s so difficult to find a natural place to go there for both crowdedness and safety reasons, that particular hike actually offers a pit toilet. But far more usually, if you’re away from the main part of any national park, you’ll have to dig your hole. There are some rules around that too, so…pooper beware.
Where to find public restrooms
Usually right when you drive into a national park, there’s a clean restroom just there at the entrance or soon after at the visitors center. Depending which end of the park you enter from, your rest stop might involve flush toilets and electricity, or it might not. For example, if you enter Zion National Park from its Springdale (southern) entrance, anticipate a fully modernized bathroom at the visitors center soon after. If you enter Capitol Reef National Park from its eastern entrance, expect a pit toilet sans lights (“real” bathroom up the road at the visitors center).
At the pit toilets found in most national parks, you will often encounter a sign asking that no trash be put into the toilet. Imagine the troubles the septic company (or, park employees…ah, job perks) would have when their machines try to suck out the toilet contents and run into random trash dumped in there too. Please, respect the dirty but necessary job those people have!
Bathroom etiquette out on the trail
Outdoors, it’s all about Leave No Trace. And, sometimes, your hike might go longer than your bladder, planned or not. Things to bring in your daypack:
–toilet paper. Depending on the length of your hike and suspected need, it’s easiest to unroll a sufficient amount and stuff it into a Ziploc-type bag.
–pre-moistened towelettes. Best to get the travel size rather than the plastic canister.
–hand sanitizer. Small travel size.
-a small trash bag to deposit all used paper. Why? Because you canNOT bury it! A gallon-sized Ziploc bag ought to do the trick.
Find a spot way, way off the trail. Have a person stand lookout for you if it’s an emergency situation and you just can’t find a hidden spot. If it’s desperation of the #2 variety, you must dig a cat hole. What’s a cat hole? Envision a household cat digging away in the litter box or the yard, and you’ve got it. Why a cat hole? Come on, now. Who wants to stumble across your poo just lying around in the wilderness? Animal scat (poo) is one thing. Human is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, folks, and how you do it on our federal lands is regulated just like everything else. Use a nearby stick, rock, or even a small backpacking shovel or trowel to dig your hole.
Carrying out your used paper. Yup, sounds gross, but it’s gotta be done. Wrap it up in a clean sheet or two (or three, whatever) of toilet paper, then deposit it into your handy trash bag. Again, why? Because anything you bury will get dug up by curious animals. And when it’s dug up, they don’t rebury it, they leave it lying around. For the next human hikers to see. And that’s just plain nasty. Please, take it out and dispose of it properly once you’re in civilization again.
If there’s water nearby, take 100 big steps away from it before you do your thing. Again, think about it. What gets put in the ground will eventually make its way into the water. Yeah.
Anyone out there got other bathroom trail etiquette? Let us know in the comments section. And remember–everyone who goes out in the wilderness must eventually do it in the woods (the desert, etc.). Please do it discreetly and remember to always Leave No Trace.