You're Invited: Join the movement to protect our beloved, shared outdoor spaces.

June 5, 2024, 3:15 p.m.

Responsible Travel in McDowell County

Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Responsible Travel in McDowell County

North Carolina is home to endless opportunities for outdoor recreation in scenic public lands, parks and the backcountry. As travelers, we all must do our part to protect the places we visit. Being a responsible, respectful traveler is crucial for minimizing the negative impacts while instead maximizing the positive contributions we can make to local communities and the environment.

Before you travel, plan and be prepared. Learn about the location and destination you are heading to and be familiar with any local regulations and safety needs. Poor planning may result in a bad outing at worst, and a dangerous situation at worst.

In McDowell County, we want to ensure our visitors have the most enjoyable adventure possible. There are steps we can take, especially when recreating in the outdoors, that ensure a safe but fun experience, by being prepared and getting educated. By following the Know Before You Go checklist, you’ll be fully prepared for a memorable time spent outdoors.

We also encourage you to learn about and follow the 7 Outdoor NC Leave No Trace Principles to help preserve the natural beauty of our state, but also so you can connect with nature like never before.

Being a responsible traveler means making conscious choices about your interactions to minimize your impact on the environment, be respectful of local communities and cultures, and how to have a positive contribution wherever you go. Here are some tips to help you become a more responsible traveler.

Discover Our Destination

We invite you to connect deeper and appreciate what makes our region special and unique. Become educated about the history of our communities by visiting the The Mountain Gateway Museum and the McDowell Arts Council Association. Enjoy local flavors and cultures through our dining and cultural arts. Marvel at our natural environment, flora and fauna, and North Carolina scenic landscapes.

Spend Local

By enjoying our unique restaurants and dining, tasting our fresh produce at local farmer’s markets, staying in our locally owned and operated lodging and accommodations, and buying crafts and souvenirs in our boutique retailers and gift stores, your dollars support our economy and provide locals with jobs.

Consider Your Environmental Footprint

Consider ways to reduce trash and minimize your footprint. Reduce your plastic usage by bringing a reusable water bottle and filling it at safe water sources. Dispose of your trash properly and look to recycle where available. Pick up your dog poop and always dispose of it with care. Consider parking the car and instead walking or taking a bike when you can. Conserve our precious resources by minimizing water and energy usage when in accommodations.

Be Kind in the Community

Let our culture and our locals become part of your journey by connecting with the people you meet along the way. Participate in community events and activities, ask locals about their favorite trails or places to visit, and even favorite dining spots. Be kind to frontline workers who are there to serve and help enhance your experience. A smile goes a long way.

Give Back

Voluntourism is a way for travelers to give their time supporting local non-profit organizations in our region on environmental stewardship or other impactful community projects. You can become a destination steward during your visit by participating in or donating to a local conservation or outdoor stewardship organization. In McDowell County specifically, the G5 Trail Collective hosts regular work days and weekends to give back to our local trails.

Be Prepared for Outdoor Adventures


When you follow the principles of Leave No Trace you can connect with nature like never before. In McDowell County, we welcome you to explore our outdoor spaces while making it your nature to protect North Carolina’s outdoor spaces.

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
  • North Carolina is home to endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Before you travel, learn about your destination, its regulations, and safety matters.
  • To reduce your impact, choose lesser-known areas and times of high use.
  • Have a backup plan in case your chosen destination is crowded or parking areas are full.
  • Pack food, water, and the right clothes to protect you from the elements.
  1. Stick To Trails & Overnight Right
  • Keep to designated trails and durable surfaces to protect trailside plants. Camp at existing or designated sites.
  • In the backcountry, confine your impact to places that already show use, and limit the area of disturbance.
  • Take rest breaks on durable surfaces off the designated trail so that others can pass.
  • Be cautious. Stay within your party’s skill level. Know what to do in case of poor weather, rip currents, slick rocks around waterfalls, and other potential hazards.
  1. Trash Your Trash
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Place all trash in garbage bags and carry it home. Food scraps, cigarette butts, and other litter can take years to decompose and are unhealthy for wildlife.
  • If adventuring with pets, plan to pack out their waste as well.

When camping in remote areas, have a plan to dispose of human waste properly.

  1. Leave It As You Find It
  • North Carolina is home to an amazing diversity of indigenous plants and animals. Snap a picture instead of picking flowers, gathering shells, and collecting pine cones.
  • Leave rocks as you find them to protect critters’ sensitive habitats, prevent erosion, and avert other ecological impacts.
  • Forgo carving into trees, which inflicts lasting damage and can kill the vegetation.
  • Adhere to laws that prohibit the removal of natural objects from national parks and other protected places.

Cabin Camp Grier Night Campfire

  1. Be Careful With Fire
  • If you choose to have a fire, check on regulations, secure a permit if needed, and keep the fire small. If allowed, gather wood from the ground instead of breaking branches from trees. Buy firewood locally to avoid bringing in invasive species.
  • Burn all wood to ash. Before leaving, check that the fire is completely out and ashes are cold.
  • On overnight camping trips, use a stove for cooking.

Keep Wildlife Wild

  • From black bears and wild horses to salamanders and birds, all wildlife should be treated with respect in the natural areas you are visiting.
  • Observe creatures from a distance. Getting too close causes undue stress and harm.
  • Refrain from feeding wild animals. It alters their natural behavior and puts them and you at risk.

When camping, store food securely. Keep garbage and food scraps out of the reach of wildlife.

  1. Be Considerate Of Others And Share The Outdoors
  • People have a range of skill levels and different ideas about how to enjoy the outdoors. Respect others so that North Carolina’s natural spaces will be welcoming and relaxing for all.
  • Be mindful of your noise level so that others can listen to nature.
  • Honor the rule of thumb that those traveling downhill will yield to those traveling uphill.
  • Be considerate when passing others on the trail. Politely announce your presence and proceed with caution.

Pack for the trip you plan to take along with safety essentials.png

Ten Essentials for Safe Outdoor Recreation

We keep the Ten Outdoor Essentials ready to go in our backpack and we’ve used all of them at some point! Other must-haves to carry with you for safe and enjoyable recreating: appropriate footwear so that you can stick to muddy, rocky, and/or rough trails, a trash bag for waste, and a leash for Rover to keep him and wildlife safe.

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp or flashlight: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and SPF sunscreen
  4. First aid including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Knife plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire matches, lighter, tinder, and/or stove
  7. Shelter carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Extra water beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Extra clothes beyond the minimum expectation

Know Before You Go

We want you to have a safe and enjoyable visit by checking the most up-to-date travel resources:

Here are some important Links for McDowell County, Marion and Old Fort:

  • McDowell County
  • We encourage everyone to sign up to receive Nixle alerts on your cellphone. This will enable you to stay updated on weather, road closures and any pertinent notices sent out from the 911 Center/Emergency Management Office. Text MCDOWELL911 to 888-777 from your phone.
  • McDowell GIS
  • McDowell EMS

Bear in the Woods

Be Bear Aware:

Pisgah National Forest and McDowell County is bear county and provides important habitat for bears and other wildlife to use throughout the year. Learning about bears will help you become a more knowledgeable visitor to the forest, and will help keep both you and bears safe while sharing the woods. Black bears are typically going to shy away from people, but be extra careful when cubs or a food source is present, as they will be in protection mode. If they charge, stand your ground, make noise and fight back. Do not try to outrun a bear.

Some basic bear aware principles are to Stay Alert, make noise to alert bears you are in the area and carry bear spray and know how to use it.

When Camping:

Select a campsite away from animal trails, thick brush, and bear food sources such as berry patches and fish spawning streams.

Keep a clean camp. Some national forests have specific requirements for managing food and beverages, garbage, and other attractants; be sure to know what the requirements are before you go camping. Cook food away from your sleeping area or tent.

Don’t leave food, garbage, or other attractants unattended, even for a short period of time. Store these items in accordance with the Food Storage Order if you are more than 100 feet away or do not have a clear line of sight to the items.