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National Parks Have Too Much Poop and Not Enough Toilets

For many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, nature calls even when enjoying the great outdoors. They may initially ignore its call, but eventually, they have no choice but to answer it. With the recent increase in interest in national parks, some of the most popular report having too much poop and not enough toilets.

So how did going No. 2 become the No. 1 problem for national parks? Let’s find out.

Do National Parks Have Toilets?

Most national parks have established facilities. However, some of the most remote national parks, like Gates of the Arctic, do not have bathrooms. 

Even if you visit a national park that has bathroom facilities, you’ll likely not find any near you. Yellowstone National Park is 3,468 square miles, and it can take considerable time to navigate, especially in traffic.

You’ll want to plan your bathroom stops wisely and ensure everyone in your party answers nature’s call when opportunities present themselves. If not, you will need to find a way to safely and sanitarily take care of business. 

What Is a Pit Toilet at a National Park?

A pit toilet is an established restroom facility that sits over a large hole in the ground to store human waste. The pit’s sewage seeps into the ground and evaporates over time. 

However, some pit toilets have a walled lining system prohibiting sewage from seeping into the ground. Professional services typically empty the pits on a routine basis to keep the toilet as sanitary as possible.

Because pit toilets do not require water, they’re common in remote locations in national parks. If users keep the lid closed and clean up after themselves, they can be relatively clean places to use the restroom. 

However, the simple act of not closing the lid can cause sewer gasses to enter the facility, which can make a rather unpleasant surprise when you first walk in to use the restroom.

No peeing in public sign in national park
Not all national parks come with toilets available to use.

How Do They Empty Pit Toilets?

Pit toilets are great for infrequent uses but are less than ideal for large amounts of waste. The sewage will typically seep into the ground when used in smaller frequencies and naturally decompose. 

However, higher frequency uses can exceed the ground’s ability to absorb the waste and cause the pit to fill up. In these instances, a professional service typically comes with a giant tanker truck to transfer the sewage from the hole. It then gets hauled away for proper disposal.

What Is the Difference Between a Pit Toilet and a Vault Toilet?

Pit toilets typically look and feel similar to others, but how they handle the waste is entirely different. A pit toilet will often use the natural decomposition process, and the waste will absorb into the ground. 

However, a vault toilet sits on top of a large storage container. This container prevents the sewage from seeping into the ground and affecting the natural environment.

A vault toilet will require a professional service to come and empty the tank regularly. The trained professional will use a series of manually powered or motorized pumps to vacuum out the waste. 

Then the waste travels up through the sewer vacuum and into the truck’s storage tank. Once the process is complete, the professional sewer service will haul the tank’s contents to a processing plant to dispose of it as sanitarily as possible.

Pro Tip: Use these tips on How to Make a DIY Camping Toilet on your next camping trip.

Woman hiking through national park
Nothing can ruin a peaceful hike through a national park like crossing paths with someone else’s poo.

Why Are National Parks Overflowing With Poop?

National parks have reported issues with overflowing poop since 2019. During the 2019 government shutdown, many national parks remained open but unstaffed. This destroyed some of the most pristine lands our country has to offer. 

With no official rangers on site, some of the parks became a complete wasteland. Rangers found human waste in some of the most popular spots when they returned. More recently, state and national parks have experienced a tremendous visitor boom.

 According to the Denver Post, Erin Drake, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said, “For many national parks, this issue has been getting increasingly worse for a while now, and the pandemic probably accentuated this in parks that saw substantial increases in visitation during this time.”

Outside Online reported that a ranger cleaning a popular canyon at Zion National Park cleaned up nine pounds of human feces. As more people visit national parks, the problems parks experience will likely only continue to increase. 

Luckily, the National Park Service released their cleverly titled “Much Ado About Number Two: How to Poop in the Woods” to help visitors plan for having to poop in the wild.

Do You Have to Pack Out Poop in Yellowstone?

While packing out poop is one of the most effective ways to leave no trace and minimize your impact on the environment, it is not a requirement when pooping in Yellowstone National Park. Visitors can poop in the wild but should do so responsibly.

Burying poop is acceptable in Yellowstone National Park. However, you can’t just pop a squat anywhere you want. Look for a spot at least 200 feet from any water source or hiking trail. 

Then dig a hole at least six to eight inches deep before taking care of business. You’ll want to do your best to aim for the hole, but it can take some practice.

Once you’ve finished and wiped, place the used toilet paper into a plastic ziplock baggie. You should avoid burying toilet paper unless it’s necessary. Finally, use a shovel to move the dirt you dug up and fill the hole. 

Avoid touching the poop with your shovel, as you’ll need to put the shovel back in with your camping gear when finished. It’s a good idea to cover the spot with sticks or rocks to avoid any wildlife discovering your waste.

Man peeing in public national park
Always be respectful of others when going to the bathroom in a national park.

Who Cleans the Bathrooms at National Parks?

Rangers at the national parks aren’t the only ones with an important job. Some workers who rarely get recognized are the brave men and women who clean the bathrooms. 

Each park typically employs a custodial crew to clean the various facilities, including the restrooms at visitor centers, campgrounds, and other locations.

Rocky Mountain National Park highlights the importance of this job on its website. The park has 267 toilets that their janitorial staff cleans daily during the summer. You’ll find toilets throughout the campgrounds, visitor centers, and the park. The park even allows anyone interested to volunteer on one of its crews.

Pro Tip: We uncovered What is a Camping Porta Potty to help you go no matter where you are.

Will National Parks Be Able to Remedy the Poop Problem?

If there is anyone who can remedy the poop problem, it’s the National Park Service. It’s done a phenomenal job restoring lands and growing populations of nearly extinct wildlife. 

The NPS gets very creative in how they manage lands and help curb problematic behavior. Don’t be surprised if you see a campaign in the future at some parks experiencing significant issues. Do your part and poop responsibly when in the woods.

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