Hiking Trail Safety

The most effective way to prevent mishaps is to adequately prepare for the trip. Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, limitations of your body, plus a little common sense can help to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Our national forests are a refuge for wild animals, including dangerous animals like bears and venomous snakes. Wild animals can be upset by human presence and can unexpectedly become aggressive. Do not give them a reason or an opportunity to attack. Always keep your distance. Your safety is your responsibility.

* Travel with a companion. You don’t want to be by yourself in case of an emergency. Tell someone where and when you are going, when you expect to return, and how many individuals are in your party.
* Be in good physical condition. Set a comfortable pace as you hike. A group trip should be designed for the weakest member of the group.
* Think about your footing while traveling near cliffs. Trees and bushes can’t always be trusted to hold you. Stay on developed trails or dry, solid rock areas with good footing.
* Wear appropriate clothing for the trail conditions and season.
* Check your equipment. Rock climbers should always safety check their equipment. Inexperienced climbers should have experienced members in their party. Using a helmet will lessen the chance of a head injury in the event of an accident.
* Be weather wise. Keep an eye on current and predicted weather conditions. In this area, weather can change very quickly. Know the signs for approaching storms or changing weather conditions. Avoid bare ridgetops, exposed places, lone trees, streams, and rocks during lightning storms. Find shelter in a densely forested area at a lower elevation. Even in the summer, exposure to wind and rain can result in hypothermia.
* Learn basic first aid so you will know how to identify and treat injuries and illnesses. Carry a first aid kit with you. Learn how to identify the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypothermia, and dehydration, and know how to treat them.
* Make camp before dark. Traveling after darkness has resulted in many accidents from falls, so travel only during daylight.
* Set up camp well away from the edge of cliffs, and learn the terrain during daylight. If you have to leave camp after dark, stay in areas you have seen in daylight, go with a friend, and always use a good flashlight.
* Be alert for slippery areas and take your time to avoid tripping. Low-hanging branches and variable terrain make running unsafe, and leaves can hide slippery areas underneath.
* Think before you drink! No matter how clean or pure stream water looks, it’s likely to contain water-borne parasites and micro-organisms that can cause discomfort and sometimes serious illness. Pack your water in, or purify through chemical treatment.

During hunting season:
o Hikers should wear at least one article of hunter orange viewable from all directions such as a hat, jacket, or vest. Cover your backpack with orange.
o Horseback riders should wear a hunter orange vest and helmet cover. Use a hunter orange vest or rump sheet on your horse.
o Dogs should wear hunter orange or other visible color, like a vest, leash, coat, shirt or bandana.
o Avoid wearing white or tan during deer season. A glimpse of white clothing by a hunter in the forest could be easily mistaken for the tail of a deer.

Beware of Hazardous Trees Due To Southern Pine Beetle Damage.

* Beware of limbs and damaged trees that may fall at any time.
* Look up while on trails, especially when it’s windy.
* Use caution when selecting a place to camp, picnic, or rest.
* Control your campfire, and make sure it is “dead out” when you leave

Can I Bring My Dog?

On the trail: If you bring your dog hiking, keep it under physical restraint at all times. Use a leash in crowded areas. Hiking is hard work for a dog, especially if it’s not used to long hikes in hot weather. Watch your dog for signs of stress and fatigue, and give it plenty of water and rest.

In the campgrounds, dogs must be on a leash and under control, because cars are more prevalent. Tie your dog up in a shady spot and give it lots of attention to minimize barking.

Am I Safe on the Trail?

Exercise the same caution you would anywhere else. On some isolated trails, help may be far away. On these trails, a hiking companion is recommended. If alone, pay attention to your surroundings and the people you meet on the trail. Be alert and project an aura of confidence.

Are There Snakes?

By observing a few precautions and leaving the snakes alone, you can avoid an unfortunate encounter.

Never reach under or sit on top of rocks or logs without looking first. These areas are usually a snake’s favorite spots to lie.

Also be careful walking in tall grass where you cannot see your feet, because snakes like to lie in the hot grass in the sun and wait for prey.

Leave snakes alone–do not attempt to capture or kill them. Snakes are rarely interested in harming humans, and they serve a purpose in the forest ecosystem. Observe them from a safe distance and appreciate the beauty of a natural predator in the wild.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy has three leaves and is a plant but may also climb like a vine. Remember… If It Has Leaves of Three Leave It Be!


Ticks are common in this forest. Some of these ticks can transmit diseases to humans, so check for ticks after every trip in the woods.

Ticks can be found wherever there is vegetation. They can carry various diseases including Lyme’s disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick fever, and tick paralysis.

Prevention is best. When you are in areas with ticks, wear a long sleeve shirt and pants tucked into your socks or put masking tape around the bottom. Wear light colored clothing.

Insect repellent containing DEET can be sprayed on your clothing to help repel the ticks.

Should you discover a tick, remove it immediately. Most importantly, do not break off the tick’s head during removal. Anything left can cause an infection. Also, never crush a tick anywhere on you., as diseases carried by ticks can pass through your skin and enter your bloodstream. To remove, use tweezers placed as close to the tick’s head as possible. Then, gently pull the tick off.

Edible Plants

Edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms exist on the forest, but we urge you to leave them alone. Errors in identification can have uncomfortable or deadly consequences.

If You Get Lost…

* All trails are marked with signs (where intersections meet) and diamond blazes or markers. However, signs are sometimes vandalized or stolen.
* Pay close attention to your surroundings and landmarks, and relate this to your location on a map.
* Stay calm if you get lost. Panic is your greatest enemy. Try to remember how you got to your present location.
* Trust your map and compass, and do not walk aimlessly. If you are on a trail, don’t leave it.
* Stay put if it is nightfall, if you are injured, or if you are near exhaustion.
* As a last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill. This can be hard going but will often lead to a trail or road.

By: Jay Bryce

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