Stay Safe Recreating on Your National Forests

These areas create great passageways for America’s highways, byways, and backroads leading to great recreation activities. However recreating on National Forest system lands may present many unforeseen dangers and unpredictable challenges for visitors. It is important for all visitors; whether out for a daily trail run, on a family vacation or trekking into the backcountry to be prepared and aware of the hazards that may exist when recreating on public lands. The following sections will allow you to examine some of our safety challenges and additional links offer extended exploration of topics.



You are responsible for your safety and the safety of wildlife. Please help keep wildlife "wild" by not approaching or feeding them.

  • Please do not feed wildlife. Animals that get food from people may become aggressive. Our foods may harm an animal's digestive system or even cause them death. 
  • Do not approach wildlife. All wild animals can be dangerous. Alter your route so that you will move away from animals without disturbing them. Do not block an animal's line of travel. 
  • Photograph and watch wildlife from observation areas.
  • Use binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses to minimize stress to animals and to provide a safe viewing distance for you. 
  • If an animal approaches you, it is your responsibility to move away and maintain a safe distance.

Hiking Precautions

  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return
  • Read all trail head signs and follow local regulations
  • Stay on the trail
  • Hike in groups
  • Don't hike in the dark
  • Leave pets at home. Pets may attract bears and mountain lions. If dogs are permitted, keep them on a short leash so they don't bother wildlife.
  • Carry EPA registered bear pepper spray when hiking and camping in bear country. Visit the Be Bear Aware website
  • Keep children within your sight

Camping Precautions

  • Set up cooking, eating and supply areas at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.
  • Use bear resistant food containers, where available or required, to store food and odorous items when not in use. Various wildlife may be attracted to odors, even when not in bear country.
  • Keep sleeping bags and tents completely free of food, beverages, and odorous items
  • Do not sleep in the clothes you cook or handle fish and game in. The odors may attract wildlife.
  • Keep a flashlight and bear pepper spray readily available. Carry bear spray with you if traveling away from your base camp. Ensure your base camp is secure from food and loose items that may attract wildlife.

Learn more about outdoor and recreation safety - Properly prepare for any trip you take.

Tree Safety

All that looks green is not green through and through. A standing tree could have the possibility of causing serious injuries to persons and property. Trees can become hazardous due to significant flaws or structural damages. Every tree will fail over a life span. The Forest Service expends time and energy to gain knowledge of each tree species, site characteristics, and local weather conditions to minimize the risk to our employees, structures, and property. The Forest Service is also involved in timber cutting to provide resources for our nation. Although this service has been executed for many years, there remains a danger to those involved in the procedure.  Take care to observe the structure of trees when selecting camping and picnic sites.


Anticipating weather conditions can be the trickiest part about properly preparing for a day hike or mulit-day excursion.  Many locations across the Custer National Forest can change weather conditions rapidly.  Always plan to check local weather, road and trail conditions prior to an outing.  When exploring, always carry extra clothing, wear layers and be ready for any weather condition.  Throughout Montana, it is not unusual for freezing temperatures overnight any time of the year.  When hiking, be aware of incoming storms that may bring lightning, rain, hail, snow or sleet with little warning.

Spring Runoff - Always use caution and take care to watch your footing and keep children close during high river flows.   

Abandoned Mines

The Forest Service manages a large part of the Federal lands across the United States. Much of this land, especially that of the western states, was used historically for mining of metals such as gold, copper, uranium, lead, and zinc. Abandoned mines pose a safety risk to the public, increasing the need to make all aware of the dangers of entrance into these areas.  The Custer National Forest has active mine reclaimation sites and was heavily utilized for historic and present day mining.


Hazardous Materials

The beautiful and cascading natural lands can be eye catchers for illegal hazardous waste dumpers. These dumpers often leave materials which range in type from syringes and materials used to make or use illegal drugs, to hazardous chemicals. Employees and national forest and grassland visitors could easily be exposed to these substances.

Dump sites can cause many problematic areas. Disease-carrying rodents and insects are attracted to these sites. Injury from accidental contact with sharp objects or chemical inhalation are possible threats to employees and visitors. These materials, which are often combustible, also pose increase risk for forest fires.

Visitors to our National Forests and Grasslands are encouraged to use pubic trash receptacles for household trash. Visitors should dispose hazard waste, at a commercial facility. Some examples of hazardous waste include automotive trash such as antifreeze, batteries, used oil, and empty propane cylinders.

Visitor Safety


When visiting our National Forests and Grasslands remember to always be aware, alert and cautious. Some visitors have different agendas besides relaxation, exploration and recreation. These agendas may include drug production, theft, arson, and other illegal acts. Avoiding these areas if discovered is the safest course of action. Report sightings to local law enforcement personnel only after you have relocated to a safe area.

Illegal border crossers have been suspected of running drugs, injuring government employees and causing major wildfires. Besides carrying ammunition and guns, they also can carry tents, propane cylinders and other flammable agents. Improperly used these items can be sources of ignition causing forest fires. These illegal inhabitants can become dangerous if they feel threatened and should be avoided.

Marijuana plots and methamphetamine labs have become frequent sites in our forests. Those responsible for these illegal plots or labs are dangerous and should be avoided. If visitors inadvertently come upon these sites they should immediately depart the area and report the sighting to law enforcement officers. The chemicals used to grow or produce these illegal products can be highly combustible and pose considerable risk to hazards caused by fire and explosion.

Personal health and well being should be a concern of all activities of daily living

This includes those activities that are done for recreational enjoyment. Though often not encountered, there are some health hazards that have potential exposure for those visiting our lands. To become familiar with these hazards, click on the following links for an in depth explanation of the process, potential for exposure, and safety measures.

For more information on health related hazards see:

Lyme Disease


Hypothermia and Frostbite

Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke