Stay Safe Recreating on Your National Forests

These areas create great passageways for America’s highways, byways, and back roads 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.

Consider and always do your research.


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.


  • 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
  • Maintain control at all times of your pets.
  • Carry EPA registered bear pepper spray when hiking and camping in bear country.  The Custer Gallatin National Forest is Bear Country.  Visit the Be Bear Aware website
  • Keep children within your sight.



  • Set up cooking, eating and supply areas at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.
  • Use bear resistant food containers to store food and odorous items when not in use. Wildlife are 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. Odors can 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.

Tree Safety

A standing tree could cause serious injury or death to persons and property. Trees can become hazardous due to significant flaws or structural damages. Every tree will eventually fall over its 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. Take care to observe the structure of trees and overhead hazards when selecting camping and picnic sites.


Anticipating weather conditions can be the trickiest part about properly preparing for a day hike or multiday excursion.  Many locations across the Forest can rapidly change weather conditions.  Always 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. 

In Montana, snow or freezing temperatures can occur 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. Water flows are often much faster and stronger than they appear.

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.  The Forest has active mine reclamation sites and was utilized for historic and present day mining.  If you encounter, do not enter. 

Hazardous Materials

Unfortunately, illegal hazardous waste dumping does occur on our public lands. Often materials are left pose significant hazards from illegal drug use or hazardous chemicals.  If you come across a dump site or suspicious activity, leave immediately and notify the local Ranger District.

When you visit always plan to pack in/pack out waste.  Public trash receptacles are typically provided in high use areas, but it is helpful for visitors to pack out their waste.

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.

Always look out for your own personal health and well-being.