Rules of Thumb for Wilderness Areas

Looking down into Eagle Basin from high up on the Summit Trail.Self-sufficiency is a priority in wilderness travel.  You must be prepared to take care of yourself. Within the wilderness there are no shelters, picnic tables, toilet facilities or other conveniences.  Here are a few rules of thumb that will help keep you safe and comfortable in the South Warner Wilderness.

• Do not count on a cellular phone call to provide assistance (mountains often block signals).
• Plan ahead, carry a map and compass, and have reasonable expectations for how far you expect to travel.
• Travel in wilderness is restricted to foot or horseback.
• Pack animals are permitted, but be advised of difficulties, such as narrow trails, downed logs, and low hanging limbs.
• Follow Leave No Trace backcountry skills and ethics!
• Be sure to check the trailhead bulletin board for current rules and other information pertaining to the wilderness. The complete management regulations enforced in the area may be reviewed at the Forest Supervisor or Ranger District Offices.
• Help us prevent the spread of  Noxious Weeds in the wilderness, which once established can cause significant ecological impact. Before entering a wilderness, remove all possible seeds that might be lingering in your tents, backpacks, clothing (i.e. socks and boot laces), etc.

Planning Your Trip

Protective Clothing and Shelter

• Frosty mornings occur and cold, rainy weather is possible during any month of the year.
A bolt of lightening on a dark blue black background.• Thunderstorms are not uncommon. They occur most often during late afternoon or evening hours. Avoid high points or exposed places during a lightning storm.
• Warm dry clothing and a lightweight tent make any back-country trip more comfortable. They are a must for high elevation, wilderness travel. 
• It is possible to suffer from hypothermia even in the summer.  Have a change of clothes available if you fall into a creek or get soaked by the rain.

Carry Water

• Summer can be extremely hot!  Carry enough water and don't pass up springs and other opportunities to fill up! Water may be scarce in some places, especially along the ridges. Be sure to carry enough water for your needs plus enough to drown a campfire if you have one.
• All water should be treated either by boiling, filtering or chemical methods. Open water sources, such as those in the wildernesses, are easily contaminated by human or animal waste (for example, Giardia can be present).

Trail Tips

• Short-cutting switchbacks causes erosion. Stay on the trail. Travel single file in the center of the trail.
A woman rides a brown horse while a man leads  a palomino with pack gear.• Hikers should yield the right-of-way to pack or saddle animals. Talk in a normal, calm, tone of voice to the riders as they first approach. The animals will  see and hear you in advance, rather than being surprised and scared by you. Slowly and steadily, step off the trail on the downhill side a safe distance. If the riders talk to you as they pass by, engage in the conversation.  Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that could spook animals and cause an accident.
• If you travel cross country, stay to the rocky or timbered areas and avoid moist meadows or other places where your footprints could create a new trail.
• Wilderness areas have unique botanical resources and they are appreciated by all visitors.  Don't pick the flowers or collect plants.


Avoid pitching tents on grass.The bare dirt area behind the trees would be more appropriate.The choice of campsite is the most important decision you will make in the wilderness. Pick a spot that is out of sight of trails or other camps, that can stand the use and treat it well during your stay.
• Meadows, lakeshores, and stream sides are easily damaged. Make camp on level ground at least 100 feet away from these fragile areas, and restrict your impact to as small a site as possible.  Pitch tents on bare ground instead of grass.
• Be easy with the trees.  Never chop or saw on standing trees, or snags.  Even down logs that are larger in diameter than you arm are often homes for wildlife.

Campfires and Cooking

In the traditionally popular camping areas, you should expect that the ground has been picked clean of suitable wood for campfires. For this reason visitors should carry a small "backpack" cook stove that uses alcohol, propane, or white gas.
If you decide a fire is appropriate and necessary:
• Be aware of all current fire regulations for the area.
• Make sure you have enough water to drown your campfire completely before deciding to build one.
• Use an existing fire ring.
• Use only down wood.
• Use small sized wood, small enough to break by hand.
• A valid California Campfire Permit is required to use a camp stove, barbecue or have a campfire in the wilderness and outside of any developed recreation area.



• Pack out all litter and garbage.
• Bury human waste at least 200 feet away from trails, water sources and campsites. Use the "cat method" by digging a six to eight inch deep hole, make your deposit and cover it with the soil that you removed.
• Consider taking commercial waste disposal bags and packing out human waste.
• Protect water sources. Keep soaps and detergents (including biodegradable ones) out of lakes and streams.

Be Aware - Bears, Bugs and Snakes

Black Bear• If you don't keep a clean camp, a black bear might make an unwelcome night time visit. Keeping and leaving a clean camp will lessen the possibility of bear problems, ranging from ripped tents and packs to close personal encounters. Be Bear Aware.
• Mosquitoes and "noseeum" midges can be expected from snow melt time in the early summer to the first cold nights of fall.
• Yellow jackets can be encountered anywhere in the forest, and they are particularly attracted by cooking scraps or food that is left uncovered.
• Check yourself for ticks after going through brushy areas.
• Rattlesnakes are shy creatures and you are a visitor in their home.  Be careful where you place you hands and feet and where you sit to rest.  For more on snakes of the Modoc National Forest see Poisonous Snakes.

Hunting, Fishing, and Provisions

• Don't plan to live off the land. Survival foods do not exist in abundance. Berries are seasonal. Fishing can be poor much of the season.  A California fishing license is required for all anglers over the age of 16. Hunting of game mammals and game birds also requires a State license. Shooting of most non-game animals (for example, hawks or songbirds) is illegal and it destroys what others value.
• There are no stores, gas stations, or other commercial services in the vicinity of the South Warner Wilderness. Side trips to these places are impractical unless you have a vehicle at the trailhead.


Enjoy the silence. The use of loud voices, radios and other audio devices inside the wilderness intrudes on the experience of other visitors. Please be considerate of others.


• Dogs can cause problems with wildlife, pack-and-saddle stock and other dogs, and they may be annoying or threatening to other visitors. Be aware of these potential conflicts and keep your dog either on a leash or under direct voice control at all times. For more on dogs see Canine Campers.

Take Care of Yourself

• Signs are kept to a minimum inside the South Warner Wilderness.  Generally they give milage at trail junctions but provide little other information. To help keep yourself oriented, bring along a copy of the South Warner Wilderness map which can be purchased at local Forest Service offices or online at the National Forest  Store.
• There are no established search and rescue organizations in the vicinity. Forest Service patrols may be encountered anywhere in the area, but they cannot be located at any fixed stations.
• It makes good sense to bring a small "survival kit" on any back-country trip. Important items would include: map, compass, flashlight, waterproof matches or lighter, candle or fuel tablets, first aid kit, pocket knife, and a whistle (series of three blasts signifies "help").  


If you are new to wilderness travel, there are many online sources and books available to help you plan your trip.

More on Wilderness