Recreation 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.

Travel with a companion

You don't want to be by yourself in case of an emergency. Leave a copy of your itinerary with a responsible person. Include such details as the make, year, and license plate of your car, the equipment you're bringing, the weather you've anticipated, and when you plan to return. If you'll be entering a remote area, your group should have a minimum of four people; this way, if one is hurt, another can stay with the victim while two go for help. If you'll be going into an area that is unfamiliar to you, take along someone who knows the area or at least speak with those who do before you set out. If an area is closed, do not go there. Know ahead of time the location of the nearest telephone or ranger station in case an emergency does occur on your trip.

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. If you have any medical conditions, discuss your plans with your health care provider and get approval before departing. Make sure you have the skills you need for your camping or hiking adventure. You may need to know how to read a compass, erect a temporary shelter, or give first aid. Practice your skills in advance. If your trip will be strenuous, get into good physical condition before setting out. If you plan to climb or travel to high altitudes, make plans for proper acclimatization to the altitude.

Think about your footing while traveling

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

Wear appropriate clothing for the trail conditions and season.

Check your equipment

Keep your equipment in good working order. Inspect it before your trip. Do not wait until you are at the trailhead. Be sure to pack emergency signaling devices.

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 ridge tops, 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

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

Be alert for slippery areas and take your time to avoid tripping. Low-hanging branches and variable terrains make running unsafe, and leaves can hide slippery areas underneath.

Alcohol and cliffs don't mix!

If you drink, stay away from the cliffs. Judgment, agility, and balance are all reduced by alcohol consumption.

Think before you drink!

No matter how clean or pure stream water looks, it's likely to contain water-borne parasites and microorganisms that can cause discomfort and sometimes serious illness. Pack your water in, or purify through chemical treatment.

Cell Phones

  • Cell phones will not always have service. Be aware that unless you are on top of one of the mountains in the forest, it will be very difficult to reach anyone by phone or receive calls from others.

Hazardous Trees

  • 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.


Black Bears

  • The Ozark-St. Francis National Forests have had few reports of problems with bears harming humans. Usually black bears will avoid humans. Seeing a bear is usually rare, but caution is still advised.
  • Tie food high in trees away from campsite.
  • Feeding the bears or leaving food scraps on the ground or near camp is an invitation into your camp and should be avoided.
  • Do not store food, toothpaste, etc. in the tent with you. It is not advisable to eat food in your tent. This may leave food crumbs or odors in the tent which could attract the bears to you.
  • Dogs may aggravate bears, especially mothers with cubs. Always keep your dog on a leash. Allowing your dog to roam the forest may awaken or agitate bears.
  • If bears come around you or your camp, make noise and flap your arms. This should scare them away. Playing dead or trying to outrun a black bear is not effective.
  • For more information go to

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!


  • These tiny (1/150 of an inch), orange, yellow, or red mites are not dangerous but can cause you a lot of misery.
  • Sitting in grass, walking through underbrush or along the road where the beautiful wildflowers bloom can make you the host for many chigger meals.
  • The larvae can barely be seen as they crawl on the skin surface of the host in search of an appropriate attachment site. When a suitable location is found, such as a skin pore or hair follicle, the chigger attaches its mouthparts to the spot. On humans, chiggers prefer places where the clothing fits tightly over the skin or where the skin is thin or wrinkled.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, chiggers do not burrow into the skin or feed on blood. Instead, chiggers inject a digestive fluid containing enzymes that causes skin cells to rupture. The ruptured skin cell contents are then utilized as food. Unfortunately, the digestive fluid injected by the chigger causes affected skin tissue to become red and swollen. In addition, the bite area will cause you to itch like crazy for several days even after the chigger has detached from the skin!
  • The best way to avoid getting chiggers is to wear loose-fitting clothing, avoid sitting or reclining directly on the ground, use some type of insect repellent, and avoid their habitat.
  • Taking a hot, soapy bath or shower immediately after returning from a likely chigger-infested area can remove most chiggers before they have had the opportunity to attach and feed.
  • Think twice before sitting or sunbathing on that lovely patch of green grass!


  • Please do not harm the snakes; however, it is a good idea to avoid them. There have been few snake bites reported by those visiting the forests.
  • Arkansas has poisonous snakes that live in and near water. Occasionally, they may be seen in trees overhanging streams and rivers.
  • Other snakes live around rocks, bluffs, wood or brush piles, and may be seen sunning on the roads in the forest. Be alert and watch where you are stepping, sitting, and placing your hands when exploring these areas.
  • Snake bites usually pose very little threat to most adults. If bitten, remain calm and seek medical attention.


  • The forests are known to have black widow, brown recluse, and wolf spiders.
  • Stay clear of log and brush piles and remember to shake out clothing and bedding before use.
  • It is a good idea to use a stick to knock down spider webs that may block the trail as you are walking through the forest.


  • From tiny "seed" ticks to larger deer ticks, they are in the forests and caution should be taken to prevent yourself from being bitten by them.
  • Lyme disease is carried by ticks and can be hard to detect and cure.
  • To protect yourself from tick bites, always wear some type of tick repellent on your clothes. Tuck the legs of your pants into your socks and spray repellent on pants, socks and boots.
  • Check your body thoroughly after spending time in the woods. This is your best defense against diseases transmitted by ticks.

Wasps, bees, mosquitoes, and stinging things

  • These are mostly just annoying pests, but getting stung can be deadly for some people. If you believe you are allergic to these insects, please use utmost caution in the woods and campgrounds.
  • Wear repellent and use it around your sleeping area.
  • Watch where you step when traveling forest trails and inside forest facilities.
  • Yellow jackets are present in the forest, and they nest in the ground or under hollow stumps. They are present in some campgrounds and picnic areas.
  • Gnats are stinging insects also, and here on the forests there are Buffalo Gnats. They sound big, but are extremely tiny and tend to sting your face around your eyes and on your ears and neck. Sometimes insect repellent will help keep them away.