General Safety Information


It is variable and changes rapidly, sometimes unexpectedly. Be prepared for anything.

Hazard Trees

Falling trees and branches are an ever-present hazard when traveling or camping in a forest. A hazard tree is one that has a structural defect that makes it likely to fail in whole or in part.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Trees can fall without warning. Look up for trees with broken limbs or tops. Do not stand or camp under leaning or dead trees.
  • Avoid dense patches of dead trees. Limbs and damaged trees may fall at any time. Absence of needles, bark or limbs may also indicate structural defects. The possibility of rot is indicated by broken tops, basal scars, cat faces, numerous down limbs, ants or an abundance of woodpecker holes.
  • Park close to a main road rather than on a spur or one-way section when driving in remote areas of the forest to avoid being trapped if a tree falls across the road.
  • Camp in open spaces. Place tents and camp sites in areas where they will not be hit if a tree falls.
  • Report hazardous trees. Contact authorities with location and information if you find a tree that presents a likely hazard, such as near a trail or camp site.

High Water Safety Tips

  • Watch children and pets at all times.
  • Avoid crossing streams and rivers.
  • Avoid unstable stream banks.
  • Avoid walking on iced covered lakes and streams.

Flash Flooding

Weather experts say the best defense is to be weather-ready before a storm hits.

As with all remote and rural locations in the U.S., warnings from city sirens don’t exist out in nature. Remember to check the National Weather Service forecast before you leave home, and be alert for changing weather conditions while visiting the forest. Devices like a weather radio, a terrestrial radio and a smart-phone application can help visitors stay tuned-in during their outdoor activities. It’s important for people to be weather-ready and alert. Safety isn't seasonal.

Flood awareness can be especially critical for campers. A flash flood can happen at a moment's notice, any time of the day and any time of the year. It is nearly impossible to see the water depths and the force of the current when a flash flood happens at night.

Many people enjoy sleeping under the stars in developed campgrounds and dispersed areas in the national forests. Favorite campsites are often near streams and rivers, people don't expect a sudden rush of water toward their tent or camper. Always be alert for sudden rain storms, water flowing into low areas or the sound of rushing water.

Follow these safety tips to avoid flash floods:

  • Safety is your own responsibility whenever you head outdoors.
  • Families should discuss how they would alert each other and get to a safe zone if rushing or rising water, or any other emergency, interrupts their trip.
  • When visiting a forest, be alert for heavy rains and sudden changes in weather.
  • Recreating or camping near a stream or river can be a risk if there are thunderstorms in the area.
  • Flash floods can occur with little or no warning.
  • When a NOAA flash flood warning is issued for your area, or the moment you realize that water is rising around you, act quickly.
  • In remote areas of the forest, use of cell phones and digital data services may be limited.


Ranges from level valleys to rocky, steep slopes. Sturdy, comfortable footwear is important.


The water in the high country is not suitable for drinking. However, most sources can be purified. Several methods are suggested, however, none can guarantee removal of all the harmful agents that may be present: Iodine tablets - boiling for 10 minutes - "water filter" type purifiers. No one wants to become a giardia host.

If you are lost

If You Get Lost ... Don't Panic!

  • Stay calm if you get lost. Panic is your greatest enemy. Your best bet is simply to stay where you are, especially if it is nightfall, if you are injured, or if you are near exhaustion. While waiting for assistance, keep yourself hydrated and nourished, adapt to weather conditions by keeping yourself warm or cool.
  • Try to remember how you got to your present location.  Pay close attention to your surroundings and land-marks, and relate this to your location on a map.
  • Trust your map and compass, and do not walk aimlessly. If you are on a trail, don’t leave it. GPS users: find your latitude and longitude and carry spare batteries.
  • Most trails are marked with signs (where intersections meet) and diamond blazes or markers. However, signs are sometimes vandalized or stolen.
  • Call for help if you can! Remember, before you leave plan your trip, tell someone your plans, and carry a fully charged cell phone. Cell phone coverage in remote areas may be limited.

If You Are Sick


This is a condition ultimately causing a lowering of the internal body temperature. If not treated at the first symptoms, it can be a killer.
Cause: wind, wetness, cold, exhaustion
Symptoms: uncontrollable shivering, clumsiness, incoherent, lack of coordination.
Treatment: Provide shelter (out of wind and rain); provide warmth (build a fire, put on warm, dry clothes, drink warm liquids and/or place the victim in a sleeping bag with someone else who is warm).
Remember: The important factor in hypothermia is to keep the victim warm and add warmth to his/her system.
Prevention: This can be prevented by: wearing proper clothing (use layers), stopping before you are exhausted, wearing rain gear when it is raining (staying dry), knowing your own limitations.

Mountain Sickness

This condition is caused by a lack of oxygen at high altitude, resulting in a general "sick-all-over" feeling.
Cause: dehydration, lack of oxygen, exertion
Symptoms: Nausea, dizziness, headache, loss of appetite
Treatment: Stop and rest, go slower, drink plenty of water (make sure you also get enough sodium, either in you food or salt tablets, eat high energy foods).
If this does not help after a period of time, the only other option is to return to a lower elevation where there is more oxygen.

Heat Exhaustion

Condition brought on by excessive exercise and loss of body fluids in hot, sunny weather.
Cause: dehydration, excessive heat, exertion
Symptoms: headache, dizziness, "flushed" feeling, nausea
Treatment: Get out of the sun, rest, drink plenty of fluids, replenish lost sodium (food or salt tablets). Try to lower body temperature. This is most frequent when hiking at lower elevations (5,000-9,000 feet).