Outdoor Safety & Ethics

Safety ImageAdequately prepare for your trip. Know the area, weather, terrain and your limitations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

  • Travel with a companion. You don't want to be by yourself in case of an emergency. Tell someone where and when you are going, when you expect to return, and how many are in your party.
  • Be in good physical condition. Know your hiking partners limitations and travel at a pace comfortable for everyone in your group.
  • Bring a map and compass and follow your progress on the map. Familiarize yourself with the map and plan your trip. Your compass will help you orient the map and plot your course of travel.
  • Bring sufficient food and water for your trip. Bring some extra non-perishable food in case of an unexpected emergency. Make sure you include plenty of high energy carbohydrates and high quality protein at every meal. Dehydration is a common result of unprepared hikers. By the time you feel thirsty, dehydration has most likely set in. Plan to drink 4-8 ounces of water before, 4 ounces every 10-15 minutes during and at least 8 ounces after your hike. Bring extra water on hot sunny days. top
  • Think about your footing while traveling near cliffs. Stay on developed trails or dry, solid rock areas with good footing. Wear hiking boots with adequate ankle protection.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the trail conditions and season.
  • Check your equipment. Make sure your equipment works properly and that you have what you need. top
  • 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 and changing weather conditions. Avoid bare ridge tops, exposed places, lone trees, streams and rocks during lightning storms. Immediately move to a lower elevation and find shelter in a densely forested area if a lightning storm moves in. Even in the summer, exposure to wind and rain can result in hypothermia.
  • Learn basic first aid. Know how to identify and treat injuries and illnesses. Carry a first aid kit with you. Learn the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypothermia, and dehydration. Know how to prevent and treat them. top
  • Make camp before dark. Traveling after dark can result in accidents, so plan to reach your destination during daylight hours. Set up camp well away from the edge of cliffs and streams. Learn the terrain during daylight. If you have to leave camp after dark, stay in areas you have seen in daylight and take a good flashlight.
  • Be aware of rapidly rising water and flash flooding. Several of the rivers in Cherokee National Forest are regulated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Water can rise rapidly without warning. Check with TVA if planning a trip in TVA waters. Flash flooding is a concern during heavy rainstorms. Set up camp 100 feet or more away from streams and drainages. When fishing or hiking monitor conditions to avoid being trapped on the "wrong" side of the stream or being swept away by fast moving currents. top
  • Be alert for slippery areas and take your time to avoid tripping. Low-hanging branches and variable terrains make running unsafe. Leaves can hide slippery areas underneath.
  • Think before you drink! Judgment, agility and balance are all reduced by alcohol consumption. Alcohol use is prohibited in many areas of the Forest . top
  • Water Purification. No matter how clean or pure stream water looks, it is likely to contain water-borne parasites and microorganisms that can cause discomfort or serious illness. Pack your water in, or purify by boiling for 5 minutes, through chemical treatment, or by using a quality portable water filter. top

Camp Sanitation

Dispose of waste in a manner that does not spread disease or pollute the environment.
  • Use toilet facilities in camping areas. If using a privy, lower the toilet seat cover and close the door to reduce the number of flies. Do not throw camp garbage in pit toilets!
  • In the backcountry carry a small shovel and dig a hole a minimum of 6 inches to bury feces. Do not defecate in or near a stream! Pack out all garbage. Remember to hang garbage with your bear hang.

Do not bathe or wash dishes in or near a stream. Use biodegradable soap and wash at least 100 feet away from a water source. Learn the principles of Leave No Trace and apply them both in the backcountry and at developed recreation sites. top

Is My Car Safe?

To prevent break-ins:

Lock your car. As simple as this seems, many people still forget .

Don't leave your travel plans on the windshield of your car . Thieves use this "window of opportunity" to break in, since they know you may not be nearby. Leave your plans with the district office or someone at home. Include the trails you plan to hike and an estimate of your return time.

Don't leave valuables inside your car . If you must leave valuables, hide them from view or lock them in the trunk.

Don't park your car with the trunk backed toward the woods . This provides cover for someone trying to break into your trunk. If your car has been vandalized, contact local law enforcement officials. top

Can I Bring My Dog?

Dogs are allowed in most areas of the Forest . Check with the district office to confirm pets are allowed while planning your trip. Pets are not allowed at swimming areas or beaches.

ON THE TRAIL If you bring your dog hiking, keep it physically restraint at all times. The Cherokee National Forest is a multiple-use forest, which means you and your dog may meet horseback riders, mountain bikers and four-wheelers on the trail. Use a leash to control your pet and minimize conflicts. Hiking is hard work for a dog, especially if it's not used to long hikes in hot weather. Watch your dog for signs of stress and fatigue, and give it plenty water and rest.

IN THE CAMPGROUND dogs must be on a leash and under control. Be sure to provide adequate food and water. Pick up after your dog. Don't leave dog food out while you are away or after you leave. This will attract wildlife to developed campgrounds jeopardizing your safety and others. Bring plastic bags to dispose of pet fecal waste. Don't leave your dog unattended in the campground. Confirm that dogs are allowed before you leave home. top

Am I Safe On The Trail?

Exercise the same caution on the trail as you would anywhere else. On isolated trails help may be far away and a hiking companion is recommended. If alone, pay attention to your surroundings and the people you meet on the trail. Be alert and project an aura of confidence. top

Are There Snakes?

Several poisonous snakes live in Cherokee National Forest . Be on the look out for rattlesnake and copperhead. Observe precautions and leave snakes alone to avoid an unfortunate encounter.

  • Never reach under or sit on top of rocks or logs without looking first. These areas are usually a snake's favorite spots to lie.
  • Be careful walking in tall grass where you cannot see your feet. Snakes lie in the hot grass in the sun and wait for prey.
  • Leave snakes alone--do not attempt to capture or kill them. Snakes are rarely interested in harming humans and they serve a purpose in the forest ecosystem.
  • Observe them from a safe distance and appreciate the beauty of a natural predator in the wild. top
  • Snakebite Prevention and First Aid

Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix)

Safety In Bear Country

If You Get Lost ...

Most trails are marked with signs (where intersections meet) and diamond blazes or markers. However, signs are sometimes vandalized or stolen. Trails in wilderness may not be blazed.

  • Take a map and compass. Keep track of your progress and p ay close attention to your surroundings and relate this to your location on a map.
  • Stay calm if you get lost. Panic is your greatest enemy. Try to remember how you got to your present location. Retrace your steps if necessary.
  • Trust your map and compass and do not walk aimlessly. If you are on a trail, don't leave it.
  • As a last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill. This can be hard going but will often lead to a trail or road.
  • Stay put if it is nightfall, if you are injured, or near exhaustion. top


We want your experience in the Cherokee National Forest to be a safe one. Here are things you should be aware of during your visit to the forest.


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!


Ticks are common in the Cherokee National Forest. Some ticks can transmit diseases to humans, so check for ticks after every trip in the woods.

Edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms exist on the forest, but we urge you to leave them alone. Errors in identification can have uncomfortable or deadly consequences. top