Outdoor Safety & Ethics


Caution signPlease remember to be careful! YOU are primarily responsible for your own safety. Look out for natural hazards and dangers when you are in the forest. If you recreate on the national forest, you do so at YOUR OWN RISK.

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 common sense can help to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Read a few tips for Staying Safe on the Forest.

Outdoor Safety in the South 

A family hiking on a rocky terrainMany people enjoy going outdoors to experience the various seasons we have in the southeast. The National Forests in the Southern Region offer a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.  However, there are many elements of nature that are not as hospitable as the people of the South. Many of these elements are unseen or unknown until the unthinkable happens.  The Southern Region's Outdoor Safety in the South website may help you prepare for the unthinkable. 

Weather Safety | |Water Safety | Wildlife Safety | Safety in the Woods | Safety Around Other People | Outdoor Ethics


Weather Safety 

Weather ReadyBe 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 on the national forests.    





Image of the heat index table.Have you noticed how HOT it can get in summer? How well are you coping with the above average temperatures? Here's some important information to help you avoid becoming a victim. Beat the Heat.    




Water Safety


Waterfalls are popular places for viewing, picnicking and wading. While beautiful to see, they often pose risks to unprepared visitors. Slippery rocks, steep slopes and undercurrents can catch you by surprise when walking through or in the vicinity of a waterfall.

White water rafting on the Chattooga River is an exciting and rewarding experience.Each year, there are serious injuries and fatalities at North Georgia waterfalls. The best way to enjoy a waterfall is from a safe distance. Heed posted warning signs indicating danger and stay on established trails. Never climb on or around waterfalls and never play in the water above a waterfall. Rocks can be slippery and it's easy to lose your balance. Currents near waterfalls can be extremely swift even in areas further upstream.

Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools at the base of waterfalls. Rocks and logs can be hidden beneath the surface of the water and their positions are ever-changing. Often waterfall pools have swirling water or currents that can drag and keep you underwater.

Waterfall Safety Checklist (download)

  • Know the potential hazards of waterfalls, which include slick and slippery surfaces.
  • Stay back from the edge. People have been injured, sometimes fatally, trying to get a closer look.
  • Avoid slippery rocks.
  • Wear stable shoes and watch your footing.
  • Don’t jump off of waterfalls or dive in waterfall pools because of unseen objects such as logs and boulders.
  • Stay out of restricted areas.

White water rafting on the Chattooga River is an exciting and rewarding experience.Have fun and enjoy the beauty, but please be safe! Learn more about swimming and boating safety.   





Wildlife Safety

Safety around wildlife is often an issue, especially in the summer. Know what to do and what not to do. Wildlife will feed on whatever is readily available. Food odors and improperly stored garbage will attract wildlife to campgrounds and picnic sites. Fed wildlife will cease to look for food in the wild and will seek out human related food items, including leftover garbage. As a result, wildlife becomes a nuisance that may have to be removed or even put to death. Learn more about wildlife safety in the South.


AnimalsAm I safe on the trail? Are there snakes?

Exercise the same caution you would anywhere else. On some isolated trails, help may be far away. Tips for Staying Safe on the Forest.   

coprhead.gifSouthern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix).

Snake information and Resources from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Learn how to be safe around snakes and more about wildlife safety.     


Safety in the Woods

Hazardous TreesHazard 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. The most effective way to prevent mishaps is to adequately prepare for the trip. Learn tips about Staying Safe on the Forest.   



Child with blaze orange hatHunting

National forests are a refuge for wild animals of all kinds, which makes recreational activities like hunting and wildlife viewing possible. Hunting is a seasonal activity. State regulations for seasons, dates and licensing apply on national forest land. Avoid wearing white or tan during deer and turkey season. Wear hunter orange or another highly visible color. Read more about Autumn Awareness in the National Forest


Poison Plants

We want your experience to be safe and enjoyable. Take only pictures and memories, not a miserable skin rash!


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!


Prevent Wildfires

Humans cause nearly nine out of ten wildfires. When you visit the forest, fire prevention is YOUR responsibility. Forest visitors are also reminded to ensure that all fires are extinguished and cold to the touch before leaving them. Learn more about campfire safety from Smokey Bear.


Fireworks Prohibited

Fireworks are prohibited on Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Despite changes to Georgia's law regulating fireworks in 2015, the prohibition on national forest lands remains in place.  The possession or discharge of all types of fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices is prohibited on all national forest lands year-round, regardless of weather conditions or holidays.  Regulations are enforced, and violation is punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment of not more than six months, or both.


Get Firewise

Protect your home and property before wildfire strikes. The most important way to protect a house or building from wildfire impacts is to eliminate debris and reduce nearby fuels (vegetation and materials that burn easily). 

Watch: How your Wildfire Preparedness Day actions can make where you live safer


Year-round maintenance and cleanup can minimize damage and loss:

  1. Remove dead or dying vegetation
  2. Prune trees and bushes often
  3. Mow the lawn regularly and dispose of cuttings and debris promptly
  4. Grow plants that are free of resins, oils and waxes
  5. Water plants, trees and mulch regularly
  6. Reduce tree and plant density
  7. Store firewood and propane tanks away from the house
  8. Clean needles and leaves from the roof and gutters


Learn more about reducing wildfire risk at Firewise. Learn more about Fires in the South


Safety Around Other People

As a visitor to the National Forests, please follow certain rules designed to ensure your health and safety, to protect the forest and the natural environment, and to promote pleasant and rewarding outdoor recreation experiences for everyone. Forest Service law enforcement and staff are empowered to enforce federal regulations and rules. Please take time to read and understand them. Read more about Safety and Crime Prevention.

Forest Visitor Rules

Regional Foresters and Forest Supervisors may issue orders that will close or restrict the use of certain areas if the need arises. We post such orders so we can reasonably expect you to be familiar with them. Copies of the orders are available in the offices of Forest Supervisors and District Rangers. They are also available on our  Forest Supervisor's Orders web page.


Can I bring my dog?

If you bring your dog hiking, keep it under physical restraint at all times.

  A couple and their dog happily preparing to go hunting

  • On the Trail - If you bring your dog hiking, keep it under verbal or physical restraint at all times. The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests 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 in crowded areas. 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 Campgrounds - Dogs must be on a leash and under control in campgrounds and developed recreation areas. Tie your dog up in a shady spot and give it lots of attention to minimize barking.


A group of friends set off for a backpacking trip into the woodsAm I safe on the trail?

Exercise the same caution you would anywhere else. On some isolated trails, help may befar away. On these trails, a hiking companion is recommended. If alone, pay attention toyour surroundings and the people you meet on the trail. Be alert and project confidence. 


Photo of the yellow vehicle abandoned in Wise Creek by Russell Amoson.Is my car safe? 

As peaceful as the forest may seem, a few visitors may experience auto break-ins. Prevent break-ins:

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

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

Don't leave valuables inside your car. If you mustleave valuables, hide them from view or lock them in the trunk. Empty the glovecompartment and leave it open to show that nothing is inside. 

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


Outdoor Ethics: Behaving Responsibly in the Woods

A group of trail users participate in a trail maintenance orientation session near Anna Ruby Falls.Outdoor ethics are principles for our behavior in the outdoors.  Whether backpacking deep in the backcountry or camping in a campground, these principles help us to minimize the impact to the environment and to your neighbors. 

Outdoor ethics is based on the idea that we are all stewards of the environment and should provide careful and responsible management of our great outdoors so that this generation and those to come can enjoy it.  Many of these principles also help us to have a more enjoyable and safer trip.

Forest Visitor Rules

Regional Foresters and Forest Supervisors may issue orders that will close or restrict the use of certain areas if the need arises. We post such orders so we can reasonably expect you to be familiar with them. Copies of the orders are available in the offices of Forest Supervisors and District Rangers. They are also available on our  Forest Supervisor's Orders web page.


Trail Yield Courtesy

Some of the trails you'll visit on the forest are multiple-use, meaning that hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and off-highway vehicle riders may all share the same trail. A basic etiquette rule is Wheels Yield to Heels. Keep this in mind when approaching other trail users. Bicyclists or motorized vehicles yield to all other users while hikers, walkers, yield to horseback riders.


Share the Trail

Share the TrailExcessive complaints about Off Highway Vehicle recreation uses such as dust, noise, and speed can force OHV site closures. OHV sites can be closed because of environmental damage from OHV use or safety conflicts with other users. Help prevent OHV site closures. Protect your privilege.

Note: If a road or trail does not appear on the official motor vehicle use map it means that it is not open to public vehicular use. Trails designated for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding do NOT allow motorized use. The non-motorized trails are maintained by dedicated volunteers - please respect their hard work.






Travel Responsibly
Respect the Rights of Others
Educate Yourself
Avoid Sensitive Areas
Do Your Part

A mountain biker rides through a stream at Frady BranchClick on the activity below to learn about how to Tread Lightly! while enjoying your favorite activity on National Forest lands. 


Leave No Trace 

Leave No Trace Logo

Leave No Trace is an outdoor land use ethic.  Following Leave No Trace, helps you minimize your impacts on the outdoor environment and will help you to understand how your actions can impact the land and other users of the forest.    

Following these 7 principles of Leave No Trace will help you have a more enjoyable trip:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts 
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors


Toccoa River Floating, Boating, and Paddling 

Know your legal rights when floating, boating, or paddling on the Toccoa River because this river passes through public and private land





Large Group or Commercial Activities

Most non-commercial activities usually do not require a permit unless 75 or more people participate or a fee is charged to participate in an event or activity.

White water rafting on the Chattooga River is an exciting and rewarding experience.Generally, all commercial activities require special authorization. Information on all permit requirements is available at your nearest Forest Service Office.






Photo of the Sumac Creek Shooting RangeGun Laws & Target Shooting

Wondering where guns are allowed on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests? See our "Guide to Firearms Use."



Ginseng plantGinseng Harvesting on the Chattahoochee National Forest

With the increasing demand for Ginseng from around the world threatening the domestic supply of this local plant, the Forest Service is managing the harvest and enforcing the laws.


Gold Panning, Rockhounding, and Fossil Collecting

Causing ground disturbance or collecting minerals for commercial gain without a permit is punishable by fines and potential restoration costs.




Upper Chattahoochee River Campground

Commercial Photography and Filming

The Forest Service recognizes that the public and/or natural resources may benefit from commercial filming on National Forest System lands, provided that land and resource values are protected. As with other uses of NFS land, commercial filming and still photography require prior authorization by the Forest Service. Generally, authorization is granted in the form of a Special Use Permit issued by the Forest Service.

Before applying for a permit, take a look at the public domain B-Roll video clips from various locations on the forest. You can review, download, and use them in your project at no cost.


[Brochure]: A Thief Of TimeProtecting Heritage Sites

Help preserve the past by volunteering your time and talents through programs like Passport in Time. The past belongs to all Americans. When looters and vandals destroy archeological and historic sites, part of the Nation's heritage is lost forever. Sites on public lands are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and other statutes.

Be a Steward of the Past:

Treat remains of past cultures with respect.
Tread lightly when visiting heritage sites.
Leave artifacts where you find them.
Photograph and enjoy rock art, but do not touch fragile surfaces.
Help preserve the past by volunteering your time and talents through programs like the Passport in Time program.




Staying Safe on the Forest

Tips and advice for Staying Safe on the Forest

Trail Safety

The most effective way to prevent mishaps is to adequately prepare for the trip