Outdoor Safety & Ethics

Public lands are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, and we recognize that destinations on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland hold value to people for many different reasons. No matter what you seek from your public lands, remember that a lack of preparedness can ruin your trip. Being unprepared in the wilderness and backcountry can result in injury or death, especially when hazardous weather conditions exist. Plan ahead and learn tips, techniques, and strategies for avoiding hazards year-round!

Know Before You Go

By knowing the conditions of your destination, you can make sure that you are prepared for your hike, trail ride, snowmobile excursion, ski day, or backpacking trip. Use the tips and resources below to stay up to date on conditions.

  • Check road conditions for your area and destination. Information on forest service roads can be found on our Access Updates. Information on state maintained roads can be found at cotrip.org or wyoroad.info.
  • Be aware of area closures, restrictions, and other rules in place by browsing relevant Forest Orders.
  • Be prepared for changing weather/snow conditions. Visit weather.gov to view forecasts and weather alerts for your destination.
  • Review tips and tricks to Recreate Responsibly.
  • Recognize that outdoor recreation is a popular pastime. Parking lots and recreation sites may be crowded. Have a Plan B destination as a contingency plan in case Plan A's parking lot is full.

Be Aware of Hazards and Risk

Hazards may be natural or manmade. Mitigate risk by staying alert and planning ahead.

  • Check trailhead or campground signage for any updated area information noting other risks in the area.
  • Beetle killed trees are falling across the forest, and wildfires in recent years have created additional hazards. Beware of falling trees as you enjoy the forest.
  • Per Forest Order 2020-167, visitors must store food properly in designated camping and picnic areas to limit impacts on wildlife. Avoid up close and personal interactions with wildlife and practice situational awareness.
  • During hunting season, make sure everyone in your party (including pets) has on an article of bright orange clothing.
  • Arrive prepared. Make sure that you have proper clothing, footwear, and supplies, including water, food, and extra layers if needed. If taking longer trips, make sure to bring along any necessary medications.
  • Plan a trip that meets your skillset. Make a plan with terrain selection and route planning that fits the skill levels of your entire party. If you are new to the sport or activity, hire a guide or find a mentor to teach you the skills.

Safety on the Trails and Roads

Multi Use Trail Etiquette SignageSharing and stewarding our public lands means taking care of them and looking out for each other. Ensuring that our natural spaces are kept clean and scenic means that they can be enjoyed for years to come. Use the tips and resources below to learn about trail etiquette and how to respect your public lands.

  • Obey all posted signs and area designations detailed.
  • Practice good outdoor ethics. Leave No Trace principles help protect natural resources and keep public lands beautiful. Review the 7 principles to respect the land, its visitors, and its inhabitants.
  • Make sure pets are kept on leashes no longer than 6 feet in designated recreation areas.
  • Share the trail, the outdoors are for everyone. Be aware that other recreationists are likely to be present in the area. Be sure to yield when necessary, be considerate of other users by parking to allow the maximum number of vehicles, and be kind and say hello!
    • Bicyclists must yield to all other non-motorized trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. Stay safe and communicate with other recreationists on the trails at all times!
  • If you enjoy motorized recreation, respect uphill policies, yield to non-motorized recreationists, always stay in control and maintain the ability to stop, use established pick-up and drop-off areas, do not stop where you may obstruct roads or not be visible, stay out of wilderness areas, and stack your tracks to conserve the terrain. Pay attention to where motor vehicle travel is allowed on roads and trails.

Winter Recreation Considerations

Snowboarder jumps in fresh powderAreas that provide safe, easy expeditions in the summer may be dangerous in the winter. Make sure to pay attention to closures and warnings in effect and prepare for hazardous conditions.

  • Check the avalanche forecast for the zone you are going to be traveling in.
  • Review REI’s Guide to Winter Trail Etiquette.
  • Carry and know how to use avalanche rescue gear.
  • Overnight parking is highly discouraged, as vehicles left overnight prevent plowing, and decrease the availability of parking for other forest users. Trailers may not be stored or left overnight in day-use lots.
  • Be aware of the terrain. Do not ski or ride above other groups, especially on steep terrain, look out for all users in avalanche terrain, expose only one person at a time to potential avalanche terrain, and be aware that your impacts on the snow can cause avalanches across the slope on other users. Spatial awareness is key!
  • If you enjoy snowmobiling, respect uphill policies, yield to non-motorized recreationists and snowcats, always stay in control and maintain the ability to stop, use established pick-up and drop-off areas, do not stop where you may obstruct roads or not be visible, stow sled tow ropes when not towing a skier/rider, and stack your tracks. Stay out of wilderness areas, big game winter range, and other special areas where snowmobiles are not allowed, and know the rules for off-trail snowmobile travel.
  • Become an expert by visiting the Colorado Winter Backcountry Safety website and taking the Winter Backcountry Safety Pledge. These safety tips are useful in snowy mountain environments across the west.