Outdoor Safety & Ethics


Preserving Our Heritage For Our Future

Leave No Trace Campaign

Dispersed Camping

Floods and Flash Floods

Outfitters and Guides

Off Highway Vehicle Use (OHV)


Aquatic Nuisances Species

Noxious Weeds


Other Important Safety Tips

Floods and Flash Floods

To help prepare visitors, two Safety Pages titled Floods and Flash Floods are available on our website and can be viewed at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/WWOutdoorSafety

Outdoor Ethics

A note on preservation: It is up to us to respectfully use the trail while remembering that it is part of our heritage. To the Nee-Me-Poo, the trail is part of their sacred land, land they still use. If we want those who come after us to have a sense of the trail history, it is up to us to preserve and protect it.

This land is an important source of spiritual strength for all races of people including the Nez Perce. Its natural and historic sites should be left undisturbed by all who visit.

"We the surviving Nez Perces, want to leave our hearts, memories, hallowed presence as a never-ending revelation to the story of the event of 1877. This trail will live in our hearts. We want to thank all who visit this sacred trail, that will share our innermost feelings. Because their journey makes this an important time for the present, past, and future."    - Frank B. Andrews, Nez Perce descendant

Preserving Our Heritage For Our Future

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail is working to preserve the rich cultural legacy of this magnificent and spiritual trail. Help us to protect this legacy-explore and enjoy.
Prehistoric and historic artifacts are irreplaceable resources that provide clues into our collective heritage. Once damaged, they lose much of their meaning:


  • Feel free to photograph, draw, and handle artifacts on the ground surface, but replace them where they were found
  • Let Forest staff know if you’ve found something special
  • On rivers, camp on lower beaches, not on upper terraces where pithouses may be found.


  • Gather artifacts into piles and take them home
  • Touch or leave marks on rock art (the oil in your fingers may damage the fragile art)
  • Sit or walk on walls, cairns, or enter structures
  • Reveal site locations on websites or give out GPS coordinates

For more information on the rich cultural legacy of this trail, watch "Walking on Sacred Ground".

Leave No Trace Campaign

When recreating on the trail, please remember to leave no trace of your visit. Visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Website to learn more.

Seven Principles of Leave No Trace include:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Tread Lightly logoTread Lightly!, in partnership with the nation’s most influential hunting and shooting sports organizations, has released a series of print public service announcements (PSAs) encouraging responsible behavior on public lands. The PSAs are part of a much larger new education and outreach campaign called “Respected Access is Open Access.”

“Being respectful of public lands is the goal of the campaign,” said Lori McCullough, executive director of the nonprofit organization Tread Lightly!. “Across America, access and opportunities are dwindling at a rate so serious it demands our immediate attention and action. Damage caused by a minority of recreationists who are either uninformed or uncaring of the consequences of their actions is contributing to the loss of access for everyone.” Tread Lightly! created the Respected Access campaign at the request of the Federal Lands Hunting and Shooting Sports Roundtable.

Built on extensive research, the campaign is designed to reduce litter, property and natural resource damage, unsafe shooting practices and visitor conflicts as a means of helping to maintain, even enhance, access to public lands.

Respected Access campaign logoThe five PSAs initially released address littering, vandalism and illegal dumping.

“The Respected Access campaign has been a true partnership of resources with national hunting and shooting sports organizations to promote responsible behaviors on public lands,” said Jim Bedwell, Director of Recreation for the US Forest Service. “Responsible shooting is a legitimate use of public lands, as is a wide variety of other activities done responsibly, so the Respected Access campaign complements the efforts of land managers across the nation to manage sustainable recreation.”

The program is long-term in scope with a goal to balance the needs of the people who enjoy outdoor recreation with our need to maintain a healthy environment. Click here for additional information.

Certified weed-free straw and hay is required on all National Forest Lands. Read the weed free brochure for more information.

Campground Courtesy Notice

Dispersed Camping

Camping in the undeveloped portions of the NPNHT is a free and popular way to enjoy the trail. Several areas are called “designated dispersed” areas where you must camp in designated sites. Several popular areas have a few amenities (such as fire rings, tables and restrooms) to help protect natural resources. Other areas are simple pull-offs on primitive roads. Dispersed camping means in general there are no toilets, tables, or drinking water

Elsewhere on the Forests, dispersed camping with motorized vehicles is allowed within 300” of most Forest roads and within 100” of most motorized trails. Camping days are limited; please refer to your Motor Use Map (MVUM) for more details in your area. . Follow these guidelines to ensure that these areas can be enjoyed by future generations.

  • Choose sites that are already established.
  • Camp within 300 feet of designated Forest Service roads.
  • Don’t dig ditches around tents or trailers
  • Pack out all garbage.
  • Do not carve or chop into tree trunks-this can eventually kill the tree
  • Bury human waste 200 feet from water sources in a hole 6-8” deep: pack out used toilet paper
  • Soap degrades water quality and harms aquatic life; wash at least 200’ from water sources and use biodegradable soap.

Campfire Safety:

  • Check at the local Ranger Station for current fire restrictions. Remember they can change on a daily basis.
  • Use existing fire rings if possible.
  • To put out a campfire, slowly pour water onto the fire and stir with a shovel. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool to touch.
  • Do not bury your fire. The coals can smolder and re-ignite.
  • NEVER leave a fire unattended even if there are no flames present. Many wildfires have been caused by abandoned campfires.

Bear Safety:

Seeing a bear is memorable experience. If you want that experience to be positive rather than negative follow these tips: 

  • Keep a clean campsite. Store food and garbage in closed vehicles and out of sight. Do not leave garbage around your campsites-especially overnight.
  • Never put food scraps in the campfire-it attracts bears and skunks.
  • Don’t keep food, shampoo-or anything that smells-in tents or sleeping areas.
  • Store stoves and Dutch ovens in a vehicle or secure place when not using.
  • When camping in the back country, hang food and garbage from a tree limb at least 10 feet from the ground and 5 feet from the tree trunk. This tree should be at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.
  • Some bears also target motor oil, insect repellent, liquor; and other things that look like food. Put these items away in a safe place.
  • Do not sleep in the clothes you cook in.
  • Stay on trails for your safety and to protect the habitat
  • Taking pets on hiking trails may attract bears and other predators. If you take your pet, keep it on a short leash to avoid conflicts.
  • Since bears may frequent campgrounds, bear-proof dumpsters are placed in many campgrounds. Dispose of all garbage in these dumpsters.

If bears become accustomed to human food, they may become aggressive towards humans or cause property damage. To protect people, these bears may have to be destroyed.
For more information, visit www.BeBearAware.org


For the 2011 summer season, the Gallatin National Forest will manage the Soda Butte, Colter, and Chief Joseph campgrounds for hard sided recreational vehicles only. These campgrounds are located just east of Cooke City, Montana.

The riparian areas located within close proximity to these campgrounds receive high bear use. Based on terrain, vegetation, creek location, and the potential close proximity of humans and bears in these campgrounds, the Gallatin National Forest will only allow visitors in hard sided recreational vehicles to overnight in these facilities.

For purposes of this strategy, hard sided vehicles are those made of metal or strong composite plastic. Truck-box campers that have a >4 foot high hard side, in addition to a raised upper section of pliable material, are permissible. Tents and pop-up tent campers are excluded, as is camping in the open without shelter.

Following the 2010 bear incidents that occurred at Soda Butte Campground, the Forest Supervisors for the six national Forests in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) asked a group of interagency bear experts to conduct a risk management review of Forest Service developed facilities. This group of experts focused initially on the Chief Joseph, Soda Butte, and Colter campgrounds; in subsequent months they will review the other GYA developed facilities. The change in interim management of these three campgrounds is based predominantly on the experts’ feedback.

This management approach is not a final conclusion – it is an interim step. The Forest is evaluating what available management options there are for addressing risk in developed sites to create a long range management strategy.
Soft sided and tent camping opportunities will continue in dispersed areas around Cooke City because there is a less concentration of humans and bears in these areas. Soft sided camping opportunities can also be found nearby on the Shoshone National Forest in Fox Creek and Crazy Creek campgrounds and in Yellowstone National Park in Pebble Creek Campground.

For additional information please contact the Gardiner Ranger District at (406) 848-7375 or visit us online at www.fs.usda.gov/gallatin.

NOTE: Bears are out and active this time of year in the Greater Yellowstone area, including the Gallatin National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, the Beartooth Ranger District of the Custer National Forest, and state and private lands.

The National Forests, Yellowstone National Park, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks join in urging visitors who use these areas to practice the tips and guidelines outlined by the Be Bear Aware campaign.

Although bears are generally quite tolerant of people and the chances of being injured by a bear are extremely low, the following tips will further reduce the chances of being attacked by a bear while recreating in bear country.
Always carry bear pepper spray, have it close at hand, and know how to use it.

If you are going to be alone in bear country, let someone know your detailed plans; better yet, don’t go alone.

Be alert to signs of bear activity—fresh scat, tracks, digging, turned over rocks, tree scratching, concentrations of natural food including carcasses. Avoid recreating in areas with a lot of fresh bear sign.

  • Think in advance about what you would do in the event of an encounter.
  • Make noise as you travel.
  • Educate yourself on how to react or behave should you encounter a bear.
  • Cook any meals at least 100 yards from any backcountry campsites.
  • Store any attractants, including game carcasses, at least 100 yards from any backcountry campsites.
  • Hunters: after making a kill get the carcass out of the area as quickly as possible; while field dressing, keep a can of bear pepper spray within easy reach.
  • Do not attempt to frighten away or haze a bear that is near or feeding on a carcass.

Outfitters and Guides

If you have limited experience or equipment, hiring an outfitter may be the best approach to get to know the NPNHT and the Forests. The Forests permits outfitters for year-round activities, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, jet boating, hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, sightseeing, trail riding and other activities. These trained professionals are licensed by the State’s Outfitter and Guides licensing Board. For more information visit  www.ioga.org for Idaho: http://oglb.idaho.gov/ and for Wyoming: www.wyoga.org/.

Off Highway Vehicle Use (OHV)

OHV use is a popular activity on the national forest. While many opportunities exist on the roads and trails, cross country travel is prohibited in some areas. Check the local Forest Service District office for more information. These trails and roads are maintained to minimize the impacts of motorized use on fragile ecosystems such as meadows and riparian areas.

ATV’s and Motorcycles

There are areas where the NPNHT is open to motorized use; and there are areas open to motorized and non-motorized use adjacent to the trail.

CAUTION: Pick up a FREE Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) from the District office to find out which trails are open to ATV’s and motorcycles. They are also available online at www.fs.usda.gov/ Also, please keep in mind that all equipment and riders must meet federal and state standards and regulations (noise levels, spark arrestors, rider’s age, helmet requirements and other restrictions. Trails within wilderness and the official NPNHT are only open to horse and foot travel.

The National Off-highway Vehcile Conservation Council offers OHV safety classes and free Public Lands Advocacy webinars. Visit their website at http://www.nohvcc.org for more information.


Geocaching is welcome along MOST of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail (NPNHT), but not everywhere. If you are not familiar with this activity, go to www.geocaching.com for more information. Federal land management guidelines do require detailed information about proposed geocaches and permission to place a cache. Remember it is up to us to respectfully use the trail and protect our heritage. To the Nee-Me-Poo, the trail is part of their sacred land, land they still use. If we want those who come after us to have a sense of the trail history, it is up to us to preserve and protect it.

Follow geocaching rules of etiquette such as avoiding fragile or culturally sensitive locations and practice CITO: "Cache In, Trash Out". Respecting the environment, taking care of the resources you encounter, and cleaning up after others can help to preserve the future opportunities on the forest for geocaching with minimal regulation.

The following list provides general guidelines to follow when considering placement of a geocache. Federal land management geocaching policies vary and are specific to the local National Forest, National Park or BLM State Office. General National Park guidance can be found here and the Idaho BLM State Office provides information here. General geocaching guidelines for National Forest and the other land management agencies includes:

  • Contact a the appropriate responsible official on the  National Forest,  National Park,  or BLM office where you would like to place the cache. Provide the information that will be necessary for evaluating your request, including a copy of your draft write-up, your contact information, and photos if available. If you have not heard back within 15 days of your request, follow up with another e-mail or phone call.
  • Follow the guidelines provided at www.geocaching.com for placement of a cache.
  • Select your proposed location carefully; avoid proposals to place a cache in a sensitive area, such as wet areas, near fragile plant populations, in highly erosive soils, in or adjacent to caves, cultural or historical sites, or similar areas, since these are likely to be disapproved.
  • Avoid locations where searchers will be likely to endanger themselves or the nearby resources, especially if they are searching after dark.
  • Be sure the cache is on federal lands along the NPNHT, not on private land located near the trail.
  • Prepare a request; provide the information about the proposed geocaching site, including location and a brief description of the setting and the resources found there, and how to get to the site. Consider taking a couple of digital photos of the area.
  • Consider the management objectives of the area and the other activities planned for that location when placing a geocache – since Wilderness is supposed to be primitive, where humans and their belongings do not remain, physical caches will not be approved there.
  • Decide what you will place at the cache, and what information you will provide other geocachers about the site. Draft your write-up prior to seeking permission to actually place the cache, so that the approving official will see the info you intend to provide. In your write-up, consider including information about the national forest, and/or about the individual area where the cache will be located (especially if it is a historical site), as well as providing encouragement to other geocachers to take care of the resources, keep motor vehicles on the designated routes, pay the day use fees if parking in a developed site, etc.
  • Make sure that your geocache will be readily identifiable as a geocache – i.e., mark it or label it on the outside “GEOCACHE”. Unmarked containers may be misidentified, and may cause undue trouble and expense before they are removed and/or destroyed.
  • Geocaches placed on the forest need to be maintained. If you see ANY indication of resource damage or the beginning of a trail that might be caused by persons searching for your cache, archive it immediately, and remove it as soon as practical.

Aquatic Nuisances Species

When zebra and/or quagga mussels invade our local waters they damage boats, destroy fish habitat, and clog public water pipes. Zebra and quagga mussels attach to boats, bait buckets and other gear. You can help stop these aquatic hitchhikers by following these three steps before entering any waters in Idaho:

  1. Clean mud, plants, animals or other debris from your boat and equipment.
  2. Drain the ballast tanks, bilge, livewells, and motor
  3. Dry (7 days summer; 18 days spring/fall; and 30 days winter) or freeze (3 days)

Anyone who wants to launch a boat or non-motorized vessel (canoe, kayak, raft, etc.) on Idaho waters must have an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker. Inflatable, non-motorized vessels less than 10 feet long are exempt. For more information visit http://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/ in

Montana visit: http://fwp.mt.gov/fishing/guide/ANS/default.html

Oregon visit: http://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/programs/09LawsFAQs.shtml

Washington visit: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/nonpoint/CleanBoating/aquatic.html

Wyoming visit: http://gf.state.wy.us/fish/AIS/index.asp

Invasive species threaten water activities! Prevent the transport of nuisance species. Clean all recreational equipment. www.ProtectYourWaters.net

Noxious Weeds

Noxious Weeds can rapidly displace native plant species that provide habitat wildlife and food for people and livestock. Here’s how you can help reduce their spread:

  • Learn to recognize common weed species.
  • Don’t camp or drive in weed infested areas.
  • Don’t pick the flowers of noxious weeds and take them home-you’ll spread seeds.
  • Remove seeds from livestock by brushing manes and tails thoroughly and cleaning hooves.
  • When using pack animals carry only feed that is certified weed-free. Within 96 hours before entering backcountry areas.
  • Wash your vehicle including the undercarriage, to remove any weed seed before driving to the forest.
  • Don’t camp or drive in weed infested areas.

Horse Use:

  • Horse users are encouraged to bring feed with them on backcountry trips since natural forage Is limited in many places. Packed-in feed must be weed-free.
  • Stock must be tethered more than 200 feet from lakes and 100 feet from streams or other flowing water.
  • Use highlines or pickets for tethering stock

For more information, visit:  www.fs.usda.gov/ctnf/


Plan Ahead:

  • Tell someone where you are going when you expect to return and what they need to do if you don’t return. For safety don’t hike alone.
  • Celluar phones often have sporadic or no reception in some areas of the forest.
  • If you get lost or become disoriented, stay calm and stay put! Wait for help to arrive.
  • Keeping warm is more important than finding food and water.
  • As a last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill. This will often lead to a trail or road.


  • Storms form quickly in the mountains. Lightening storms are common in the summer. Snow can occur year-round at higher elevations.
  • Check the weather before heading out at www.weather.gov
  • Bring clothing for all weather conditions-raincoats, fleece, or wool.
  • Avoid afternoon summer storms by heading out early and getting off mountain peaks and high points before storms arrive.
  • If you see a storm approaching, get off the high points or away from lone trees or large rocks.
  • If you are caught in a lightning storm, remove your pack and crouch with your hands on your knees until the worst has passed.
  • Use caution crossing or parking in dry streambeds and low areas: sudden storms may cause flash floods.

Wildlife Viewing Ethics:

  • Give the wildlife their space. Use those binoculars!
  • Please leave “orphanes” or sick animals alone. Often the parents are close by and are waiting for you to leave.
  • Pets must be restrained at all times.
  • Do not feed wildlife-they can become habituated to handouts , losing their instinctive fears of people. Often the only solution is to euthanize the animal.
  • Leave the area if an animal shows signs of alarm. Watch and listen for raised ears, skittish movements, or alarm calls.

River Wild! Water Safety:

Swift Currents
Can flow only a short distance from the shore. Learn where these currents are before you wade or swim. Watch for steep drop offs.

Cold Water
Can kill. Hypothermia can impair your judgment and your ability to swim safely.

Life Jackets
Wear them when on the river, especially when tubing. Children should always wear them

Changing River
Each Spring brings changes: new snags, holes, and bars… and a fresh supply of cold, deep water. Spring flows can be deadly; avoid them or proceed with extreme caution.

Other Important Safety Tips

Wildlfire Smoke and Your Health

Learn about  Tick Safety

Learn about Bee Safety

Equestrian Riding Responsibly and Safety.

Mountain Pine Beetle

Watch Out for Falling Trees

Tips for Backpacking Lighter and Smarter.

Tips for Hunting Season Safety

Rattlesnake Safety

GPS Warning

Winter Safety: Before you leave for your winter trip, check current weather and avalanche conditions at the local area where you are traveling and recreating.