Safety in the Woods


Caves have many hazards you may not be used to encountering above ground.

  • Children should never enter a cave without an adult.
  • Each person should have at least four reliable lights.
  • Never go in a cave alone. At least three people should accompany you.  With four people, if someone gets hurt, one person can stay with the victim, one person can wait at the entrance to the cave to direct the rescuers, and one person can seek assistance.
  • Don't run or jump in a cave.  Even a sprained ankle can be deadly in a cave.
  • Don't go in a cave when there is rain predicted for the area. Caves often flood suddenly.
  • Never touch stalactites or other cave formations, which may harm you and could be damaged by your touch.
  • The best way to explore caves is to go on an organized tour or with a caving club.  Call the geology department of the nearest college for information on local caving clubs.


Slipping while walking around waterfalls can lead to tragedy.  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.

  • 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.

Hazard Trees

A hazard tree is a standing tree that presents a danger to people due to conditions such as deterioration of or physical damage to the root system, trunk, stem, or limbs or the direction or lean of the tree.  Hazard trees are an ever-present hazard when traveling or camping in a forest.

  • 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 trees.
  • Numerous down or leaning trees may indicate structural defects. 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 conks, broken tops, basal scars, cat faces, numerous down limbs, ants or an abundance of woodpecker holes.
  • Beware of hazardous trees due to ice storm or insect damage. Ice storms can inflict serious damage to trees—uprooting or breaking off large limbs.  Cracks can develop in large branches which, although damaged, might not fall from the tree.  Such branches can present a hazard to people or property long after the ice has melted.
  • Strong winds may weaken unstable trees. Be particularly watchful when it is windy or following a snowstorm when branches are covered with snow. Stay out of the forest when there are strong winds that could blow down trees. If you are already in the forest when winds kick up, head to a clearing out of reach of any potential falling trees.
  • 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.


  • Do not approach or attempt to feed wildlife. All wild animals can be dangerous.  Alter your route to move away from animals without disturbing them.  Do not block an animal's line of travel.
  • If an animal approaches you, move away, and maintain a safe distance.
  • Use binoculars, spotting scopes, and telephoto lenses to minimize stress to animals and to provide a safe viewing distance for you.
  • Hike in groups.
  • Don't hike in the dark, so that you can be aware of approaching wildlife.
  • Leave pets at home. Pets may attract bears and mountain lions.  If dogs are permitted, keep them on a short leash so they don't bother wildlife.
  • Carry EPA-registered bear pepper spray when hiking and camping in bear country.
  • Keep children within your sight.
  • Set up cooking, eating, and supply areas at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.
  • Use bear-resistant food containers where available or required to store food and odorous items when not in use.
  • Keep sleeping bags and tents completely free of food, beverages, and odorous items.
  • Do not sleep in the clothes you cook or handle fish and game in.  The odors may attract wildlife.


To avoid tragic accidents always be absolutely sure about your target before you decide to pull the trigger.  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.

  • Check weather reports before visiting the NFS.
  • Be familiar with the area where you want to hunt.
  • Dress properly, and be prepared for the worst possible weather conditions.
  • During certain seasons, hunters must wear hunter orange, which is viewable from all directions.
  • If accompanied by a dog, the dog should also wear hunter orange or a very visible color on a vest, leash, coat, or bandana.
  • Check hunting equipment before and after each outing, and maintain it properly.  Familiarize yourself with its operation before using it in the field.
  • Carry a spare set of dry clothing.  Utilize layering techniques to wick away moisture while retaining body warmth.  Always bring rain gear.
  • Clearly identify your target before shooting. Prevent unfortunate accidents or fatalities.
  • Be alert when hunting near developed recreation areas and trails. Other recreationists are in the forest as well.
  • Avoid wearing white or tan during deer and turkey season.  Wear hunter orange or another highly visible color.

If you get lost:

  • Pay close attention to your surroundings and landmarks, and relate them to your location on a map.
  • Stay calm if you get lost.  Panic is your greatest enemy.  Try to remember how you arrived at your present location.
  • Trust your map and compass, and do not walk aimlessly. If you are on a trail, don't leave it.
  • Stay where you are if it is nightfall, if you are injured, or if you are near exhaustion.
  • As a last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill, which will often lead to a trail or road.

Abandoned Mines

Abandoned mines can be a great safety hazard.  Each year, a number of people are killed or injured nationally in abandoned mines. Many of these structures contain dilapidated frames, open shafts, and water-filled pits. The dangers that are found in the mines include old explosives, hazardous chemicals, snakes, spiders, mice, and bats. Entrance puts a person at risk for hazards such as falls and cave-ins.

Visitors also find these areas as accessible dumping grounds for trash. This can cause a vessel for infestations and contact with wild animals. In the process of dumping into these mines, many slips and falls are incurred, which can lead to entrapment in the mines, serious injuries and possible death.

Unmined mineral deposits can cause contamination to the surrounding water systems. Some of these systems serve as municipal water supplies for nearby citizens. The Forest Service, along with other land management agencies, is involved in ensuring the safety of the water supply and preventing contact with contaminated waters.

The exact location of all abandoned mines is unknown.  Therefore, we cannot warn the public of the existence of all abandon mines.  However, we work diligently to assess our lands and assist the public by warning of known sites.

Hazardous Material

The beautiful and cascading natural lands can be eye catchers for illegal hazardous waste dumpers. These dumpers often leave materials which range in type from syringes and materials used to make or use illegal drugs, to hazardous chemicals. Our employees and national forest and grassland visitors could easily be exposed to these substances.

Dump sites can cause many problematic areas. Disease-carrying rodents and insects are attracted to these sites.  Injury from accidental contact with sharp objects and chemical inhalation are possible threats to employees and NFS visitors.  These materials, which are often combustible, also pose an increased risk of forest fires.

Visitors are encouraged to use pubic trash receptacles for household trash.  Visitors should dispose hazard waste, at a commercial facility. Some examples of hazardous waste include automotive trash such as antifreeze, batteries, used oil, and empty propane cylinders.