Tips for Staying Safe Hiking, Camping & Visiting Waterfalls

North Carolina is filled with natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventure. Our mountains, waterfalls, and state and national parks are playgrounds for hikers, campers and explorers of all skill levels. As you’re planning these fun outings, we want you to also plan to be safe. Here are some tips to help keep you and your group out of harm’s way.

Hiking

This is one of the most scenic states for hiking, offering popular and quiet trails, whether you’re choosing to hike a few hours at Chimney Rock, a day hike on the Appalachian Trail or you want to check off numerous mileposts along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Your safety depends on your own good judgment, adequate preparation and constant attention. Proper equipment and the knowledge of how to use it are essential for a safe trip. Keep this advice in mind:

  • Research the terrain of your trip, and plan an itinerary that is realistic for your group’s level of experience and physical abilities.
  • Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.
  • Take adequate water: minimum 2 quarts per person per day; 3-4 quarts are recommended per person. Wear shoes or boots that provide good ankle support.
  • Let a responsible person know your route and return time.
  • Always hike with another person. Keep your hiking party together and stay on officially maintained trails.
  • Always keep children in your sight when hiking – do not allow them to get ahead of you or fall behind.
  • Do not rely on technology to save you. Cell phones do not work most places in the backcountry and GPS is sometimes unreliable.
  • Carry a flashlight or headlamp – even on a day hike. If you have trouble on the trail, darkness may fall before you can finish your hike.
  • Do not hike at night. If you are camping, plan to get to your campsite before dark.

Get more hiking safety tips as recommended by the National Park Service.

Waterfalls

Many hikers in the North Carolina mountains choose trails that lead them to views of picturesque waterfalls. Our mountains are home to hundreds of waterfalls, including more than 250 in the Brevard area – known as the Land of Waterfalls – and others in the neighboring Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains.

The highest concentration of waterfalls can be found in Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Recreational Forest and Gorges State Park. And while the falls are beautiful and inspire visitors to want to get close and take pictures, they can also hold hidden dangers.

Please follow these waterfall safety tips:

  • Stay on developed trails and don’t stray from observation decks and platforms.
  • Follow instructions posted at all waterfalls and trails.
  • Watch your footing. Dry rocks can be just as slippery as wet ones, especially those covered with algae.
  • The top of any waterfall is the most dangerous. Do not lean over a ledge at the top of a falls.
  • Be especially careful when taking pictures. Many times, photographers become more focused on taking a photo rather than securing their footing. Make sure you are in a safe, solid location before snapping your shot.

See more waterfall safety tips from Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority.

Camping

There are countless camping opportunities inside dozens of North Carolina State Parks and the national parks in our state with campsites – the largest being Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Locations vary, from designated sites for family and group camping that may come with RV hookups, cabins, restrooms with hot showers, and picnic areas with grills; to primitive camping with few amenities.

Familiarize yourself with the rules of camping in our parks and you’ll enjoy a fun, safe and affordable experience:

  • Camping is allowed in designated areas by permit only.
  • In most cases, campers register with a ranger on site or at an on-site registration box. You must register even if you have reserved a campsite.
  • Fires are permitted only in designated areas and must be tended at all times. Gathering firewood is generally prohibited, but may be allowed in some parks.
  • Please don’t transport firewood into our parks because you could unknowingly spread dangerous insects and diseases that can harm the forest. Buy firewood locally where you intend to burn it, or buy heat-treated firewood.
  • All vehicles left in the park after posted park hours must be registered.
  • All camping equipment and vehicles (if applicable) must be on the campsite and not spread out in the woods.

See more rules on camping at state parks and tips on how to choose and reserve the campsite that fits you best.

Wildlife

When you’re out exploring the parks, forests and other wilderness areas in our state, please be mindful of local residents – of the four-legged, crawling, slithering or flying variety.

In our state parks, the hunting, trapping, pursuing or injuring of any bird or animal is prohibited. Visitors are also prohibited from feeding or baiting wildlife. Additionally, some species are protected by law, including loggerhead sea turtles, bald eagles and nesting shorebirds. Read more rules governing wildlife in state parks.

It’s not uncommon to see a bear when visiting our national parks and forests, particularly in the mountains. Most bear encounters end without injury, and following some basic guidelines may help to lessen the threat of danger during an encounter:

  • Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you’re a human and not a prey animal.
  • Stay calm and remember most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second.
  • Pick up small children immediately.
  • Hike and travel in groups. Bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.

See more bear safety information from the National Park Service.

Wildlife exploration can literally take you from the mountains to the coast of our state. Stories of feral horses roaming the Outer Banks and Cape Lookout National Seashore may seem mythical, but they’re real. It’s a rare privilege to watch horses that live without the help of man. Respectfully stay far enough away to avoid disturbing the horses or endangering yourself.

Updated March 27, 2018
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