Wildlife Safety

Natural areas like Prince William Forest Park are where wildlife live and thrive and observing wildlife is one of the many experiences that draw millions of people to national parks annually. Observing wildlife is one of the many benefits of visiting national parks but it is important to know the steps that you can take to keep yourself and wildlife safe.

If you have an encounter with a wild animal and are injured (bitten, scratched, etc.), contact a park ranger or call Park Dispatch immediately at 1-866-677-6677.

Wildlife Basics

  • Give them space. 25 yards is the minimum distance to safely observe most wildlife. Maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from predators like bears. Do not engage wildlife, even from a safe distance. Wildlife that seem overly "friendly" or approachable may be sick or disoriented and can pose a safety risk.
  • Watch the road. Vehicle strikes are often the most deadly threats to wildlife. Park roads cut through natural habitats. Observe all posted speed limits and road signs when driving through the park.
  • Properly store your food and dispose of trash. Intentionally or unintentionally feeding wildife can cause them harm and make them dependent on people for food. It also puts you at risk of an encounter with a wild animal.
  • Keep your pet on a leash. By keeping your pet on a leash you are keeping your pet safe, as well as protecting wildlife from your pet. Never allow your pet to chase or harass wildlife and always properly dispose of pet waste.

See Something, Say Something

It is important to the safety and wellbeing of wildlife, yourself, and others to report any of the following to park staff:

  • Unusual and/or aggressive behavior exhibited by wildlife, including any wildlife that may attempt to approach you or others
  • Injured, sick, or dead animals
  • Anyone attempting to harass, stalk, trap, or hunt wildlife within the park
  • Sightings of predator animals in high-visitation areas like campgrounds and picnic areas
  • Any injuries that you may have as a result from an interaction with wildlife

Report any unusual or illegal activity to park staff immediately by calling park dispatch at 866-677-6677.


Dangerous Wildlife

Some of the wildlife found in Prince William Forest Park can pose particularly dangerous hazards to people and pets and should be avoided. In certain cases, medical treatment may be necessary if you are bitten or attacked by some of these insects and animals. Seek medical treatment immediately if you are injured by an animal or experience allergic reactions as a result of an interaction with wildlife.




The park staff encourages daily tick checks even if you were outside for a short amount of time. Most ticks must be attached for 24 hours or more before tick-born disease are transmitted. Make sure to check yourself and seek medical attention if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease. 70-80% of infected people develop a reddish "bulls-eye" or an expanding red ring around the bite site and flu-like symptoms.

Ticks found in the park: brown dog, American dog, blacklegged, and lone star ticks.



Chiggers are frequently found in the bush.The larvae can bite you and cause severe itching.To treat, wash affected area and apply anti-itch lotion.If site becomes infected or severe allergic symptoms occur, seek medical attention.

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Black Widow Spider

Black Widows have a black, shiny globe-shaped body with a red or orange hourglass shaped marking on the underside of it's abdomen. This spider may attack if it feels threatened. Seek medical attention if you develop symptoms such as target-like marking and swelling at wound site, muscle pains, weakness, headache, nausea, sweating, dizziness, or increased blood pressure within two hours of the bite.

Brown spider

Brown Recluse Spider

This spider has a violin shaped mark on its back and may bite if it is provoked. They are found most often in dry, enclosed, spaces. If left untreated, venom from a brown recluse spider can cause tissue damage.



While mosquitoes are harmless, some carry diseases like West Nile Virus which can be a potentially serious illness. Visitors are encouraged to use insect repellants with DEET, ensure that tent netting is in good condition, and wear long sleeves and pants when possible in areas that mosquitoes are most active (streams, ponds, lakes, etc.).

copperhead website


Northern Copperhead

This snake is venomous and may attack if provoked. Copperheads are very common in the park but should be avoided. Northern Copperheads are reddish-brown with dark hourglass pattern markings down their backs. They have a bright copper colored head and are 2 to 3 feet in length. Copperheads are very common in the park and will usually freeze and remain motionless when they sense danger. However, they should be avoided at all times. Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten by a Northern Copperhead.

Timber Rattle Snake resize

Timber Rattlesnake

The Timber Rattlesnake is venemous and may bite if it feels threatened. Timber Rattlesnakes are bright yellow to dull gray in color and have brown or black chevron shaped markings along their backs. They have a rattle at the end of their tails and can grow up to 6 feet in length. They are most active from late April to mid October. Seek medical attention immediately if you have been bitten by a Timber Rattlesnake.



Black Bears

Black bears are the smallest of the three bear species living in North America. They typically will not approach or interact with people but will react if they feel threatened. Never approach or feed a bear.
If you encounter a black bear remain calm and avoid direct eye contact. Slowly back away from the bear (do not run) but make sure that the bear has a route to walk away from you. Make the bear aware of your presence - bears are wary of human contact and will normally try to escape rather than engage. Bear spray is an effective way to protect yourself in the unlikely event that a bear attempts to approach you. If you have a pet, do not allow your pet to engage with or approach the bear for the safety of your pet, yourself, and the bear.

Last updated: May 16, 2021

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