Backcountry Safety

Backcountry travel can be rewarding, but it can also be dangerous if you are not properly prepared. In addition to the tips below, visit our main Safety page for more information about how to ensure your trip will be as safe as possible.
  • Bears. Review bear safety and make sure you are using an approved bear-resistant food cannister while in the backcountry.
  • Be aware of standing dead trees when you select your campsite or a place for a break. Don't set up camp under dead limbs or standing dead trees; they can fall at any time.
  • Boil all water taken from natural water sources for at least one minute. This is the best means for avoiding water-borne diseases. If you choose to use a filter/purifier or purification tablets, follow the manufacturer's directions. Know the water sources in Shenandoah National Park and make sure you will be able to stay hydrated during your trip.
  • Be careful when crossing streams and when near waterfalls. Wet rocks are very slippery. During periods of high water, stream crossings are very dangerous.
  • Check current closures and alerts on the hiking alerts page before heading out.
  • Do not shortcut between switchbacks on steep trails. Shortcuts can be hazardous, and they also cause trail erosion and damage vegetation.
  • Venomous snakes, ticks, stinging insects, poison ivy, and other potentially hazardous plants and animals are part of the natural environment of Shenandoah National Park. Be cautious as you explore, and check for ticks at least once every 24 hours. Remember, all plants and animals in the park are protected by law.

  • Do not bring saws, axes, and glass objects or containers into Shenandoah National Park's backcountry or wilderness areas.
  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Feeding or harassing wildlife is prohibited. Review the Park's guidelines for viewing wildlife safety.
  • Team up with one or more companions for safety, and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Secure your valuables. Take them with you or leave them locked in your vehicle, hidden from view.
  • Discourage transport of non-native vegetation by cleaning your boots and gear prior to arriving and upon leaving the backcountry.
  • Bring a good map of the area. The hiking maps that you can download from the maps and hiking pages of website are inadequate if you are camping in the backcountry or venturing off-trail at all. Purchase a good, recent, topographic trail guide and map. These maps are available from the Shenandoah National Park Association and Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.
  • Winter Safety. Be aware of winter conditions in Shenandoah before planning a backcountry trip in the chilly months. If you hike or ride in the winter be prepared to turn around and have other precautions in mind if icy conditions arise. If you know how to use them, you may wish to have crampons, and possibly ropes and ice axes. Hiking, riding, and backcountry camping are available all year, even if Skyline Drive is closed for snow and ice. While the spring, summer, and fall are more popular times to backpack, many visitors enjoy camping in the winter woods. Appalachian Trail huts and day-use shelters with fire rings are still the only places you may have fires, even in winter. The huts are only open for long-distance hikers (backcountry camping for at least three consecutive nights).
  • Hunting Season. No hunting is allowed inside Shenandoah National Park, however several trails and gravel roads connect Shenandoah to the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area and private property where hunting is allowed. Be sure to wear blaze orange if hiking in the surrounding area during hunting season. To travel through Virginia Wildlife Management Areas you must have a hunting, fishing, or trapping license, boat registration or DGIF Access Permit. Visit the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries to learn more about hunting regulations and seasons.

Last updated: November 12, 2019

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Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


(540) 999-3500

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