Hiking Safety: The Basics

A close up of hiking boots standing on rocks in front of a cloudy viewpoint

Learn and Explore

With over 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park, chances are high that you'll be lacing up your hiking boots at some point on your next trip here. As with any outdoor activity, there are a few things to know that will help keep you, your loved ones, and the wildlife that you may encounter safe.


1. Get a Map & Know Trail Markers

Be sure that you know your hiking route before you get out on the trail, and bring a trail map of the area where you'll be hiking. A compass and a GPS unit can also help to keep you on track.

Shenandoah's trails are well-marked, but it's important to know what to look for. Trail markers are cement posts found at trailheads and trail intersections. The metal bands on them will show you what trail you are on, what other trails converge at that intersection, and the mileages to other points of interest. You will also see trail blazes painted on trees and rocks along the trail. The color of the paint indicates the type of trail that you are on:

Blue - hiking trail
White - Appalachian Trail
Yellow - hiking trail that is also open to horses

2. Bring Plenty of Water

Did you know that the average person drinks one quart of water per hour while hiking on a hot day? It's important to plan ahead and bring plenty of water for everyone in your group, including pets!

3. Don't Skip the Snacks

Plan on bringing one snack per person, per hour. Salty snacks can help you to replace lost electrolytes.

4. Communicate

Cell service is unreliable in Shenandoah, so be sure to let a friend or family member know where you plan to hike and when to expect your return.

5. Pack a First Aid Kit

Slips, trips and falls can happen at any time, but having a basic first aid kit can help. Observing the following guidelines can minimize the likelihood that you'll need to use it:

  • Watch your step and be prepared to turn around in dangerous settings such as a wet and slippery conditions, high-water crossings, or ice on the trail.
  • Never walk around the top of a waterfall - wet rocks are surprisingly slippery and many people have been injured, some fatally.
  • Be sure to always stay on Park-maintained trails.

6. Check the Weather

Always check the weather forecast and be prepared for changing conditions. Remember, temperatures on the mountain can be 10 to 20 degrees cooler than in the valley.

7. Wear Appropriate Clothing

Wear proper, sturdy footwear when hiking on any unpaved trail. Layer your clothing and bring a rain jacket so that you're ready for any weather.

8. Carry a Flashlight

Even if you plan on finishing your hike before dark, having a flashlight with fresh batteries is a good idea. Cell phones don't make reliable flashlights.

9. Don't Forget a Whistle

A whistle is a great way to alert someone to your location, if necessary. Check to see if your hiking backpack as one built into the chest strap!

10. Plan for Emergencies

Play the "What If?" game, and know what to do if an emergency arises.

You Might Also Want to Know About...

Poison Ivy
Poison ivy grows plentifully along roadsides, trails, and the edges of parking lots as a vine or a low shrub. Most people are sensitive in varying degrees to the sap of this plant, which makes skin itch, blister, and swell. Because of this, it's important to learn to identify it so that you can avoid it if you see it out in the Park. If it does touch your skin, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible, as the sap can penetrate your skin in only a few minutes.

Valuable Property
While hiking, take valuables with you or leave them locked in your vehicle, hidden from view.

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. Visit the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to learn more about hunting regulations and seasons.

Last updated: January 5, 2021

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Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


(540) 999-3500
Emergency Phone: 1-800-732-0911

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