Planning ahead can help ensure that your trip to Shenandoah is safe and enjoyable. Make sure that you're familiar with the risks associated with your next adventure and what you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Just a few minutes in preparation can make all the difference! Browse safety topics below to prepare for your next trip. 

In the case of an emergency, dial 911 or call Park dispatch at 1-800-732-0911.

Slips, trips and falls can happen at any time, but observing the following guidelines can minimize the likelihood of a serious injury while hiking in Shenandoah:

  • 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.

Believe it or not, storing your food properly while in Shenandoah is one of the most important steps you can take to protect wildlife and help keep yourself safe. Allowing a bear, or any other wild animal, to obtain human food, even once, can lead to aggressive behavior. An aggressive animal that associates humans with food is a threat to human safety, requiring the removal or killing of the animal.

Getting too close, feeding, and touching are all things that can put you and your furry, feathered, or scaled counterpart in grave danger. Keep these tips in mind for your next animal encounter:

  • Stay at least 75 feet (23 meters), or about two bus-lengths away from all wildlife. Keep at least 150 feet (46 meters), or about four bus-lengths away from black bears. If wildlife approaches you, it's your responsibility to back away and maintain that safe distance.
  • Use binoculars or a spotting scope for a safe, close-up view.
  • Calling, whistling or making noises of any kind to attract wildlife is illegal. Do not do anything that changes the natural behavior of wildlife.
  • Pull safely and completely off the road, making sure that all four wheels are off the road on a safe shoulder. Use your car as an enclosure for viewing from a distance.

Explore our Viewing & Photographing Wildlife page for tips for finding and photographing wildlife safely. 

When visiting the Park, you may spot a bear while hiking, camping, or simply walking between your car and the lodge for dinner. If you do spot one:

  • Maintain your distance from the bear. Park regulations require at least 150 feet (50 yards) to safely view a bear.
  • Stay in your group and keep children close by you.
  • Make noise to make sure the bear knows that you are present. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious - not threatening. Jaw popping by the bear is a signal to you that it is uncomfortable.
  • Take a detour in your route of travel but be sure not surround the animal...give it plenty of room to escape.
  • If the bear moves closer to you, move away slowly but do not turn your back to the bear. If you have no escape route, stand tall, wave your arms, yell, and clap to deter the bear. Throwing rocks or objects at the bear may be appropriate but only when you are "cornered."

Bears are attracted to food and other scented items. Storing your food properly is one of the most important steps you can take to protect wildlife and help keep yourself safe. Read more about bear safety and how to report an inccident on our Bear Safety page. 

Ticks are small — so small, in fact, that they can be very difficult to see with the naked eye. Therein lies the danger. Several species of ticks are common throughout the Park, and they can transmit diseases to humans through a bite. It's important to take precautions whenever you are out exploring the Park, even if you're just taking a short stroll through nature.

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.

Along with 16 species of non-venomous snakes, there are two species of venomous snakes found in Shenandoah National Park: timber rattlesnakes and copperheads. Snakes tend to be elusive, secretive animals, but you may come across one basking in a sun patch on top of a rock or in the middle of a hiking trail. While they won't go out of their way to attack you, you do need to be alert and watch your step. Be careful walking through dead leaves and turning over logs, as snakes can be hidden underneath. Since snakes are active at night, it's also important to use a flashlight or headlamp after dusk. If you do see a snake, leave it alone and give it a wide berth; all animals in the Park are protected by law!

First and formost, your pet must be on a physical leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. This is for their safety and yours during your adventure in Shenandoah.

Remember that you are taking your pet into a different environment and that you are responsible for your pet. Do you have enough water for you and your pet? Does your pet have the endurance (and paw pads!) to hike the trail you have chosen? How will your pet react if you encounter a bear, a skunk, or a snake? If your pet becomes disabled on the trail, what will you do? With a little preparation, you and your pet can have an enjoyable trip to Shenandoah National Park.

Learn more rules and regulations for your pet in Shenandoah on our pets page. 

All hikes to waterfalls involve a hike downhill—and, of course, a harder hike back up! Never walk around on top of a waterfall - wet rocks are surprisingly slippery and, unfortunately, there have been several serious or fatal injuries around our waterfalls.

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.

Prevention is the key! Check the weather ahead of time, and avoid high places during anticipated storms. If you find yourself out during a lightning storm, follow these tips:

  • Stay off of high, exposed places during lightning activity. If caught on a mountain top, descend as quickly/safely as possible.
  • If caught in a high, exposed place during lightning activity, keep feet together and balance on balls of feet (minimize body part contact with ground). Stand atop a large backpack with little or no metal objects if you have it with you.
  • Avoid metal objects. Ditch large metal objects and move far away from it.
  • Turn off electronic devices during lightning activity (cell phones, tablets, walkie-talkies, etc.)

The speed limit is 35 mph in most places, and animals like deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels. Watch carefully for these animals who may dart across your path without warning. If you want to stop to view wildlife, be sure to pull completely off the road (all 4 wheels) and stay in your vehicle.

Driving Skyline Drive in the Winter

Skyline Drive remains open throughout the winter, unless it is closed due to snowy or icy conditions. Because of cold mountain temperatures, it can take diligent work crews several days to reopen Skyline Drive after winter storms. If the Drive is open, however, here are a few things to keep in mind when driving through the Park in the winter:

  • Be sure your gas tank is full before entering the Park. Fuel is available through self-pay at Big Meadows, but gas pumps can be unreliable.
  • Have warm clothing and/or blankets in case your vehicle becomes disabled. You may have to wait for assistance.
  • Weather conditions may require driving under the speed limit (35 miles per hour). There may be icy patches on shaded curves that otherwise appear dry.

Learn more about driving Skyline Drive on our webpage.

Last updated: April 17, 2023

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Contact Info

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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