Trail and Hiking Safety

Visiting the backcountry and wilderness areas of Theodore Roosevelt National Park should not be taken lightly. It is physically and mentally challenging whether you are on horseback, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. The term for the preparation you are doing to help prevent a Search and Rescue mission is referred to as Preventative Search & Rescue or P-SAR.

12 Steps of P-SAR (Preventative Search and Rescue)

  1. Tell someone where you are going. Leave a detailed itinerary and map of the area with a responsible person you can rely on to report you in case you become overdue. This person should know how to contact Theodore Roosevelt National Park (701-623-4466) or North Dakota State Radio Dispatch - Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s 24 hour Emergency Service’s dispatch center (701-328-9921).
  2. Have the proper knowledge. Do you know how to find your coordinates on a map or GPS to aid rescuers? Do you know what to do if you don’t have enough cell signal to call 911? Do you know how to manage your hotspots or blisters?
  3. Check your equipment before you depart. Your life may depend on it. Are your batteries fresh and do you have spares? Will your water bottles stay put and not fall out of your pack while hiking? Will your boots keep your feet dry and blister free?
  4. Know your limits. Many SARs result from visitors overestimating their abilities or underestimating the terrain or environment. Can you travel up and down elevation with a heavy pack on unstable terrain and across water courses? Can you find your way back to the established trail if you accidently travel down a wildlife trail? Can you perform basic survival skills like navigation or creating a shelter?
  5. Hydrate prior to and during your planned event. By hydrating (with water) ahead of time you prepare your body to overcome hot, dry weather and unforeseen circumstances. Avoid consuming alcohol, caffeine, or sugary beverages before or during your hike. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics that cause the body to get rid of water. Sugary drinks can cause an imbalance that may result in nausea and vomiting. In Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s backcountry there are no water sources that are recommended for filtering and very few that won’t clog a filter. Plan on carrying at least one gallon per person per day.
  6. Bring plenty of high energy food. When we exercise we burn calories and we sweat. Most of us know we are supposed to hydrate but often overlook that we also need to resupply vitamins and minerals to keep things balanced. Be sure to pack food with high carbohydrate, protein, and caloric content like tuna and crackers or a mix of fruits and nuts.
  7. No Cotton! Hypothermia can be deadly and is another common factor for a SAR. Hypothermia results when your body loses heat faster than it creates it. Moisture, cold temperatures, and moving air combine to worsen the condition. Do not wear cotton even as an under-layer. Cotton fabrics cannot insulate when wet and will not dry quickly. Wool and polypropylene fabrics dry quickly and continue to keep you warm even when wet.
  8. Study your map prior to departure. Knowing your intended route ahead of time will help you prepare the trip itinerary and figure out some options in the event of a mishap. Some of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s trails can become hidden by vegetation. Some of the trails have a sticky oozing clay called Bentonite and can become virtually impossible to traverse during or after rain. Some wildlife trails appear to be hiking trails and can lead you astray.
  9. Obtain a current weather forecast prior to heading out. The weather in North Dakota can change suddenly. Lightning, rain, hail, and snow storms can be sudden and intense. While North Dakota is known for its cold and snowy winters, did you know temperatures can also rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the warmer months?
  10. Arrive early when you are rested; don’t arrive late when you are exhausted. If you arrive in the park late or exhausted, don’t make it worse by planning an activity that will drain you more. Make sure to give yourself enough daylight to complete the trip and always take headlamps and batteries in case you are out longer than you intend.
  11. Stay away from cliffs and sinkhole edges. The soil in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is unstable. When you step too close to the edge you risk falling. There are also sinkholes in the terrain where the ground above may appear stable but could be eroded underneath.
  12. Be aware of hazardous plants and animals. In Theodore Roosevelt National Park there is poison ivy, cactus, ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, scorpions, snakes (venomous and non-venomous), mountain lions, coyotes, badgers, porcupine, skunks, spiders, and a very fast very large animal known as the American Bison. Be aware that bison often use the park’s backcountry trails. No one can predict what you will encounter while visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is up to you to prepare and pre-plan in order to protect yourself.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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Medora, ND 58645


701 623-4466

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