Is it safe to visit national parks alone?

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Perhaps the most troubling is would-be “pranksters” who’ve been known to booby trap hiking trails. One of the most disturbing stories comes out of Oregon in the fall of 2014, where some men tried to set up a trip wire along a trail leading into Forest Park that would fire a gun. Luckily, the device failed to fire.

Before that was the high profile news in spring of 2012, when two men thought it would be funny to booby trap Big Springs Trail in Utah, though they claim it was for wildlife. A trip wire was set to release a crude ball of sharpened sticks that looked like it was a medieval mace thrown together by cavemen.

So all of this begs the question: is it safe to hike alone, especially in national parks, some of the most wild areas we have left?

Truthfully, none of this is to say you should never leave your home to go enjoy the splendor of nature. It just means you need to be aware while you’re out there.

HIKING SAFETY

The fact of life is that anytime you leave your home, you’re at risk for catastrophe. (And while you’re home, too.) Anything can be dangerous if you’re not careful. Below are some guidelines to keep you safe while out hiking.

  • Follow the rules of the park. The answer to whether you should visit the national parks alone is “it depends.” If a park says to hike in groups of three or more due to bear threats, hike in groups of three or more. On the other hand, if you’re just going to the Grand Canyon to see it from a clearly designated lookout point, your risks are a lot lower. Always read the park literature for safely guidelines, and stick to the trails.
  • If you do venture alone, stay connected. Always tell others where you are going and leave an itinerary, if you can. Carry a cell phone and try not to go out of range. There’s no need to reenact “127 Hours.”
  • Do your research. Check local weather before you go, know the type of footwear you’ll need based on the terrain, and know the general climate of where you’re going and plan accordingly (ex. don’t leave your water bottle behind if you’re in a desert region). Research as if your life depends on it because it could.
  • Stay flexible. If the weather takes a turn for the worst, you hit fatigue earlier than you thought you would, or some other unforeseen event strikes, don’t be afraid to turn back early.
  • Remember the buddy system for risky hikes. If you’re going on a long trail, unfamiliar terrain, an area known for aggressive wildlife, are in an extreme climate, or there are any other highly hazardous conditions, go with a group and stay as group. Hike as fast as your slowest group member.
  • Prep for emergencies like injuries, bad weather, or getting lost. Carry a first aid kit. Also, good items to remember in general are a map, compass, cell phone, extra food, rain gear, waterproof matches or striker, a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, sunscreen and a blanket for a makeshift shelter.
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