by Donna Fitzgerald
This summer, hike around in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests or do some wildlife watching and camping. Summertime in Virginia is one of the best times of year to get outdoors and enjoy some of the state’s most beautiful forests.
Whether you spend as much time as you can outdoors, or you have little experience hiking around in nature, safety should always be your number one priority.
Don’t forget these reminders and tips to help keep you and your family safe as you enjoy all the sights and sounds of nature in Virginia’s beautiful forests and parks.
Whether you’re camping or going for a three-hour hike, it’s important to dress for the weather. Any Virginian knows that the summer heat can feel oppressive, but temperatures may change once you’re in the heart of the forest. Wear light layers and always wear shoes with good tread.
In addition to dressing appropriately, take a look at the forecast before you head out. Today, it’s easier than ever to find out the weather forecast. Be sure to look at a weather app before you start hiking, just in case you don’t get a good signal on your smartphone.
Sunscreen and Water
Water and sunscreen may seem like common sense to most, but they are often overlooked when people head outdoors. Staying hydrated is a must when spending time outdoors, regardless of what you’re doing. Sunscreen should always be worn, even on sunny days or under the canopy of tree tops.
Be a Responsible Camper
If you’re planning on camping, you have the rare and exciting opportunity to experience dispersed camping in Virginia’s national forests, which means that you can set up camp on your own, away from designated campgrounds. While dispersed camping offers a lot of freedom, make sure that you’re being a responsible camper.
If you’re planning on building a campfire (who doesn’t want to roast a marshmallow or watch sparks drift into the night sky?), always teach young children about fire safety and keep a safe distance from your campfire.
Respect Plants and Animals
The great outdoors in Virginia are without a doubt breathtaking and picture perfect. Many people take trips to the forest to get in touch with nature, and it’s encouraged as long as you are adhering to rules of the forest.
Some people don’t have a lot of experience in nature can feel a little hesitant about what they encounter when they’re hiking. A trip through the forest should not only be an adventure but also a learning experience. The more you learn, the more likely you’ll learn to appreciate and become a friend of the forests.
Never share your food with wildlife and if you’re going off trail, be sure to watch where you’re walking. Take the time to connect and listen to all the sounds that you hear when walking through the forests. One of the most wonderful things about nature is the quiet and calm; embrace it and be part of it rather than being part of noise pollution (although feel free to sing or exclaim your happiness).
Here are a few more tips to consider to keep you safe while being a steward of nature:
- Bring a small first aid kit.
- Have a plan, just in case of an emergency.
- Know your limits; pushing yourself can lead to injury.
- Take plenty of breaks. Stretch and warm up.
- Let people know where you are in case of an emergency.
- Watch your children closely.
- If you hike at night, wear a headlamp.
- Most importantly, HAVE FUN!