The Winter Park area is filled with many amazing hikes for all levels and abilities. While hikes are an amazing experience for the whole family, there are some precautions you should take when planning and preparing for a hike. Many of the hikes around here are no “walk in the park.”
Here are 10+ tips to hike safe on the trail:
- Check the weather and be prepared for anything: As the old Fraser Valley saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” Weather in the Fraser Valley rolls in quickly. Check the weather before leaving and keep an eye on the skies. Hiking early is recommended to reduce the chance of being on top of the Divide when an afternoon thunderstorm rolls in.
- Layers: Layers are important because the weather can, and does change so drastically and quickly. Bring light layers of clothes to protect yourself should it start to storm. There is always a chance of snow, sleet, heavy rains, falling into water, and dropping temperatures in the mountains. Protect yourself from hypothermia by bringing layers and trading in jean and cotton fabrics for synthetic fabrics that will not retain moisture. Fact: People are more likely to die hypothermia in the spring, summer, and fall because they are not prepared for temperature changes.
- Water: You might not think you need a lot but always be prepared for the worst. You never know what you might run into or what might delay your hike. Dehydration in this elevated and arid climate can set in quickly. Don’t feel like hauling all of your water? Bring a water purification system or purification tablets so you can hike and refill your water bottle on the way. It is recommended to bring 3 quarts of water per person, per day, and if you choose to bring a water purification method, be sure that there is actually water on the trail.
- Phones: Charge phones before you leave and put them in airplane mode when not in use to conserve your battery, (you never know what you might find on the trail). Some hikes in the area do not receive any cell service, some receive only Verizon coverage, and some have full coverage. If ever you need service but don’t have it, climb up to get away from rocks and valleys that might be blocking your service.
- Dogs: Keep dogs under voice command or on leashes. Moose frequent this area and you do not want to be charged by a moose because it felt threatened by a dog.
- Log Books: Many of the longer trails around have log books where you can write your name, license plate number, hiking plan, the number of hikers, and comment on trail conditions after your hike. If you see one of these books take a minute to record your information. This information helps the state parks identify numbers of trail users and should you get lost; they will know where to look for you.
- Safety Contact: Always tell someone where you are going, how many people and dogs are with you, and your estimated time of returning. If you don’t know anyone in the area tell someone from your hometown. If possible, check in with them while you’re on the trail. Let them know that if they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they should contact the Grand County Sheriff’s Department with details. The sooner someone knows your missing, and the more information they have, the more likely you’ll be found.
- Bring an Emergency Kit: Make sure to bring an emergency kit with the following items; first aid kit, whistle, flashlight, energy bars, bright bandana, and a bright colored trash bag for each person.
- Children: If hiking with children keep them close to you. You never know when there will be a significant drop-off or wildlife in the area. Talk with your children about what to do if they do get separated from you. Make sure they know to stay in one spot by a tree and to not hide from strangers. For younger children tell them to “hug a tree.” For older children, teach them how to make a protective shelter that is easily found by rescuers.
- Wildlife: It’s not uncommon to encounter wildlife on the trail. The Colorado Rockies are home to a variety of animals including, coyotes, mule deer, fox, owls, eagles, hawks, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep. Most of the time you will not know they are there, and if you do they will most likely go their own way. Nine times out of ten an animal only will attack if it feels threatened. It is important when hiking to not sneak up on wildlife. Wearing bells or being a bit noisy on the trail will help to keep you and your family safe on the trail. For more tips on what to do when you run into native Colorado wildlife, check out our blog post on Wildlife Safety in the Colorado Rockies.
- Have Fun! Yeah we added an 11th one…but this one is one of the most important ones. Have fun! If you’re not having fun and enjoying the beauty around you there is no point!
Wildlife Safety in the Colorado Rockies
If you hike when you Visit Winter Park chances are you will encounter some sort of wildlife. The Colorado Rockies are teaming with native species ranging from small chipmunks (or mini bears as some like to call them) to large black bears, moose, and bighorn sheep. To stay safe on the trail it is important to not sneak up on wildlife. The majority of attacks each year stem from animals accidentally threatened by humans or dogs.
Here are some tips for handling different wildlife situations:
When moose act aggressively they are doing it to protect themselves or their young and are trying to get you away from them. If you come across a moose on the trail keep your distance and give it time to get away. If you notice a moose is agitated by your presence, you are too close. Possible signs of an anxious and potentially aggressive moose:
- Head tossing
- Hair on neck standing up
- Whites of their eyes showing
- Urination on their legs
- Lip smacking
- *Sometimes an agitated moose will show no signs at all
- Avoid Moose – keep yourself and your family at a safe distance especially if there is a calf (baby moose) around.
- If you are too close or the moose seems agitated back away from the moose.
- If a moose charges towards you, run.
- If possible put a large tree or boulder in between you and the moose, (Moose can’t see well and sometimes hiding behind a boulder or tree is all it takes for the moose to think you’ve left).
If you get charged and trampled, continue to fight to get away from the moose and hide.
Black bears are native to the Colorado Rockies. Black bears will naturally avoid people however if you do see a black bear while hiking follow these steps to protect yourself and your family.
- Keep your distance (300 feet or more)
- Do not make eye contact (they will see that as a sign of aggression). Instead look at an angle (while keeping the bear in sight).
- Make yourself look bigger by putting your arms out to the side.
- Speak in a calm, low, voice
- If it approaches you continue to make yourself look bigger.
- If the bear attacks you, fight back using sticks, pans, rocks, or whatever you have available to you. (Most black bears you might encounter will not see you as food and will most likely run away. However, if the bear is young, injured, or hungry, it might identify you as a meal.)
- If you need to run, run in a zigzag pattern. (Their center of gravity prevents them from making the quick turns humans can and will help you in your escape.)
- Consider yourself lucky because seeing a mountain lion is extremely rare!
- Make yourself appear as large as possible – if you are with others act together to seem large.
- Make a lot of noise!
- Act like a predator – maintain eye contact, aggressively wave your arms, toss rocks or sticks. Do not turn away or run.
- Slowly create distance by backing up and giving the mountain lion room to get to where it is going, (kittens, den, prey, etc.).
- Should it attack, fight back. Protect your neck and throat. If possible utilize tools such as sticks, rocks, jackets, etc. to fight.
Bells: We recommend bells on dogs or gear to give wildlife adequate warning that humans and dogs (both predators) are in the area. Accidentally startling an animal might put the animal on the defensive and cause them to react out of fear.
Dogs: Keep dogs under voice command or on a leash. Countless moose “attacks” occur each year because dogs chased a moose and stimulated it to charge out of fear.
Go Hike: Don’t let all this talk of wildlife safety deter you from hiking. The mountains, rivers, and valleys around us are wild and spectacular. If you hike aware and safely, you will not have a problem with wildlife when you are out exploring the area.
It’s hunting season in the Colorado Rockies! When you hit the trails these days you might notice a lot of camps set up and even some hunters out and about walking along the back roads and trails. Just because it is hunting season does not mean that you can’t also still hike, you just have to Hike S.M.A.R.T.
Here are Some Tips to Hiking S.M.A.R.T.
(S) See and Be Seen:
For their own safety, hunters are required to wear at least 500 square inches of solid blaze/fluorescent orange on their person to remain visible from all directions when hunting. While it is not a requirement for hikers and other recreational users, it is the SMART option. Make sure you and your hiking companions are seen. You can pick up a fluorescent orange vest for $1-$5. Don’t forget your pup! There are specially made dog vests you can buy, or you can easily rig a cheap vest to fit a dog.
(M) Make Noise:
Hunting season is not the time to be tiptoeing around in the woods. Continuously make human noises, so that hunters are aware you are not an elk or deer. Whistle, chat, jingle, play music, whatever will make you heard by hunters. If you’re hiking with a dog, a bell on your dog’s collar is a great option.
Know the area you are hiking. If you are debating between hiking a trail where hunting is not permitted or a heavy hunting area during hunting season, choose the trail where hunting is not permitted. Not sure? Contact the USDA Forest Service with questions. Find information here.
Be respectful. Hunters have just as much right to be using the land as non-hunters. If you can, avoid “bushwhacking” or trekking off trail during hunting season. If you have to, go for it, otherwise stick to the trails, chances are hunters won’t be there.
While not always the case, most hunters hunt at dawn and dusk. To reduce the chance of running into hunters, hike between 10am and 4pm during hunting season. You’ll enjoy the warmest fall temperatures and chances are you’ll encounter fewer hunters.
So there you have it! When you Hike S.M.A.R.T. during hunting season, everyone will get to enjoy the forests this fall!