Posted: April 23, 2021

After a challenging year that seemed more like four seasons of winter, spring is finally – yes, finally – in the air, and Pennsylvania’s forests are shaking off nature’s cold silence and bursting with life. It’s this fast-changing, born anew side of nature that makes spring a fascinating time to explore in the woods. And it’s the perfect time to gather your family, those in your “social pod,” or your camera and binoculars and take to the woods.

Planning well before you head out is key to staying safe and getting the most from your woodland adventure. Following these four steps of preparation, even when intending to spend just a few hours in the woods, can keep citizens out of trouble and fully enjoying the amazing wonders of the nature around them: make a plan, check the weather, dress appropriately, and bring the essentials. 

Make a plan means check the route you’re going to walk, consider the distance and difficulty, and know the hiking abilities of those accompanying you – especially young children and seniors. Remember that your two-year-old may become too tired and need to be carried back to the parking area! And tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. 

Check the weather and trail conditions. Thunderstorms can crop up unexpectedly. Winter ice and snow may have broken limbs or tree tops – when you do go out, look up often to make sure you're not walking or stopping under dangling limbs that could give way in the wind or to gravity. They're called widow-makers for a reason! 

Dress appropriately for the trail. Wear sturdy shoes that support ankles on uneven ground – and please don’t wear open-toed shoes or sandals! If you know you'll encounter wet soils or you're out and about after precipitation, waterproof boots or shoes are useful. Pack extra socks for kids who might splash through puddles or in a small creek. And be tick savvy! Ticks are active year-round. Keep them at bay by wearing light colored clothing including long pants tucked into your socks or boots (you can tape them into your boots for added protection) and a long-sleeved shirt tucked into your pants. The goal is to not allow for openings for the ticks to get to your skin, and to give you a greater chance of discovering and removing them as they climb up. Regardless of your attire, staying in the middle of well-defined trails will reduce your exposure. And always, always do tick checks after a day (or an hour) in the woods (if you find an embedded tick, remove it and stick it in a freezer bag in the freezer – label the bag with the date and location of the bite. If you later feel ill, you can then get the tick tested for the various tickborne diseases, which will greatly aid in treatment). Many folks who spend their days active in the woods have found benefit in wearing permethrin-treated clothes to repel the ticks outright, in addition to tucking in pants and shirts. Others use an insect repellent spray containing DEET. And – this bears repeating – no matter how you’re dressed for your hike, be sure to do a thorough tick check when you are done (the Center for Disease Control has an illustrated tick check guide at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html).

Bring the essentials. This list may seem like a lot to take on a few-hour hike, but if you get lost, someone takes a fall, or you underestimate how long the hike will take, you’ll be thankful you loaded your backpack with these things: a flashlight, a basic first aid kit (include medication for allergic reaction such as to a bee sting), snacks, plenty of water (make sure everyone in your group has a water bottle and stays well-hydrated), lighter or matches, insect repellant, sunscreen, compass and map (GPS is a good tool but the signal can be weak and batteries can die), extra clothing, pocket knife, and a whistle (three blasts if you’re lost). Be sure to have a fully-charged cell phone with you as well. 

Some things to keep in mind if you’re hiking with younger kids: teach them to stay on the trail, to never eat anything they find in the forest (many mushrooms, berries, nuts, and wild plants are harmful), and to stay within sight of a parent. Brightly colored clothing makes them easier to see, and carrying a whistle will help if they become separated. Help them learn about the woods and nature around them; encourage them to look at birds and small animals through binoculars, take photos of what they see, skip stones on a lake, identify trees, and journal about their adventures. Teach them to respect wild animals and to care for the forest by leaving it as they found it. And, most of all, simply enjoy the wonders of the woods with them. 

Being safe in the woods is about common sense and preparedness, whatever the season. And now that warm weather is here and folks are ready to get back out onto Pennsylvania’s 12,000 miles of hiking trails, here are some websites to help you plan your next woodland adventure (please be sure to follow all masking, social distancing, and other restrictions as required in local, state, and national parks and forests): 

https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Recreation/WhatToDo/Hiking/Pages/default.aspx

https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/allegheny/recreation/hiking

https://www.alltrails.com/us/pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management. For a list of publications, call 800-235-9473 (toll free), send an email to PrivateForests@psu.edu, or write to Forest Stewardship Program, The Pennsylvania State University, 416 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802. The Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, USDA Forest Service, Penn State Extension, and the Center for Private Forests at Penn State, in Partnership through Penn State’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.

Contact Information

Barb Sellers
  • Administrative Support Assistant

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802