Shawnee National Forest
for Summer Hiking in 2022
Below are some Shawnee National Forest safety tips that could save your life.
Safety in the Shawnee National Forest is critical, especially during summer when more hazards are present.
The Shawnee is a National Forest, not a National Park. This means the land is more rugged and unforgiven than that of a manicured park full of well-marked trails and rangers ready to assist you with your needs.
Many visitors call the Shawnee a park, and in reality, it is far from a park.
But it is easy and fun to enjoy hiking in the summer if you follow a few Shawnee National Forest safety tips that will keep you safe and happy.
15 Shawnee National Forest Safety Tips
While these 15 Shawnee National Forest safety tips cover a lot of information, there may be more than you might learn as you explore your National Forest more.
#1 Research First – Before you embark on your outdoor journey, you should do basic research. Research the trail you plan to visit – its length, terrain, and elevation. Will there be creek crossings? Is it a loop or an out and back? What are the user reviews, likes, and dislikes about the trail? What will the weather forecast be for hike day? Temperatures? You can even Ask Me for information!
PRO TIP: Check apps like All Trails and Trail Link to see the trail’s information, details, and reviews. Check the local weather station websites for that area to find more accurate weather information for the area you will be in.
#2 Tell Someone – Tell someone who is not going with you before hiking. Tell them so that they can help emergency responders find you if you don’t come back home. Imagine getting injured or lost and no one knowing where you are. Imagine not being to make it out on your own. You should always tell someone where you are going, such as a significant other, parent, child, friend, or co-worker.
PRO TIP: Give the person you’re telling GPS coordinates of where you will be parking. Print out a map (even a Google Map) and draw a rough direction of where you will be hiking. This information will be significant if you need to be rescued.
#3 Hiking Alone – No one should hike alone! Hiking alone will put you at greater risk of hazards. But you might be one of those people who enjoy hiking alone more than with another person or group. And that’s okay. Just try not to do dangerous acts that could incapacitate you. You can hike alone all you want but try not to die alone because you decided to perfect a dangerous act yourself.
PRO TIP: If you’re looking for others to hike with, check out the River to River Trail Society for spring and fall group hikes (free), the Shawnee Saunters for over 50 group hikes (free), and Southern Illinois Hiking & Outdoor Recreation for finding hiking buddies and general Shawnee hiking advice.
#4 Apparel & Footwear – Make sure you wear comfortable but breathable clothing. Clothing fibers like cotton are not breathable and will retain your sweat. Clothing made of polyester, spandex, Lycra, and material that wickers sweat are the best types of clothing. You might consider wearing bright clothing to be seen more easily in an emergency. Ensure you wear appropriate footwear such as Hiking Boots that are broken in.
PRO TIP: Bring a rain poncho with you in case it rains. The oversized ponchos are also great for emergency shelters. If there are creeks, you might want to pack water shoes for crossing them so you don’t get your hiking boots wet.
#5 First Aid Kits – A basic first aid kit should be packed on hiking trips. You don’t have to bring a trauma kit with you, but basic emergency supplies and medicines can help make your trip better if you need to use those items. If you get cut, for example, you want to be able to cover it so that sweat and dirt don’t bring about an infection that can lead to more severe concerns.
PRO TIP: Only carry supplies you know how to use in your first aid kit. Most of the time, you can take a heavy kit and turn it into a lightweight sandwich bag of basic supplies. Why carry things that you don’t know how to use?
#6 Whistle – Bring a whistle with you. In the event that you become injured, lost, or unable to get anywhere – a whistle will be extremely helpful. You will likely exert yourself by yelling and screaming for help, especially during the warmer summer months. A whistle will allow you to emit a loud enough noise to get attention from others nearby without wearing yourself out.
PRO TIP: Check the chest strap/buckle of your hiking backpack. Some backpack manufacturers will include a built-in whistle on the clasp. My Osprey Packs include whistles built into them.
#7 Fuel & Hydration – Food and hydration are probably of the most critical Shawnee National Forest safety tips to consider. This is especially true during the summer months. You need plenty of water and electrolyte, especially if you sweat a lot. You also need to bring plenty of snacks loaded with protein and carbohydrates. These snacks will put fuel back in you that burns while hiking.
PRO TIP: Pack a water filter just in case you need it in an emergency. You should test it before your hike to ensure it works correctly and that you know to use it. Try to filter water from creeks that are moving and not stagnate.
#8 Flashlight – You should get a few flashlights to bring with you on your hike. Anything can happen, even if you plan just to do a day hike. If it turns dark, you won’t be able to see where to go. You also won’t see the potential hazards you come in contact with, like holes, open wells, and even venomous snakes. I suggest bringing and flashlight and headlamps as well for backup.
PRO TIP: Bring extra batteries but also ensure that the lights’ batteries are put in wrong. This will prevent the light from turning on accidentally and running down the battery. When you need the light, put the batteries in right and go from there.
#9 Stay on the Trail – Most hazards in the Shawnee National Forest are encountered off the trail. You have a bigger chance of seeing a venomous snake off the trail. You have a bigger chance of falling, tripping, and snagging off-the trail. Most open wells and cisterns are located off the trail. You can still encounter hazards on the trail, but you’re likely to experience them more frequently when hiking off the trail.
PRO TIP: Many less used and less populated trails of the Shawnee National Forest do not get yearly maintenance. This means many of them may be overgrown with trees across the trails during the summer months. Keep this in mind when planning your hike.
#10 Insect & Sun Repellent – Spray on plenty of insect repellent and sunblock before you start hiking. Use permethrin on your boots, clothing, and gear but do not spray it on your skin. Take insect repellent and sunblock with you to reapply as sweat will take it off you. Don’t reapply permethrin, as it is strong enough to stay on your clothing and gear through multiple wash cycles.
PRO TIP: Bring rubbing alcohol, Dawn dish soap, rags, and cold water to wash any skin exposed to the elements after your hike. Dawn is strong enough to get poison ivy oils off your skin; the others will help get small ticks and debris off your skin.
#11 Overpacking – While it is essential to pack the correct number of items, there is such thing as overpacking. It is often hot during the summer in the Shawnee, and there are many hills. Overpacking your backpack could result in injury and even overheating if you’re not careful. Take what you need but consider what you don’t need.
PRO TIP: Take stuff out of packages to help reduce weight. Don’t feel like you need to take a lot of something. The heaviest item you should carry is water. Bring plenty of that!
#12 Under-packing – As mentioned above, don’t overpack but ensure you don’t under-pack. I’ve seen people walk into the wilderness with nothing and come out looking like they’re getting ready to die. It isn’t worth the injury to not bring plenty to drink, snack on, and emergency supplies for when you need them the most.
PRO TIP: Look up the 10 Essentials for Hiking to get an idea of what you should carry. And remember, not having anything could result in a very unpleasant situation when you need things the most, especially if you’re far away from others.
#13 Avoid Heat Illness – I can’t include avoiding heat illness in these Shawnee National Forest safety tips. During the summer, heat illness is one of the top hazards in the forest. The Shawnee is rugged! There are rolling hills that are almost legally defined as small mountains. The temperatures also get pretty high in the summer and the heat index increases. You can avoid heat problems by staying hydrated, resting often, and not doing more than your body can handle.
PRO TIP: Start as early as possible in the morning. The mornings in southern Illinois are usually cooler and will give you more daylight hours to hike in.
#14 Pay Attention – The number one cause of death in the Shawnee National Forest is from falling off cliffs and bluffs. People tend to fall off wet rocks and waterfalls. People fall off cliffs from not watching their steps. People fall by getting too close to the edge and losing their balance. Many people are severely injured and have to be rescued, but most fall victims die from their injuries. It is essential that you watch your step at all times and put safety before selfies.
PRO TIP: Wet green rock will be as slick as ice. Rock that is not wet may still be slippery because of dirt (sometimes almost invisible) left behind from when it was wet. The dirt can be as slick as if the rock was wet.
#15 Don’t Rely on Phones – One of the biggest mistakes I see from people who have a terrible experience in the Shawnee is because the map wouldn’t load on their phone. There is little to no cell phone signal in most of the forest. You should use apps on your phone that works off GPS where you can download maps. You should also carry paper maps and a compass and understand how to use both. A dedicated GPS and a personal locator beacon (PLB) might also be a good idea.
PRO TIP: Before you start hiking, at the beginning of the trail or where you have parked your vehicle, take a compass reading of the area. If you get lost, you’ll know what direction to go in by using your compass.
And that sums up my Shawnee National Forest safety tips for the summer months. I recommend you follow the tips above to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable visit to your National Forest. I always like to end these articles with a saying I made up a few years ago: Leave the Shawnee with good memories, not bad injuries.
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Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. I hope you enjoy my website and I encourage you to interact with me!