Top 10 Summer Hiking Hazards in the Shawnee National Forest

There are many summer hiking hazards not only in the Shawnee National Forest but any other natural area you visit.

Now, you can hide inside and avoid the trail in the summer if you live in fear. However, you can simply identify the hazards, understand how to detect and avoid them, and then enjoy nature all year long.

Personally, I couldn’t see myself not hiking in the summer.

The following summer, hiking hazards are my top 10 most observed in the Shawnee National Forest. I’ll not only tell you what the hazards are, but I’ll also tell you how to avoid them and what to do if they occur.

Summer Hiking Hazards in the Shawnee National Forest List

The following summer hiking hazards are the top incidents I have observed in the Shawnee National Forest over a decade of hiking there every week.


1 – Falling

Falling is number one of the summer hiking hazards in the Shawnee National Forest.

Falling is the main cause of death in the Shawnee. People fall off bluffs, cliffs, and rock formations. Most of the time, it is because they did not watch where they stepped or because of slippery surfaces.

The best way to avoid this hazard is to refrain from getting close to the edge of a cliff or bluff.

If you do fall and are able to, scream for help and stay where you are, as moving could cause further injuries. If you have a PLB and can activate it, do so. If you witness a fall, contact emergency services as soon as possible. Don’t move a fall victim unless it’s absolutely necessary for their safety.


2 – Getting Lost

Getting lost is probably the second most known summer hiking hazard in the Shawnee National Forest.

I see lost hiker reports on Southern Illinois Fire Incidents, Equality Fire, and Pope County Fire almost every weekend during the summer. The Shawnee isn’t as big as other National Forests, but it’s big enough to get lost quite easily if you’re not good at backcountry navigation.

The best way to avoid getting lost is to stay on the designated trail. Use a map or a hiking app to keep you on the trail. Some good ones include Avenza, All Trails, and local hiking maps. Always try to tell someone where you’re going before you go out so that they can call emergency services in case you don’t make it home.


If you do get lost, stay calm and try to retrace your steps. Use your phone if you have a signal. If not, and you cannot find your way out, stay where you are and call for help.


3 – Dehydration

Of all the summer hiking hazards, dehydration and lack of fuel tend to occur most frequently in the Shawnee National Forest.

It’s so easy to forget to drink and take in fuel. If you’re enjoying the hike and looking around, you might easily forget about nutrition. However, you need to be hydrated and fueled in order to safety enjoy your hike.

The best way to ensure you stay fueled is to set a reminder on your watch or phone to beep every thirty minutes. Take a few bites of your fuel (trail bars, trail mix, etc.), and then wash it down with a few big swigs of your hydration fluid or water. Doing this every half hour will help ensure you stay properly hydrated and fueled for your hike.

If you become dehydrated, try to stop, sit down where it’s safe, and focus on drinking your water and slowly taking in fuel. If you do everything quickly, you might throw up and become sick. Call for help if it becomes an emergency situation.


4 – Heat-Related Illness

Summer hiking hazards in the Shawnee National Forest include illnesses that are often related to heat.

A heat stroke is one of them. Illnesses like these and others mean your body is heating up more than it can naturally cool yourself off. This can lead to serious and life-threatening conditions.

You can avoid these issues by taking it slow on warmer days. You should also dress down to help keep yourself cool. I wear shorts in summer long because of how hot and sweaty I get. Stay hydrated, rest now and then, and try to hike mainly in the shade.

If you become ill due to heat while hiking, try to rest in the shade while hydrating for a half hour or so. You want to cool your body down as much as you can. If you find a nearby creek, dip your bare feet in the creek if you can safely do so. Call for help if you feel it is becoming a dangerous situation.


5 – Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is one of those summer hiking hazards that many people fear when hiking in the Shawnee National Forest.

Poison ivy is an abundantly growing plant that contains oils that can cause irritation and temporary skin conditions that cause itching and pain. Sometimes, those impacted have to seek medical treatment, while others are just itchy for a week.

The best way to avoid poison ivy in the Shawnee National Forest is to stick to trails that are often hiked because the plant will stay cleared away because of its use. You should also stay on the trail and don’t touch any plants or trees with plants wrapped around them. Be careful when collecting firewood during camping trips.

If you get into poison ivy, try to wash the impacted area off with either rubbing alcohol, Dawn dish soap, or cold water. Do not use warm or hot water. The sooner you can get the oils off you and your clothing (and pet fur!), the less likely you’ll get a rash. Some people don’t get anything at all.

Horse Creek

6 – Insect Hazards

The Shawnee National Forest is no stranger to insect hazards during the summer months of the hiking season.

We have ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies. We also have hornets, yellow jackets, and even velvet ants (cow killers). Many of these bugs can cause you to itch, hurt, or even need to be hospitalized if you’re allergic.

You should use permethrin on your clothing, footwear, and gear to mitigate ticks. You should use DEET bug spray on your skin for ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies. Lemon grass is a good alternative to chemicals. Swampy areas are more likely to be bug-infested. Look out for bee hives, nests, and ground bee holes, too. Many horse riders will mark areas with orange or pink ribbons when they’ve discovered bees along the trail.

If you get bit or stung, wash the area with water and soap or use an alcohol prep pad to clean it. Carry an antihistamine with you for any allergic reaction or an epi-pen if you require one for stings. If you are having allergic reactions (swelling, hives, trouble breathing, etc.), try to get back to the trailhead or call for help if you can.


7 – User Hazards

The Shawnee National Forest is fairly safe in terms of how people treat one another when using the trail.

However, different user groups could become problematic for other user groups. For example, hikers and mountain bikers can surprise horseback riders enough that the horse bucks the rider off, causing serious injuries. Mountain bikers and hikers could also cause one another to wreck if they meet on a blind corner.

The best way to avoid these hazards is to stay on trails that are designated for your user group. If you use horse trails for hiking or biking, try to wear a bell or make enough noise that approaching riders will hear you coming. If you see a horseback rider, talk to them and carry on a conversation so that the horse knows you’re not a threat.

If you get into an accident with another user group, try to tend to those injured and help one another. If you become involved in a user group that becomes hostile to you over your use, the best thing to do is start video recording for your safety and contact Forest Service Law Enforcement or 911 if needed.


8 – Drowning

Among the summer hiking hazards, drowning is a topic that needs to be discussed in the Shawnee National Forest.

In practically every area where you can swim in the Shawnee, there is no lifeguard. There will also likely be no cell phone service. Drownings in the area typically occur every year. Most of them involve either young children or adults who have consumed alcoholic beverages.

The best way to avoid drowning is to stay out of water that could possibly lead to it. Don’t get in the water after consuming alcohol or marijuana. Watch your children closely when around water. If you can’t swim, stay out of the water or wear a life jacket. Use common sense to keep from drowning – it’s really that simple.

If you see someone drowning, try to call emergency services immediately. Don’t put yourself in danger unless you know how to swim and can safely do so to perform a lifesaving operation. Try to grab the victim from behind so that they can’t grab onto you in a panic and cause you both to drown. Perform CPR if needed.


9 – Weather Hazards

The Shawnee National Forest is situated in a part of the country where severe weather typically occurs throughout the year.

Our area is known for flash flooding and tornadoes in the springs. We can also experience extreme drought and fire danger in the summer and fall. Winter often brings severe ice storms. Weather can be a significant hazard for anyone visiting the Shawnee National Forest if they’re caught off guard.

To avoid the summer hiking hazards of bad weather, simply pay attention to the local forecast. I recommend news channels WSILTV, KFVS, and WPSD for the most accurate local weather forecasts. Prepare accordingly to what type of weather is forecast for the day of your hike.

You can take steps to act if caught in bad weather. For example, if it gets colder later during your hike, bring extra layers. Bring a raincoat for the rain chances. Have an escape plan for if bad weather strikes.


10 – Venomous Snakes

Among the summer hiking hazards, I’ve chosen to put venomous snakes last because while they can be dangerous, bites from them are very uncommon in humans.

You have a better chance of falling to your death than getting killed by a venomous snake. People die every year from falls. No one has died from a snake bite in Illinois for over 200 years. However, plenty of people have been bit, and anti-venom is expensive. We have three venomous snakes to watch out for, including the copperhead, cottonmouth (water moccasin), and the timber rattlesnake.

The best way to avoid negative contact with a venomous snake is to watch where you hike and try to stay on the trail. If you see any snake at all, safely walk around it. Don’t try to handle it, harm it, or move it away. Leave it alone, and it will leave you alone. Assume every snake is a venomous snake and use common sense.

If any snake bites you, assume it is venomous and seek medical attention. Unless you have an allergic reaction, you have some time to get to a hospital. Remain calm and start heading back. Don’t try to take the snake with you. Don’t try to kill it. Antihistamines might help with any allergic reaction you might experience. Don’t use a snake bite kit – they typically do more damage and increase the chances of infection. Get to a hospital or call 911.


Final Thoughts About Summer Hiking Hazards

As you can see, there are quite a few summer hiking hazards in the Shawnee National Forest. There is one thing all of these hazards have in common, though. They can all be avoided if you use common sense and put safety first.

Thank you for taking the time to check out my post. I hope it has been helpful to you. You can support me in writing it by sharing it with others. I also accept one-time and monthly donations.

Be sure to subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more hiking tips, resources, and upcoming local events around the Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois.

And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Please Support Hiking with Shawn

Alrighty folks, I hope you have enjoyed this content. I provide it for free and it takes a while to create. If you would be so kind enough to support my efforts, you can do so by sharing this post with others, especially on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to see my latest videos, shorts and live streams. Follow me on FacebookInstagramTwitter and TikTok for unique content that you will only find on those pages. You might also join my Southern Illinois Hiking & Outdoor Resources Group on Facebook, too!

You can also support me by becoming a Patreon Supporter for as little as $3/month and you can cancel anytime (no contracts or catches). Patreons get access to extra features, exclusive articles, sticker packs, gifts and more. Consider buying official Hiking with Shawn Merchandise as another way to support me. I spend a lot of money on Hiking with Shawn and because of extremely high public land permit fees, I make very little money in return so everything helps.

Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

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. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

Subscribe Today!

Get Your FREE Gift Now!

Subscribe to the official Hiking with Shawn Newsletter and get a free gift! The newsletter is free, sent once a month, and contains exclusive articles, tips, offers, contests, and upcomig events that you won't find anywhere else. You can unsubscribe anytime with ease. Subscribe now (for a limited time only) and get my free 70+ page 35 Hiking Trails of Southern Illinois Guide. This PDF will be sent to your email right after you subscribe (check your junkmail just in case and add me as a contact). I hope to see you on the mailing list!

Thanks for subscribing! Go check your email!